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Rational Choice Theory

With the exception of a person who has a severe mental disability, every human thinks and weighs out the benefits and the consequences of a crime they are about to commit. People do not get as much credit for committing a crime as they should and this can result in getting a lesser punishment.

Rational choice theory states that law violating behavior is the result of carful thought and planning. This theory has been used by many scientists to try and get a better understanding on why people make the choices they make.

The main concept of the theory of rational choice was brought up by a man named Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham which influenced the criminal justice system greatly giving scientists a new way to look at the criminal mind. Beccaria mainly looked at rational choice as a free will in a way; Ones ability to make choices based on certain factors. Beccaria’s original concept was declined by the end of the 19th century.

Later in the 1960’s a man named Gary Becker said that other that people with a severe mental illness, an individual makes a decision by looking at the good and the bad possible in the outcome of a decision.

Rational choice theory denies any type of reasoning for an action other than that people weigh out possible outcome. The theory states that any and all law violating behavior should be looked at as an individual that makes a decision based on their situational factors such as valuable items, money or living necessities.

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Crime is directly related with the choice of an individual. Rational choice theory is currently a strong bias in the decision making process in the court system of the United States. When a severe crime is committed most investigators and lawyers tend to look for a medical answer. Now why is it that they’re not looking at what they did and understand that it wasn’t just a medical issue generating the outcome by itself?

Scientists will look into what could physically or psychologically cause an individual to commit such a crime. Lawyers don’t want to actually find out what the medical condition is to help the criminal; they want to find an excuse that will make a judge really think about giving the criminal a lesser punishment. If a lawyer gets paid based on their defendants punishment being lesser they will find even the slightest excuse possible for why they did what they did.

Let’s look back to the murder trial in 1979 where Dan White, a former police officer, was accused of murdering two people. In court the defense claimed that White was suffering from a mental lapse brought on by a series of events in his life that left him temporarily insane. They also related the fact that he had been eating junk food to the murders saying that he had diminished capacity. When they claimed it was due to diminished capacity they said that he could not think critically due to the junk food. With this defense he actually got a lesser offense. He was initially accused of murder but only got manslaughter. This completely takes away the fact that he was using his own critical thinking to commit this murder. The court actually believed that he was not in control of the situation.

These days when someone commits a well-planned and though out crime such as a mass murder or a shooting, the only thing the individual would have to do in court is plead insanity and they get a lesser sentence which takes away the deterrence of punishment. If you look into the shooter in Aurora, Colorado you can see exactly how well he planned out this mass murder. The gunman bought mass amounts of ammunition online and in stores. He obtained tear gas, masks, and all necessary items to commit a mass murder. He had his apartment wired to kill any law enforcement or investigators who entered. This was a well-planned murder where he had a specific location, at a specific time, with specific weapons. A lot of people may look at this and think that it was a well thought out murder and some will look at it and actually think that this is because some mental illness and was not entirely his fault. He is in court and is pleading not guilty due to insanity but just recently they uncovered searches from his computers and smartphones.

The main focus of his search history was “rational insanity”. He had actually planned out how he was going to get away with this crime after he was caught and in court. Luckily with modern technology investigators were able to find out all of the planning that went into this murder or the case could have ended up like a lot of cases where they plead insanity or something else that would give them a lesser sentence and in a way get away with murder. This is definitely a man who has serious problems but he is in fact a very smart man with a well thought out plan that could play out in his favor. The shooter looking up the words “rational insanity,” shows that he looked at the potential consequences before he committed the crime.

He obviously thought that he could commit this crime and cover it up with a mental condition. When you look at cases like this you start to realize what people are actually capable of. Yes we are all humans and have minds of our own so why do we look into making it easier on a criminal who is trying to wipe out as many humans as he can taking lives? People make rational choices about everything they do. People will think about the crime they are about to commit. They will make a choice on their own and it should be put on no person or condition, but on them.

Rather than what the shooter did in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting some people look at the possibilities of them getting away with the crime. Most people who commit crimes such as bank robbers or any thieves most likely think about the possibilities of them getting caught versus the possibilities of them getting away with the crime. To do this the criminal must look into the crime deep enough to be able to weigh out exactly what they will need to do to complete their task flawlessly. Criminals will look at the crime they are planning as sort of a challenge in a way.

If they can complete the task successfully they will get some sort of pleasure out of it. Whether it is stealing a small item from a convenient store or stealing hundreds of thousands from a bank or jewelry store the criminal with have a well thought out plan to make it successful. They usually know exactly what the punishment could be and also how serious. Depending on the criminals living situation this could affect the choice that is made.

Rational choice is a strong topic studied today in the criminology world. Scientists are always finding reasons and sub theories to add into rational choice. Rational choice theory doesn’t directly explain reasons why people make the decisions that they do but it explains that deviant activity when violating a law is aimed directly at the individuals thought process. The United States should continue to carryout trials with the rational choice theory to help prevent criminals from taking advantage of pleading insanity for a lesser sentence.

Work Cited
Draper, E. (n.d.). Theater shooting suspect’s computer used to search “rational insanity” – The Denver Post.Colorado Breaking News, Sports, Weather, Traffic, Jobs – The Denver Post. Retrieved October 15, 2013, from Gado, M. (n.d.). The Insanity Defense — Twinkies as a Defense — Crime Library on Crime Library. Retrieved October 15, 2013, from

Siegel, L. J. (2010). Criminology: the core (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth. Eriksson, L. (2011). Rational choice theory: potential and limits. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Samenow, S. E. (1984). Inside the criminal mind. New York: Times Books.

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Rational Choice Theory. (2016, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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