The premises of "just deserts" are the punishment should be equal and commensurate with the crime, ie: "an eye for an eye"
If I were to write a paper on this subject I would apply the theory as it relates to the sentence for different crimes and whether they were just or not. There have been numerous discussions about "truth in sentencing" and "minimum mandatory sentences". These arguments came about because of the disparity in sentencing from judge to judge in local, state and federal courts.
I attached below an excerpt from a US Supreme Court case that talks about just deserts for a murder case and how a death penalty should not be handed down to a mental retarded individual even thought murder is murder. In it they look at his culpability. Below that is a link I provided which is from Cornell University law school and it included the full test of the case.
DARYL RENARD ATKINS, PETITIONER v. VIRGINIA
With respect to retribution-the interest in seeing that the offender gets his "just deserts"-the severity of the appropriate punishment necessarily depends on the culpability of the offender. Since Gregg, our jurisprudence has consistently confined the imposition of the death penalty to a narrow category of the most serious crimes. For example, in Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420 (1980), we set aside a death sentence because the petitioner's crimes did not reflect "a consciousness materially more ‘depraved' than that of any person guilty of murder." Id., at 433. If the culpability of the average murderer is insufficient to justify the most extreme sanction available to the State, the lesser culpability of the mentally retarded offender surely does not merit that form of retribution. Thus, pursuant to our narrowing jurisprudence, which seeks to ensure that only the most deserving of execution are put to death, an exclusion for the mentally retarded is appropriate.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA
[June 20, 2002]
I hope this answers your question.
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