Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Specific Deterrence Definition:

Deterrence, as an objective of sentencing, which is fit to a particular offender.

Related Terms: Sentence, General Deterrence

In Sentencing: Practical Approaches, the author T. Ferris writes:

"Deterrence which attempts to persuade the individual before the court  not to commit further offences is called specific deterrence.

"Deterrence concerned with trying to persuade others who might be inclined to offend not to do so is known as general deterrence."

Or in R v Woodward, Justice Steele of the Newfoundland Court of Appeal, speaking on the issue of sentencing where the accused, a 48-year old businessman, Herbert Woodward, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death and failing to stop and offer assistance:

"There can be little doubt that in motor vehicle driving offences, and particularly those offences that involve the consumption of alcohol, it is evident that uppermost in the mind of the sentencing judge is the protection of society -- the public -- by the imposition of a sentence that hopefully will restrain or dissuade drinking and driving.

"Deterrence may take one of two forms, general deterrence and specific deterrence.

"General deterrence, in its simplest form, is a sentence that will discourage others who may be inclined to commit the same or similar offence.

"A sentence emphasizing specific deterrence is a sentence intended to discourage the accused from again committing the offence.

"Generally speaking, the sentencing judge must determine what aspect of the deterrence principle should be emphasized in any particular case.... (T)he sentencing judge must also take into account the gravity of the offence, the incidence of the crime in the community, the harm caused by it either to the individual or to the community; and the public attitude toward it."

Some authors, such as Clayton Ruby, prefer the term individual deterrence, defining it as "the object is to prevent the offender from repeating the offence." 


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Legal Definition of Denunciation
  • Ferris, T, Sentencing: Practical Approaches (Toronto: Lexis-Nexis, 2005), page357.
  • R v Woodward 83 CCC 3d 75 (1993)
  • Ruby, Clayton, Sentencing (6th Ed., Toronto: Lexis-Nexis, 2004), p. 11.

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