Punishment Law and Legal Definition

Punishment is the infliction of some kind of pain or loss upon a person for a misdeed. In criminal law, punishment is allowed due to the wrongful intent involved in the crime. A punishment such as incarceration seeks to give any victim involved retribution against the offender, deter the criminal from future criminal acts, and hopefully rehabilitate the offender. This is distinguished from civil law, which seeks to compensate the injured party rather than punish the wrongdoer.

Justifications for punishment typically take five forms: (1) retributive; (2) deterrence; (3) preventive; (4) rehabilitative; and (5) restitutionary. There are limitations on the punishment that may be imposed. The U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment states: 'Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.' A number of state constitutions also contain the same, or similar, provisions.