Most non-violent crimes are punishable by fine or imprisonment. But the maximum term of imprisonment has often struck me as far out of line with the maximum fine. For example, even if I am a minimum-wage worker I could pay the maximum fine in a small fraction of the time I would spend behind bars if sentenced to the maximum imprisonment. Examples:
- Florida 775.02 Punishment of common-law offenses: $500 or 1 year.
- Pennsylvania 15.66 First degree Felony: $25,000 or 10 years.
Is there a custom or reason behind these ratios?
One explanation I can imagine is that the real ratio of fines-to-imprisonment was initially comparable, but dates back so many generations that inflation has taken them far out of proportion; and, further, whenever a new law is passed the existing penalties are referenced without thinking about the fact that one side has deflated.