than whites. Older people found thefts of large amounts to be more serious than people in younger age brackets. Men and women, however, did not differ in any significant way in their overall scoring pattern. As might be expected, victims assign higher scores than nonvictims."
Although these differences appear to undermine the consensus argument, such intergroup differences are generally small and are dwarfed by the differences between crimes. Like most investigators, Wolfgang et al. (1985) strongly concur with the conclusion of Rossi et al. (1974:234-235) that "subgroup characteristics contribute only moderately to the overall ratings of crime seriousness," particularly when "compared to the overarching influence of the … crime being rated." Still, some investigators remain unconvinced by the evidence for consensus, arguing that such apparent consensus may be a methodological artifact arising from instructional bias (i.e., the designation of acts as crimes in seriousness questions), the overrepresentation of certain types of offenses (primarily violent crimes) in seriousness studies, or inappropriate statistical measures of consensus (Miethe, 1982; Rossi and Henry, 1980). Others have raised questions about the properties of seriousness scales themselves, including the additivity of offense components, bounding or compression effects produced by categorical scales, and perhaps most important, differences in the meanings that respondents attach to the term "seriousness" (Gottfredson et al., 1980; Wolfgang et al., 1985; Warr, 1989).
One of the most revealing methods of obtaining insights into public attitudes toward violence is to examine public opinion on legal sanctions for crimes and criminals. Because legal sanctions have an expressive as well as a utilitarian function, public opinion on legal sanctions can be construed as an expression of social sentiment concerning crime and criminals.
Although it is tempting to characterize public opinion on punishment in simple terms (e.g., as punitive, tolerant, or indifferent), the complexity of legal punishment means that there are numerous facets of public opinion that require attention. First, investigators must consider normative evaluations of punishment, or public opinion as to what legal punishments ought to be. According to the general public, for example, how severe should the punishments be for different offenses? What form(s) of punishment should be administered for any particular offense? How