Title

The Perplexing Borders of Justification and Excuse

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1984

Abstract

Most reasons why otherwise criminal acts, such as A's intentional shooting of B, may be noncriminal fall roughly into the categories ofjustification and excuse.' If A's claim is that what he did was fully warrantedhe shot B to stop- B from killing other people-A offers a justification; if A acknowledges he acted wrongfully but claims he was not to blame-he was too disturbed mentally to be responsible for his behavior-he offers an excuse. Anglo-American law and scholarly writings about that law recognize a distinction between these two sorts of claims, 2 but generally do not do so in any systematic way. For example, a moderately close examination reveals that particular defenses such as self-defense and duress reach instances of both justification and excuse. No very precise theory is advanced to distinguish between justifications and excuses, and most scholars and. reformers evince little concern over this sloppy state of affairs.

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