Justification and Excuse

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Book Chapter

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This chapter notes that justifications appear to entail accepting responsibility but denying the conduct was wrongful or impermissible, whereas excuses admit the conduct was wrongful but deny the defendant was responsible. The distinction enables one to categorize different sorts of defenses, which arguably could have different legal implications. An absence of an element defense is not a true defense, but, rather, constitutes a denial of one or more of the elements of the crime (alibi). In contrast, justifications and excuses follow an admission or finding that the defendant has committed the underlying offense, but offer an argument for why the defendant should nevertheless not receive criminal punishment. The discussion considers three different views of justification: objective, subjective, and dual. Unlike justifications, excuses are generally understood as assessing the actor's blameworthiness. Whereas justifications most naturally speak to consequentialist concerns, excuses are more at home within retributive theory.


self-defense, excuse, defendant, criminal responsibility, justification, blameworthiness, retributive theory

Publication Title

The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Criminal Law