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|1||Show/Hide More||IV.A. Justification|
|1.1||Show/Hide More||IV.A.i. Self-Defense|
In the next few sections, we will explore situations in which the commission of what might otherwise be a crime does not result in punishment. Broadly speaking, the doctrines in this area of criminal law are grouped into “justification” and “excuse.” In this section, we will discuss the first kind of justification: self-defense.
Self-defense justifies a crime—more than excusing it, it affirms that what would otherwise be a criminal act is in fact desirable in a given situation. In cases of legal self-defense, our system treats a person who kills or injures as morally right, even when they kill intentionally.
Legalizing assault, killing, or other forceful actions inevitably devolves the state’s usual monopoly on the legitimate use of force, to individual persons capable of abusing it. Thus, legal self-defense raises several concerns. Should self-defense be a last resort? Must the defender respond with minimal force, or is any amount of force legitimate? Must the threat be actual, subjective, or objectively reasonable?
Different jurisdictions have created different systems. Compare the questions raised by situations such as ongoing abusive domestic relationships or an encounter with a stranger on the subway. As you read the following cases, consider the criminal system’s difficulty in managing individuals’ legal use of force, and notice how the law attempts to channel and contain that Pandora’s box.
|1.1.8||Show/Hide More||Jeannie Suk, At Home in the Law, Chapter 3 - Scenes of Self-Defense|
|1.2||Show/Hide More||IV.B.ii. Necessity|
Necessity may also justify action that would otherwise be criminal. The category is significantly narrower than self-defense, and claims of necessity are rarely successful. Necessity requires imminent and grave harm that results through no fault of the defendant. The defendant must take forceful action only when the benefits clearly outweigh the harms.
As you will see, the cases in this section often deal with significantly more extreme fact patterns than the self-defense cases. Why is the necessity justification narrowly construed?
|2||Show/Hide More||IV.B. Excuse|
|2.1||Show/Hide More||IV.B.i. Duress|
|2.2||Show/Hide More||IV.B.ii. Insanity|
The insanity excuse has been around for a long time, even as society’s social and scientific understandings of insanity have evolved. As an excuse, rather than a justification, insanity doctrine does not hold that the criminal act was morally correct, but rather that the insane person is not responsible for a morally wrong action.
The cases and readings in this section introduce some of the formulations of the insanity defense that are currently in use. Consider how the various formulations balance the moral and the medical. According to one insanity rule, the ability to tell right from wrong is central to the insanity inquiry. According to another, self-control is key, as an irresistible impulse may excuse culpability. The Model Penal Code applies a sort of hybrid. Each major test is followed in a variety of jurisdictions, and some jurisdictions follow yet another test or provide for no insanity defense at all. What does the sheer diversity of approaches and standards tell us about the insanity excuse? Should the very diversity of approaches implicate fairness concerns?
Consider why our criminal justice system may not seek to punish the insane. How does insanity implicate the traditional justifications of punishment (retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation)? Since criminal punishment undoubtedly has a moral component, what should be the role of science in defining who is insane and who is excused due to insanity? Are those the same questions, or are they different?
Lastly, insanity may implicate more than the question of excuse. Even if someone is guilty, they may be “guilty but mentally ill.” Consider what role insanity or mental illness may play in establishing the other elements of a crime, such as mens rea.
|2.3||Show/Hide More||IV.B.iii. Diminished Capacity|
|2.4||Show/Hide More||IV.B.iv. Environmental Deprivation|
|2.4.1||Show/Hide More||Richard Delgado — 'Rotten Social Background': Should the Criminal Law Recognize a Defense of Severe Environmental Deprivation?|
May 27, 2016
Griswold Reading Groups
Harvard Law School
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