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In
jurisprudence Jurisprudence, or legal theory, is the theoretical study of the propriety of law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whol ...
, an excuse is a
defense Defense or defence may refer to: Tactical, martial, and political acts or groups * Defense (military) A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is ...
to
criminal In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper ...

criminal
charges that is distinct from an ''exculpation''. Justification and excuse are different defenses in a criminal case (See
Justification and excuse Justification and excuse are different defense (legal), defenses in a criminal case.Criminal Law Cases and Materials, 7th ed. 2012, John Kaplan, Robert Weisberg, Guyoris the a Binder Both defenses admit that the defendant committed an act proscribed ...
).Criminal Law Cases and Materials, 7th ed. 2012; John Kaplan, Robert Weisberg, Guyora Binder Exculpation is a related concept which reduces or extinguishes a person's
culpability Culpability, or being culpable, is a measure of the degree to which an agent, such as a person, can be held morally or legally Law is a system of rules created and law enforcement, enforced through social or governmental institutions to reg ...
. Therefore a person's liability to pay compensation to the victim of a
tort A tort, in common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or ) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ' is the most-used legal dict ...

tort
in the
civil law Civil law may refer to: * Civil law (common law) Civil law is a major branch of the law.Glanville Williams. ''Learning the Law''. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. p. 2. In common law legal systems such as England and Wales and the law of the United ...
. The "excuse" provides a
mitigating factor In criminal law Criminal law is the body of law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and inf ...
for a group of persons sharing a common characteristic. Justification, as in
justifiable homicide The concept of justifiable homicide in criminal law is a defense to culpable homicide (criminal or negligent homicide). Generally, there is a burden of production of exculpatory evidence Exculpatory evidence is evidence Evidence for a prop ...
, vindicates or shows the
justice Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve, with the interpretation of what then constitutes "deserving" being impacted upon by numerous fields, with many differing viewpoints and perspectives, ...

justice
. Thus,
society A society is a group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Numbers can be ...

society
approves of the purpose or motives underpinning some actions or the consequences flowing from them (see Robinson), and distinguishes those where the behavior cannot be approved but some excuse may be found in the characteristics of the defendant, e.g. that the accused was a serving police officer or suffering from a
mental illness A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Such features may be persistent, relapsing In internal medici ...
. Thus, a justification describes the quality of the act, whereas an excuse relates to the
status Status (Latin plural: ''statūs''), is a state, condition, or situation, and may refer to: * Status (law) Legal status is the position held by something or someone with regard to law. It is a set of privileges, obligations, powers or restricti ...
or
capacity Capacity or capacities may refer to: Mathematics, science, and engineering * Capacity of a container, closely related to Volume#Related terms, the volume of the container * Capacity of a set, in Euclidean space, the total charge a set can hold whi ...
(or lack of it) in the accused. These factors can affect the resulting
judgment Judgement (or US spelling judgment) is also known as ''adjudication Adjudication is the legal process by which an arbitration, arbiter or judge reviews evidence (law), evidence and argumentation, including legal reasoning set forth by opposing ...
which may be an
acquittal In common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by courts and similar tribunal A tribunal, generally, is any person or instit ...
, or in the case of a conviction may mitigate
sentencing The term sentence in law refers to punishment that was actually ordered or could be ordered by a trial court in a criminal procedure. A sentence forms the final explicit act of a judge-ruled process as well as the symbolic principal act connecte ...
. An excuse may also be something that a person or persons use to explain any criticism or comments based on the outcome of any specific event.


Explanation

The
executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government) The executive (short for executive branch or executive power) is the part of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organiz ...
and
legislative A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) who use parliamentary procedure Parliamentary procedure ...
branches of modern
states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Un ...
enact policy into laws which are then administered through the judicial system.
Judge A judge is a person who presides over court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In th ...

Judge
s also have a residual discretion to excuse individuals from
liability Liability may refer to: Law * Legal liability, in both civil and criminal law ** Public liability, part of the law of tort which focuses on civil wrongs ** Product liability, the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retai ...
if it represents a
just
just
result. When considering the consequences which are to be imposed on those involved in the activities forming the subject matter of the
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by courts and similar tribunal A tribunal, generally, is any person or institution with authority ...
or
legislation Legislation is the process or product of enrolled bill, enrolling, enactment of a bill, enacting, or promulgation, promulgating law by a legislature, parliament, or analogous Government, governing body. Before an item of legislation becomes law ...
,
government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Departmen ...

government
s and judges have a choice: :the criminal or civil
defendant In court proceedings, a defendant is a person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary fi ...
may be excused from liability as belonging to a class of person that ought to be excused, their behaviour may be considered justified, or an exculpation may be allowed on the merits of the particular case. To be ''excused'' from liability means that although the defendant may have been a participant in the sequence of events leading to the prohibited outcome, no liability will attach to the particular defendant because they belong to a class of person exempted from liability. In some cases, this will be a policy of expediency. Hence, members of the
armed forces A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare War is an intense armed conflict between State (polity), states, governments, Society, societies, or pa ...
, the
police The police are a Law enforcement organization, constituted body of Law enforcement officer, persons empowered by a State (polity), state, with the aim to law enforcement, enforce the law, to ensure the safety, health and possessions of citize ...

police
or other civil organizations may be granted a degree of immunity for causing prohibited outcomes while acting in the course of their official duties, e.g. for an
assault An assault is the act of inflicting physical harm or unwanted physical contact upon a person or, in some specific legal definitions, a threat or attempt to commit such an action. It is both a crime In ordinary language, a crime is an u ...

assault
or trespass to the person caused during a lawful
arrest An arrest is the act of apprehending and taking a person into custody (legal protection or control), usually because the person has been suspected of or observed committing a crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act p ...

arrest
or for an ambulance driver exceeding the speed limit in an emergency. Others are excused by virtue of their status and capacity. Others may escape liability because the quality of their actions satisfied a general public
good In most contexts, the concept of good denotes the conduct that should be preferred when posed with a choice between possible actions. Good is generally considered to be the opposite of evil Evil, in a general sense, is defined by what it ...
. For example, the willingness to defend oneself and others, or
property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property may have the right to consume, alter, share, r ...
from injury may benefit
society A society is a group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Numbers can be ...

society
at large. Albeit that the actions of a
vigilante Vigilantism () is the act of enforcement, investigation or punishment of perceived offenses without legal authority Rational-legal authority (also known as rational authority, legal authority, rational domination, legal domination, or bureaucrat ...
fall outside the formal controls that would seek to ensure reasonable use of force in state-appointed police officers, such people may accidentally find themselves interrupting the commission of a crime and their actions in defence of their own or another's interests is justified out of expediency as opposed to having to wait until a police officer arrives before help can be rendered. Whilst the jurisprudential importance of the distinction between justification and excuse defenses is clear, legally they have the same effect, acquittal, and there is an ongoing debate about whether the distinction makes any practical difference. An ''exculpation'' is a
defense Defense or defence may refer to: Tactical, martial, and political acts or groups * Defense (military) A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. It is ...
in which a
defendant In court proceedings, a defendant is a person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary fi ...
argues that despite the fact they committed and are guilty of the
crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper ...

crime
,
tort A tort, in common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or ) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ' is the most-used legal dict ...

tort
, or other wrong and have a liability to compensate the victim, they should be exculpated because of special circumstances that operated in favor of the defendant at the time they broke the
law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its bounda ...
.


Defenses

*
Defense of infancy The age of criminal responsibility is the age below which a child is deemed incapable of having committed a criminal offence. In legal terms, it is referred to as a defence/defense of infancy, which is a form of defense Defense or defence may ref ...
:This is an aspect of the
public policy Public policy is an institutionalized proposal to solve relevant and real-world problems, guided by a conception and implemented by programs as a course of action created and/or enacted, typically by a government A government is th ...
of ''
parens patriae ''Parens patriae'' is Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the R ...
''. In the criminal law, each state will consider the nature of its own
society A society is a group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Numbers can be ...

society
and the available evidence of the age at which antisocial behavior begins to manifest itself. Some societies will have qualities of indulgence toward the young and inexperienced and will not wish them to be exposed to the criminal law system before all other avenues of response have been exhausted. Hence, some states have a policy of ''
doli incapaxDoli may refer to: * Doli (character) ''The Chronicles of Prydain'' is a pentalogy of Children's literature, children's high fantasy Bildungsroman novels written by American author Lloyd Alexander and published by Henry Holt and Company. The serie ...
'' and exclude liability for all acts and omissions that would otherwise have been criminal up to a specified age. Thereafter, there may be a
rebuttable presumption Both in common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ''Black's Law Dictionar ...
against the use of criminal sanctions except in more serious cases. Other states leave discretion to
prosecutor A prosecutor is a legal representative of the prosecution in states with either the common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by co ...
s to argue or the judges to rule on whether the child understood that what was being done was wrong. :The status of
minor Minor may refer to: * Minor (law), a person under the age of certain legal activities. ** A person who has not reached the age of majority * Academic minor, a secondary field of study in undergraduate education Music theory *Minor chord ** Barbe ...
may also excuse liability in the
civil law Civil law may refer to: * Civil law (common law) Civil law is a major branch of the law.Glanville Williams. ''Learning the Law''. Eleventh Edition. Stevens. 1982. p. 2. In common law legal systems such as England and Wales and the law of the United ...
for
contract A contract is a legally binding agreement that defines and governs the rights and duties between or among its parties Image:'Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artist Festival at Skagen', by Peder Severin Krøyer (1888) Demisted with DXO PhotoLab Clearview ...

contract
,
tort A tort, in common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or ) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ' is the most-used legal dict ...

tort
and other legal situations during which liabilities would otherwise attach to the infant. Where there is only minimal understanding, transactions entered into will be void, i.e. the infant is excused. When understanding grows in line with age, the law switches from excuse to exculpation, and transactions may be voidable, i.e. the courts will judge, whether in the particular circumstances, it would be right to favor the interests of the child or the interests of the other party or parties involved in the transaction. Hence, it would not be appropriate to allow a child knowingly to deceive innocent retailers or service providers into supplying value, and then allow him or her to avoid liability to pay a reasonable sum of money for those goods or services. This is a balancing of political and commercial interests. *
Insanity defense The insanity defense, also known as the mental disorder defense, is an affirmative defense Defense or defence may refer to: Tactical, martial, and political acts or groups * Defense (military) A military, also known collectively as arm ...
, mental disorder defences and the
M'Naghten Rules The M'Naghten rule (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, McNaughton) is any variant of the 1840s jury instruction in a criminal case when there is a defence of insanity: The rule was formulated as a reaction to the acquittal in 1843 of Daniel ...
:If individuals are a danger to society and/or to themselves but not responsible through a lack of understanding, there is no point in
punishment Punishment, commonly, is the imposition of an undesirable or unpleasant outcome upon a group or individual, meted out by an authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of soci ...

punishment
(whether in the criminal or non-criminal sense). Punishment is only justified
morally
morally
if the person understands that what was done was wrong and accepts the judgment of society as part of the process of
expiation Propitiation is the act of appeasing or making well-disposed a deity A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' defines deity as "a God (male deity), god or goddess (in a p ...
and
rehabilitation Rehabilitation or Rehab may refer to: Health * Rehabilitation (neuropsychology), therapy to regain or improve neurocognitive function that has been lost or diminished * Rehabilitation (wildlife), treatment of injured wildlife so they can be returne ...
. Hence, as with ''parens patriae'', the state accepts the person as being in need of care, and offers or requires medical treatment instead of subjecting such people to the stress of having to undergo a trial as to liability. * Settled insanity is defined as a permanent or "settled" condition caused by long-term
substance abuse Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, is the use of a drug in amounts or by methods which are harmful to the individual or others. It is a form of substance-related disorder Substance-related disorders, also known as substance use disord ...
and differs from the temporary state of intoxication. In some
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
jurisdictions "settled insanity" can be used as a basis for an
insanity defense The insanity defense, also known as the mental disorder defense, is an affirmative defense Defense or defence may refer to: Tactical, martial, and political acts or groups * Defense (military) A military, also known collectively as arm ...
, even though voluntary intoxication can not, if the "settled insanity" negates one of the required elements of the crime such as
mens rea ''Mens rea'' (; Law Latin Law Latin, sometimes written L.L. or L. Lat., and sometimes derisively called Dog Latin Dog Latin, also known as Cod Latin, macaronic Latin, mock Latin, or Canis Latinicus, refers to the creation of a phrase In every ...
. * Automatism :This criminal defense straddles the divide between excuse and exculpation. It works by showing that the defendant's mind was not in control of the body's movements at the relevant time and that this loss of control was not foreseeable. For example, a
diabetic Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly known as diabetes, is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by a high blood sugar level over a prolonged period of time. Symptoms often include frequent urination, increased thirst and increased appeti ...

diabetic
suffering a hypoglycaemic attack will not be liable for any loss or damage caused. To that extent, it borrows from the policy excuse favoring those who are suffering from a mental illness, but allows the full trial as to liability to proceed. For a detailed comparative law discussion, see
automatism (case law) Automatism is a rarely used criminal defence. It is one of the mental condition defences that relate to the mental state of the defendant. Automatism can be seen variously as lack of voluntariness, lack of culpability (unconsciousness) or excuse ...
. *Self-defense is, in general, some reasonable action taken in protection of self. An act taken in self-defense often is not a crime at all; no punishment will be imposed. To qualify, any defensive force must be proportionate to the threat. Use of a firearm in response to a non-lethal threat is a typical example of disproportionate force; however, such decisions are dependent on the situation and the applicable law, and thus the example situation can in some circumstances be defensible, generally because of a codified presumption intended to prevent the unjust negation of this defense by the trier of fact.


Exculpations

*
Duress Coercion () is compelling a party to act in an involuntary manner by use of threat A threat is a communication of intent to inflict harm or loss on another person. IntimidationIntimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that " ...
in criminal law and in
contract A contract is a legally binding agreement that defines and governs the rights and duties between or among its parties Image:'Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artist Festival at Skagen', by Peder Severin Krøyer (1888) Demisted with DXO PhotoLab Clearview ...
law :In this situation, the defendant has actually done everything to break the law and intended to do it to avoid some threatened or actual harm. Thus, some degree of liability already attaches to the defendant for what was done. In law, the usual rule is that the defendant's motive for breaking the law is irrelevant although, in the criminal law, this may reduce the sentence. The basis of the defense argues that the threats made by the other person make the defendant's entire behavior involuntary and therefore the liability should be reduced or removed. The extent to which this defense should be allowed, if at all, is a simple matter of public policy. A state may say that no threat should force a person deliberately to break the law, particularly if this breach will cause loss or damage to a third person. Alternatively, a state may take the view that even though people may have ordinary levels of courage, they may nevertheless be coerced into agreeing to break the law and this human weakness should have some recognition in the law. For example, suppose that a group of terrorists kidnap A's family and instruct A to carry a large bomb into a crowded area as the price for the release of his family. If A carries out these instructions, making no effort to contact the police or to warn those in the danger area, the issue of liability for death and injury resulting depends on the state's values. This is a legal as well as a political decision. In the civil law, duress is similarly only an exculpation, rendering contracts and other transactions voidable, and offering only minor mitigation in the calculation of the amount of any
damages At common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ''Black's Law Dictionary ...
payable. *
Mistake of fact A mistake of fact may sometimes mean that, while a person has committed the physical element of an offence, because they were labouring under a mistake of fact, they never formed the mental element. This is unlike a mistake of law, which is not ...
in criminal law and in mistake in contract law :The fundamental policy operating here is ''
ignorantia juris non excusat ''Ignorantia juris non excusat'Black's Law Dictionary ''Black's Law Dictionary'' is the most widely used law dictionary Image:Legal Dictionaries.jpg, 300px, Several English and Russian legal dictionaries A law dictionary (also known as legal dic ...
'', i.e. the state cannot allow ignorance of the law to be a defense. This would unduly encourage the lazy and the deceitful to trade on their ignorance (real or otherwise). Thus, only mistakes relating to the factual basis of what is being attempted can form this defense and, in the majority of situations, it will only offer limited benefit to a defendant of ordinary capacity since the state owes no general duty to save citizens from the effects of their own ignorance or stupidity. Nevertheless, there may be limited circumstances in which people may honestly believe things that either prevent them from forming the requisite ''
mens rea ''Mens rea'' (; Law Latin Law Latin, sometimes written L.L. or L. Lat., and sometimes derisively called Dog Latin Dog Latin, also known as Cod Latin, macaronic Latin, mock Latin, or Canis Latinicus, refers to the creation of a phrase In every ...
'' or from reaching an ''
ad idem The terms (AD) and before Christ (BC) are used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendar The Gregorian calendar is the calendar used in most of the world. It was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII as a ...
'' agreement. *
Provocation Provocation, provoke or provoked may refer to: * Provocation (legal), a type of legal defense in court which claims the "victim" provoked the accused's actions * Agent provocateur, a (generally political) group that tries to goad a desired resp ...
:This is an example of a purely mitigatory defense in that, in the few situations when it is allowed to operate, it only reduces the level of criminal liability. In most legal systems, it cannot extinguish liability. It is a natural part of human nature that people get angry when they are provoked. But the state has a positive interest in maintaining good order and therefore, no matter what is done or said, people are not supposed to react violently or to cause loss or damage. Even though certain forms of physical contact or particular words might cause even reasonable people to become seriously annoyed, the state cannot sanction or justify retaliation. Thus, in most aspects of the law, any loss of control is taken to be an aggravating factor that, in the criminal law or the law of intentional torts, might well lead to an increase in sentencing, or the award of punitive or exemplary damages.


References

* Berman, Mitchell N., ''Justification and Excuse, Law and Morality'', (2003) Vol. 53, No.
Duke Law Journal
* Chin, Gabriel J., ''Unjustified: The Practical Irrelevance of the Justification/Excuse Distinction'', (2009)
University of Michigan , mottoeng = "Arts, Knowledge, Truth" , former_names = Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania (1817–1821) , budget = $8.99 billion (2018) , endowment = $17 billion (2021)As of October 25, 2021. ...

University of Michigan
Journal of Law Refor
Social Science Research Network (SSRN)
* Fontaine, Reid G., ''Adequate (Non)Provocation and Heat of Passion as Excuse Not Justification'', (2009) University of Michigan Journal of Law Refor
Social Science Research Network (SSRN)
* Gorr, Michael & Harwood, Sterling, (eds.), ''Controversies in Criminal Law''. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992. * Gorr, Michael & Harwood, Sterling, (eds.), ''Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations''. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1995. * Hart, H.L.A ''Punishment and Responsibility: Essays in the Philosophy of Law''. Oxford:
Oxford University Press Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press A university press is an academic publishing Publishing is the activity of making information, literature, music, software and other content available to the public for sale or for fre ...

Oxford University Press
, 1968. * Kadish, ''Excusing Crime'', (1987) Vol. 75
California Law Review The ''California Law Review'' is a law journal A law review (or law journal) is a scholarly journal or publication that focuses on a wide array of legal issues. A law review is a type of legal periodical. Typically, the law students initiate the ...
, 257. * Robinson, P. H. ''Criminal Law Defenses: A Systematic Analysis'', (1982) 82
Columbia Law Review The ''Columbia Law Review'' is a law review edited and published by students at Columbia Law School. The journal publishes scholarly articles, essays, and student notes. It was established in 1901 by Joseph E. Corrigan and John M. Woolsey, who s ...
199. * Smith, J.C. ''Justification and Excuse in the Criminal Law'', (1989) Crim. LR 93. * Westen & Mangiafico, ''The Criminal Defense of Duress: A Justification, Not an Excuse - And Why It Matters'', (2003) Vol. 6 Buffalo Criminal Law Review, 833
Social Science Research Network (SSRN)
{{DEFAULTSORT:Excuse (Legal) Contract law
Criminal defensesTopics relating to defense Defense or defence may refer to: Tactical, martial, and political acts or groups * Defense (military), forces primarily intended for warfare * Civil defense, the organizing of civilians to deal with enemy attacks * Defen ...
Criminal law legal terminology