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PHI 384 - The Distinction Between Justified and Excused Acts

PHI 384 - The Distinction Between Justified and Excused...

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Christian Villaran Distinction between Justified and Excused Acts In the law, there are essentially two ways in which necessity defenses will hold and bar one from the usual punishment for a crime. These are if the act committed was justified or if the act committed was excusable due to the circumstances at the time the crime was committed. In this paper I will discuss the differences between an act that is justified and an act that is excused. I will do so in two contexts. First I will compare moral versus legal justification and “excusability”, and then focus solely in a legal context and try to answer, what differentiates a justifiable act from an excusable one? When labeling an act as justified or excusable there is a slight differentiation that can be made depending on whether it is looked at from a moral viewpoint, or a legal one. I will first discuss the moral beliefs. Is it ever right to kill someone from a moral standpoint? Take for example, a situation where a police officer is held at gun point by an armed gunman and is threatened with death. For fear of his life he takes his gun and shoots and kills the gunman. It is clearly obvious that this is intentionally and knowingly taking a man’s life. It seems easy to argue that no matter how this case is viewed, killing is immoral, and that the police officer’s actions cannot be construed to be moral, in the sense of the word. There is a natural
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Christian Villaran feeling that the police officer’s actions were perhaps morally excusable, however, and that although killing is never moral it may sometimes be necessary. Take now, a case where a man is in a car and being approached by a gunman threatening him again to kill him. We also know for the sake of argument that the man in the car could easily drive away to safety without repercussions. Instead, the man in the car takes out a gun, waits for the gunman to be close, and then shoots and kills him. In such a case, the act can still be said to be the immoral act of knowingly taking someone’s life, just as in the previous case. Unlike the previous case however, it is hard to see how the man in the car would be entirely morally justified or excused in killing a man that could have easily been avoided without any harm to either persons. In fact, one may even argue that not retreating seems like the immoral thing to do.
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