Justifiable homicide  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In jurisprudence, an excuse or justification is a defense to criminal charges that is distinct from an exculpation. In this context, "to excuse" means to grant or obtain an exemption for a group of persons sharing a common characteristic from a potential liability. "To justify" as in justifiable homicide means to "vindicate" or show the justice in the particular conduct. Thus, 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. Thus, a justification describes the quality of the act, whereas an excuse relates to the status or capacity (or lack of it) in the accused. "To exculpate" means to free an individual from culpability after they have caused loss or damage, and to represent this in a judgment that is either an acquittal, mitigates sentencing in the criminal law, or reduces or extinguishes the liability to pay compensation to the victim in the civil law.


Societies over the centuries have varied over punishment for murder and to examine and analyze each murder in terms of their own circumstances (i.e. it was morally acceptable and/or merely expedient while committing the act). Thus, the Laws of Solon forming part of early Athenian law, provided that if an accused pleaded that he was justified in killing another, his case would be tried in a dedicated court called the Delphinion where, for example, it was considered justifiable homicide to kill an adulterer or burglar caught in the act.

In deciding when intentional killings should be treated as justifiable, governments are balancing different sets of interests. On the one hand, states usually allow for some form of practical responsibility of citizens to protect themselves from harm. In modern times, this reflects a social contract where allegiance is rewarded by the provision of policing and other civil defense systems, and the apparatus of redress for injuries suffered through a court system. In the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3 states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, and many nations' policy allows for some degree of leniency for "self-defense". In most cases where "self-defense" is substantiated through the legal system, reduced charges (i.e. felony reduced to misdemeanor), reduced prison sentence, or acquittal are usually ruled. Hence, in eighteenth century English law, it was considered a justifiable homicide if a husband killed a man "ravishing" his wife (Blackstone, Wm. at p391).

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Justifiable homicide" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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