Fletcher on Subjective Justification
Peter K. Westen
University of Michigan Law School
ESSAYS ON CRIMINAL LAW, Russell Christopher, ed., Oxford University Press
George Fletcher has transformed Anglo-American criminal-law theory by introducing continental distinctions between justification and excuse. Fletcher himself takes the two-part position that (1) in order to be justified, an actor not only must act under circumstances that negate the harms and evils the statute at hand seeks to prevent, all things considered, he must act for those very reasons, and (2) in order to be excused, an actor who commits a crime of intent in the mistaken belief that his conduct is necessary to prevent such a harm or evil must possess a mistaken belief that "reasonable." Fletcher admits that his two-part position is contrary to what he calls the "unity" view, viz., that defenses of justification are the mere converse or negation of prima facie harms that statutes seeks to prevent. In order to rebut the unity view, Fletcher argues that there are "fundamental" normative differences between elements of offenses and defenses of justification, including differences regarding legality, vagueness, and notice. In this essay, I question these supposed differences and, hence, question Fletcher's defense of his two-part position.
Keywords: justification, excuse, elements, defenses
Date posted: April 12, 2008
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