Mercy and Legal Justice

Jeffrie G. Murphy

Arizona State University College of Law


Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1986

This article examines the relationship between mercy and legal justice. Generally, mercy often is but should not be confused with excuse, justification and forgiveness. If a person has actually done the right thing, or if he was not responsible for what he did, then it would simply be unjust to punish him, and mercy need not be considered. Mercy only plays a role when one is truly guilty. But if this is true, then the question of how mercy and justice relate to each other arises, for if mercy is a distinct virtue, as well as justice, some might argue that the exercise of mercy detracts from the exercise of justice and thus a merciful act is an unjust one. This article shows that this is not so because, while it might seem that way when mercy is considered in the criminal law context where a sentencing judge hands down a sentence, mercy need not detract from justice in the civil context, where a merciful individual is merely waiving the right to exercise a punishment upon another.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 14

Keywords: Mercy and Justice, St. Anselm, Criminal Law

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Date posted: June 24, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Jeffrie G., Mercy and Legal Justice (1986). Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1986. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1424694

Contact Information

Jeffrie G. Murphy (Contact Author)
Arizona State University College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
(480) 965-5856 (Phone)
(480) 965-2427 (Fax)
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