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An Attitudinal Theory of Excuse

Peter K. Westen

University of Michigan Law School

Law and Philosophy, Vol. 25, pp. 289-375, 2006

The mother lode of criminal law scholarship is a unitary theory of excuses, that is, a normative account as to why a person who engages in conduct that a criminal statute prohibits ought nevertheless not be blamed for it.

After defining excuse against commentators who argue that it cannot be defined as a coherent and distinct normative concept, and after criticizing competing theories of excuse, I advance a theory of excuse that inheres in what states invariably declare to be true of defendants when states convict defendants of criminal offenses - namely, a declaration, whether explicit or implicit, that the defendants were motivated by disparaging attitudes toward what the criminal statutes at hand declare to be the legitimate interests of persons.

I argue that the feature that renders persons normatively blameless - and, typically, legally blameless, too - for engaging in conduct that criminal statutes prohibit is any state of mind or absence of state of mind that negates such an attitude. A person is normatively blameless if, despite engaging in conduct that a statute prohibits, he was either motivated by proper respect for interests that the statute seeks to protect or not motivated by improper respect.

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Date posted: May 31, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Westen, Peter K., An Attitudinal Theory of Excuse. Law and Philosophy, Vol. 25, pp. 289-375, 2006. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=905133

Contact Information

Peter K. Westen (Contact Author)
University of Michigan Law School ( email )
3178 South Hall
701 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091
United States
505 577-2855 (Phone)
505 992-6885 (Fax)

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