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Criminal Responsibility

This entry discusses the concept and attribution of criminal responsibility, the differences between criminal responsibility and moral responsibility, theoretical skepticism about the fairness of holding people responsible for their criminal behavior, and excuses in criminal law.

Murder, Manslaughter, Justification, and Excuse

Assume that your next-door neighbor, 25-year-old Bonnie, has been found dead. The police rule out suicide because there are multiple bullet wounds to Bonnie’s head and chest. Somebody clearly killed her. Even if Bonnie was a bad person, most people think that whoever killed her needs to be punished. But why do they think this? And what, if anything, might change their minds?

Consider two further assumptions: Clyde was Bonnie’s boyfriend, and an hour after arriving at her house, Clyde pulled out his gun, which he legally ...

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