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Justification Defenses: Excuse Defenses Distinguished

This lesson focuses on the distinctions between justification and excuse defenses. Many of the major legal scholars and commentators have distinguished justification and excuse defenses. However, the modern view often blurs the distinction. This lesson points out the principal theoretical distinctions as well as the areas of substantial confusion or controversy with respect to classification, both at common law and under the Model Penal Code. The exercise also describes those circumstances in which classification one way or the other makes a difference.

The student approaching this lesson should have a basic understanding of various defenses, both under the common law and the MPC. Working the tutorial should significantly add to that student's ability to distinguish various defenses based on the classification of each with respect to justification versus excuse. In addition, the student should enhance his or her ability to articulate the theory and consequences of such classification.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the lesson, the student will be able to:

  1. Discuss the basic distinction between the justification defense and the excuse defense, including differences between the Model Penal Code and modern views.
  2. Identify the three ordered questions bearing on criminal liability.
  3. Explain when self-defense is permissible.
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