Course: Introduction / Criminal Law
A justification is a legal defense based on a claim that the act, while usually criminal, was right under particular circumstances.
A justification is a legal defense available to a defendant who admits to the criminal act but maintains that it was necessary or justified under specific circumstances. In other words, the defendant is claiming that their actions were legal because they were necessary to prevent greater harm.
Justification defenses are typically used in cases where an individual uses force against another person, such as in cases of self-defense or defense of others. The defendant may argue that they used force because they believed it was necessary to protect themselves or others from harm. The key element of a justification defense is that the defendant must have believed that their actions were necessary at the time they acted.
One common justification defense is self-defense. Self-defense allows a person to use reasonable force to protect themselves against imminent harm. The force used in self-defense must be proportional to the threat faced by the defendant. In other words, the defendant cannot use deadly force to protect themselves against a non-lethal threat. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant has the burden of proving that they acted in self-defense.
Another justification defense is defense of others. Like self-defense, defense of others allows a person to use reasonable force to protect another person from harm. The force used must be proportional to the threat faced by the person being defended. The defendant must have a reasonable belief that the person being defended is in imminent danger.
Defense of property is another justification defense. It allows a person to use reasonable force to protect their property against intrusion or damage. The force used must be proportional to the threat faced by the defendant’s property. Deadly force is generally not justifiable in defense of property unless the intruder poses a threat of death or serious bodily harm.
Necessity, also known as the lesser of two evils, is another justification defense that allows a person to commit a crime to prevent greater harm. For example, a person who breaks into a store to obtain medication for a dying family member may argue that their actions were necessary to prevent greater harm. The harm prevented must be greater than the harm caused by the defendant’s actions, and there must have been no other reasonable alternative available to the defendant.
In addition to these specific justification defenses, there is also the general defense of necessity, which applies when a person commits a crime to prevent greater harm not covered by the other specific defenses.
It is important to note that justification defenses are not absolute defenses. In other words, even if a defendant can prove that their actions were justified, they may still face criminal charges. The prosecution may argue that the defendant’s actions were not reasonable or proportional to the threat faced or that the defendant could have taken other reasonable actions to prevent harm.
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Last Modified: 04/10/2023