Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility

By Banks McDowell | Go to book overview

pected of having kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed two young girls. Karla claimed that she was forced into participating by her husband and that she was in fact a battered woman. In a plea bargain, the prosecution let her plead guilty to second-degree murder and she received a sentence of twelve years in prison. This was done in exchange for her testimony against her husband. Shortly after the plea bargain, it was discovered that there were videotapes made of the sexual assaults and maltreatment, but not of the murders themselves. The tapes seemed to show that Karla was an active and willing participant. Paul Bernardo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. At the time of the plea bargaining, the prosecution thought Karla was not so involved and that without her testimony, they might not get a conviction of Paul. This case illustrates the problems of duress placed on the accomplice to force the agreement, the question of the reliability of the testimony so obtained, and the elemental question of justice where two cocriminals equally responsible are given such different sentences. After the trial, there was enormous public outrage at the light sentence given Karla, and public petitions were gathered all over Canada to try to rescind the plea bargain.

In civil actions, this defense is the attempt of one joint tortfeasor to transfer the blame to the other. This may take the guise of causation analysis; that is, which one really caused the damage? Litigating such issues can be time- consuming and very difficult. To deal with this administrative nightmare, the law developed the joint tortfeasor doctrine, which says that when two or more parties contribute to the commission of a tort, they are individually and severally liable for all the damage.

This excuse will be raised because of the difficulty in factually identifying the responsible party when several actors are involved in a wrongful act. The general reaction of the legal system has been to adopt rules that make all participants liable, in order to avoid the administrative problems of establishing which one is the most responsible or the truly responsible party. The most extreme of these solutions is the felony-murder rule. When two or more actors are involved in committing a serious crime and in the course of the crime, one criminal kills an innocent person, the other actors are also guilty of murder. Before any of these responsibility-sharing rules can be invoked, there has to be sufficient connection of the particular party with the wrongdoing to make the application of such rules at all palatable.


CONCLUSION

There is value in considering the legal defenses in a book focusing on professional ethics and appropriate excuses thereunder. Because defenses are constantly being litigated and refined by lawyers when deciding whether they are valid in particular cases, legal excuses have been worked out in great detail over a long period of time. It is not that defenses devel-

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Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introduction: The Ethical Crisis? 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - Responsibility and Excuses 13
  • Notes 23
  • 3 - Ethical Excuses 27
  • Notes 44
  • 4 - Law and Ethics: The Different Systems 47
  • Notes 61
  • 5 - Defenses: The Legal Excuses 63
  • Conclusion 79
  • 6 - The Fallibility of Human Beings 85
  • Notes 96
  • 7 - The Informal Moral Codes 97
  • 8 - The Need to Reformulate Ethical Expectations 111
  • Notes 130
  • 9 - The Professional and the Market--Is Efficiency the Predominant Value? 133
  • Notes 144
  • 10 - The Responsibility of Others Toward the Excuse Giver: The Need for Dialogue 147
  • Notes 157
  • 11 - Conclusion 159
  • Bibliography 163
  • Index 167
  • About the Author 171
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