Basic Concepts of Criminal Law

By George P. Fletcher | Go to book overview

7
Intention versus Negligence

There are some situations in life in which people set out to accomplish certain goals and they realize their aims exactly as planned. They set out to go to the library and they arrive at the library. They set out to steal a book and they steal a book. Obviously, the aims are sometimes good, sometimes bad. But very often people get where they want to go. These are case of intentional conduct, of setting one's sights on realizing a particular target, whether the goal be socially desirable (going to the library) or criminal (stealing a book).

In many situations, however, we accomplish both good and bad-- not as the object of our intentions but as the unwitting side effects of our conduct. Imagine that someone drops a wallet full of cash, a starving mother then finds it and uses the funds to save the lives of her three children. Losing the wallet was an accident, and good came of it. Or suppose that a pharmacist mislabels a bottle of poison as a nutritional food supplement and then casually leaves a package of the bottles in the back of his store. A street person finds the bottles of poison and after reading the labels, drinks the poison and dies. Mislabeling the bottle was an accident, more or less, but great harm came of it.

The person who dropped his wallet might feel good that his money was applied to a good purpose, but it would be odd for him to claim credit--to expect praise and appreciation from others--for saving the lives of the three children. But the pharmacist who mislabeled the poison might be responsible, both morally and legally, for the death of the

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Basic Concepts of Criminal Law
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Substance Versus Procedure 7
  • Notes 23
  • 2 - Punishment Versus Treatment 25
  • Notes 40
  • 3 - Subject Versus Object 43
  • Notes 56
  • 4 - Human Causes Versus Natural Events 59
  • Notes 72
  • 5 - The Crime Versus the Offender 74
  • 6 - Offenses Versus Defenses 93
  • Notes 108
  • 7 - Intention Versus Negligence 111
  • 8 - Self-Defense Versus Necessity 130
  • Notes 145
  • 9 - Relevant Versus Irrelevant Mistakes 148
  • Notes 167
  • 10 - Attempts Versus Completed Offenses 171
  • Notes 184
  • 11 - Perpetration Versus Complicity 188
  • Notes 203
  • 12 - Justice Versus Legality 206
  • Notes 213
  • Index 215
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