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Mistake - The Traditional Approach, The Elements Approach, Problems With Mistakes Of Law, The Analytic Solution

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law

The criminal law exists to prevent various kinds of harm, and those who violate its prohibitions are usually culpable because conduct that risks or causes harm is generally culpable conduct. For various reasons, however, a wedge can be driven between culpability and the causing or risking of harm. One can cause or risk harm without being culpable, and one can be culpable without causing or risking harm.

Mistakes illustrate the gap between culpability and harm. One can cause harm because one mistakenly believes her conduct is harmless. Conversely, she can mistakenly believe her conduct is harmful and thereby act culpably but not harmfully. Put succinctly, mistakes can exculpate one who causes or risks harm and can inculpate one who acts harmlessly or even beneficially. This entry will deal exclusively with exculpatory mistakes. Inculpatory mistakes are usually dealt with under the topic of Attempted Crimes, specifically under the doctrines of Factual Impossibility and Legal Impossibility.


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