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Self-Defense and the Mistaken Racist
Cornell Law Faculty Publications
  • Stephen P. Garvey, Cornell Law School
Document Type
Publication Date
  • Self-defense,
  • Reasonable-belief rule,
  • Imperfect self-defense doctrine,
  • Forfeiture rules,
  • People v. Goetz,
  • Racism and hate crimes
How should the law respond when one person (D) kills another person (V), who is black, because D believes that V is about to kill him, but D would not have so believed if V had been white? Should D be exonerated on grounds of self-defense? Some commentators argue that D's claim of self-defense should be rejected. He should be convicted and punished. I argue, however, that denying D's claim of self-defense would be at odds with the principle that criminal liability and punishment should only be imposed on an actor if he chooses to cause or risk causing a harm when the law does not permit him to make such a choice, and not for possessing or choosing to possess racist or otherwise illiberal beliefs or desires. Moreover, insofar as this principle can fairly be characterized as one to which a liberal state must adhere, then a liberal state should acknowledge D's claim of self-defense.
Publication Citation
Published in: New Criminal Law Review, vol. 11, no. 1 (Winter 2008).
Citation Information
Stephen P. Garvey. "Self-Defense and the Mistaken Racist" (2008)
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