This article critiques traditional formulations of the defense of self-defense which focus upon the reasonableness of the defendant's beliefs, without requiring a separate inquiry into the reasonableness of the defendant's conduct. The article also critiques formulations of the defense which require the defendant to be correct about the existence of justifying circumstances. Rather than focus exclusively upon the defendant's beliefs or exclusively upon the defendant's conduct, this article proposes a dual requirement for perfect self-defense. Not only must the defendant's beliefs be reasonable, but the defendant's conduct must also be reasonable. The article also proposes a new form of imperfect self-defense. If the defendant's beliefs are reasonable but his conduct unreasonable, then the defendant may be acquitted of the charged offense and liable for a lesser offense. The article also explores the meaning of reasonableness in self-defense doctrine, and suggests that the current bi-polar (objective-subjective) conception of reasonableness be replaced with a conception of reasonableness that recognizes different gradations of objectivity.
GW Paper Series
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 312; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 312
Cynthia Lee, The Act-Belief Distinction in Self-Defense Doctrine: A New Dual Requirement Theory of Justification, 2 Buff. Crim. L. Rev. 191 (1998).