How should the judge or jury in a just criminal court treat a civil disobedient, someone who performs a conscientiously motivated communicative breach of the criminal law? Kimberley Brownlee contends that all else equal a court of law should neither convict nor punish such offenders. Though I agree with this conclusion, I contend that Brownlee mischaracterizes the nature of the criminal defense to which civil disobedients are entitled. Whereas Brownlee maintains that such actors ought to be excused for their criminal breach, I argue that they ought to enjoy a justification defense. Acts of civil disobedience are not (morally) wrongful violations of the law for which an actor ought not to be blamed; rather, they are violations of the law that are not (morally) wrong in virtue of their illegality. It is the absence of wrongdoing, and not merely the absence of fault, that renders the conviction and punishment of those who perform acts of civil disobedience inappropriate.

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Copyright © 2016 Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Article first published online: 16 October 2014.

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DOI: 10.1007/s11572-014-9337-y

Lefkowitz, David. “Should the Law Convict Those Who Act from Conviction? Reflections on a Demands-of-Conscience Criminal Defense.” Criminal Law and Philosophy 10, no. 4 (December 2016): 657–675. DOI: 10.1007/s11572-014-9337-y