The Nature and Significance of Culpability

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The basis of David O Brink’s writing is the idea of culpability and its relation to criminal law. Is his words, “Culpability plays an important role in the criminal law and in a broadly retributive justification of punishment, which understands the desert basis of criminal censure and sanction to consist in culpable wrongdoing” (348). He splits this major idea of culpability into three distinct parts: narrow culpability, broad culpability and inclusive culpability.

Narrow culpability focuses on the “ingredient in wrongdoing itself” (348). This parallels with the idea of someone’s mental state when they commit a crime. This attributes to their mens rea, their intention or preconceived ideas, translated as responsibility as attributability. Broad culpability focuses on the idea of the “kind of responsibility that makes wrongdoing blameworthy” (348). This idea is responsibility as accountability. Lastly, inclusive culpability is the combination of the two, wrongdoing and responsibility, and sets as the foundation for criminal law- that only the culpable should be punished.

Narrow culpability also includes an actus reus which measures the “objective or material elements of the offense” and what wrongful conduct comes from these actions (359). These three parts are conduct, results, and attendant circumstances. First, the conduct by itself could be independently wrong. Second, the conduct may not be wrong in itself, but the results are. Lastly, attendant circumstances means that the offense builds with other offenses. These three work together to decide whether the action, result, or scenario of the case are the reason it is criminal.

An example that is used to explain these ideas regards narrow culpability, responsibility as attributability. If one person B, hits A, and shows malice, indifference, recklessness, or negligence, then A is allowed to blame and hold a grudge against B for doing so, because they acted out of a wrong state of mind. In another example, he explains responsibility as accountability. If B once again harms A, but was under emotional distress by a third party threatening his family, or was clinically insane, his attributes are therefore not responsible. He can not be blamed for this, however, but under the idea of broad culpability he should at least be held responsible or accountable for his actions.


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