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Guilt (law)

Guilt (law)

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In criminal law
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

, guilt is entirely externally defined by the state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

, or more generally a “court of law.” Being “guilty” of a criminal offense means that one has committed a violation of criminal law
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

, or performed all the elements of the offense set out by a criminal statute
Statute
A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations...

. The determination that one has committed that violation is made by an external body (a “court of law”) and is, therefore, as definitive as the record-keeping of the body. So the most basic definition is fundamentally circular: a person is guilty of violating a law, if a court says so.

Philosophically, guilt in criminal law is a reflection of a functioning society and its ability to condemn individuals’ actions. It rests fundamentally on a presumption of free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

, in which individuals choose actions and are, therefore, subjected to external judgement of the rightness or wrongness of those actions.
“An adjudication of guilt is more than a factual determination that the defendant pulled a trigger, took a bicycle, or sold heroin. It is a moral judgment that the individual is blameworthy. Our collective conscience does not allow punishment where it cannot impose blame. Our concept of blameworthiness rests on assumptions that are older than the Republic: man is naturally endowed with these two great faculties, understanding and liberty of will. Historically, our substantive criminal law is based on a theory of punishing the will. It postulates a free agent confronted with a choice between doing right and wrong, and choosing freely to do wrong."


See also Cotton, Michael, A FOOLISH CONSISTENCY: KEEPING DETERMINISM OUT OF THE CRIMINAL LAW, 15 B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 1 (“A substantial body of scholarship has concerned itself with the importance of free will to the theory of the criminal law. Even given the importance of the subject, the quantity of attention is surprising because of the lack of fundamental disagreement among scholars, who overwhelmingly endorse the criminal law's assumption of free will.”)