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Entrapment Through the Lens of the Actio Libera in Causa

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The entrapment defense is a puzzle of long standing. One the one hand, we are offended by the government’s subjecting someone vulnerable to extreme temptation. It seems like something anyone might fall prey to. On the other hand, it is hard to explain why someone who actually commits, or attempts a crime, and who would be liable if anyone other than the government had tempted him, should escape punishment. His blameworthiness seems the same. This essay seeks to illuminate this puzzle by showing how it parallels the long-standing debate surrounding the criminal law problem of the actio libera in causa—situations in which someone seeks to escape liability by contriving to put a certain defense in place, such as provoking his victim into attacking him, so that he can then kill him in self-defense. The parallels between the two problems do not serve to resolve either, but make them appear in a rather different light.

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  1. Richard H. McAdams, The Political Economy of Entrapment, 96 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 107 (2005).

  2. Paul M. Hughes, Temptation and Culpability in the Law of Duress and Entrapment, 51 Criminal Law Quarterly 442 (2006).

  3. Anthony M. Dillof, Unravelling Unlawful Entrapment, 94 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 827 (2004).

  4. Jonathan C. Carlson, The Act Requirement and the Foundations of the Entrapment Defense, 73 Virginia Law Review 1011 (1987). See also, Leo Katz, Bad Acts and Guilty Minds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), chapter 2.

  5. Michael Goerr, Entrapment, Due Process and the perils of pro-Active Law Enforcement, 13 Public Affairs Quarterly 1 (1999).

  6. See Michael Hettinger, Die ‘Actio libera in Causa’: Strafbarkeit wegen Begehungstat trotz Schuldunfaehigkeit? Eine historisch-dogmatische Untersuchung (1988); Joachim Hruschka, Strafrecht nach logisch-analytischer Methode (1983); Ulfried Neumann, Zurechnung und Vorverschulden (1985); Dorothee Sydow, Die Actio Libera in Causa nach dem Rechtsprechungswandel des Bundesgerichtshofs (2002); Hubert Stuehler, Die Actio Libera in Causa de Lege Lata und De Lege Ferenda: Eine Analyse von Rechtsprechung und Literatur verbunden mit einem Gesetzgebungsvorschlag (1999); Rene Zenker, Actio Libera in Causa: Ein Paradoxon als Oeffentlicher Strafanspruch eines vom Schuldprinzip gepraegten Rechtsstaats (2003). The problem has received little attention in Anglo-American criminal law theory, with the notable exception of Miriam Gur-Arye, The Actio Libera in Causa (1984); Michael S. Moore, Act and Crime: The Philosophy of Aaction and Its Implications for Criminal Law 35–36 (1993); Paul H. Robinson, Causing the Conditions of One’s Own Defense: A Study in the Limits of Theory in Criminal Law Doctrine, 71 Virginia Law Review 1 (1985); see also Claire Finkelstein, Involuntary Crimes, Voluntarily Committed, in Criminal Law Theory: Doctrines of the General Part 147 (Stephen Shute & A P Simister eds, 2002), Leo Katz, Ill-Gotten Gains, at pt. 1 (1996).

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Correspondence to Leo Katz.

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Katz, L. Entrapment Through the Lens of the Actio Libera in Causa. Criminal Law, Philosophy 7, 587–595 (2013).

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