Culpability in Criminal Law analyzed form a Christian Worldview
RESEARCH PAPER: TOPIC INSTRUCTIONS�
Choose a criminal law topic and submit it, along with a 100-word rationale for choosing the selected topic,
to the instructor for approval. To help choose a topic, consider that the purpose of this class is to provide
an overview of the legal elements that apply to criminal law, procedure, and evidence, including proof,
intent, conspiracy, punishments, culpability, and defenses. You can use the Course Schedule and the
textbook help you with your selection. �
You will also use this topic to develop your thesis and the 5�8 page research paper later in the course.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss one of these criminal topics through the lens of your Christian
Topic and Rationale
Culpability in Criminal Law analyzed from a Christian Worldview Perspective
Rationale: The topic “culpability in criminal law analyzed from a Christian worldview
perspective” has been selected because it represents an issue that is relatively simple for
individuals with a criminal law background but complicated to lay people. For this reason
culpability is analyzed and explained in accordance to how it relates to Christian values. This
helps to move from the known to the unknown, making it simple for an individual to understand
a concept that initially seems foreign. This can then be used to make the target audience better
equipped to stay on the right side of the law. At the same time, a better understanding of
culpability can help the person to better defend themselves if they are being falsely blamed for
The concept of Culpability appears to contradict the cliché of “Ignorance is not a defense,” the
reason being that culpability goes beyond an individual’s committing of the action to find out if
they deserve to be blamed for the action they did. One of the best examples that can be used in
the explanation of culpability is the manner in which the principle is applied to the investigation
of murder. First degree murder is the judgment passed when an individual is found to be fully
blame-worthy for another’s death. Second degree murder and man-slaughter on the other hand
are used to describe scenarios where a person unintentionally caused another’s death. From a
Christian perspective, murder is clearly prohibited both in the Old Testament and New
Testament. Within the criminal law field of knowledge, culpability is however more complex
than simply determining the verdict of a murder case, there are several categories of culpability
and these too relate to the Christian Worldview in different ways.
Introduction of culpability
The issue of blame
Legal system implication of blame
Christian perception of blame
Legal application of fairness
Christian attitudes of fairness
Culpability in Criminal Law analyzed from a Christian Worldview Perspective
The Term criminal law is an umbrella phrase that refers to the set of legal procedures that have
been put in place to deal with the prosecution, trial and punishment for criminal acts. There are
several aspects of an ethical and legal nature that come into play in the delivery of criminal
justice. Criminal law also contains the activities that the government or similar authority has
prohibited with the aim of safe-guarding the interests and welfare of the individuals population
as well as those of the state. Culpability is one of the most important elements of criminal law
and this tends to be given greater priority when the crimes under consideration are taken to be
very serious. Culpability is basically the degree to which an individual is worthy of blame for
any given criminal action. This is an international concept owing to its being rooted in common
law, something that was based on Christian Ethics at the time the law was formulated almost a
millennium ago (Ashworth and Horder, 2013).
The issue of Blame
Culpability has a lot to do with blame though it is not just blame in the sense of fault-finding. It
is blame in the sense of a person who has been accused being investigated to establish if he or
she had a hand to play in the eventual occurrence of a crime, whether direct or indirect. It is
important to note that blame in its most basic form requires several elements and cannot exist
independently (Werle, 2014). There has to be a prior expectation of the actor’s state of mind,
knowledge and responsibility for their actions relative to any given situation.
There also needs to be a law in place forbidding a given action from being done within the
borders of a given country. Third, the actor needs to have directly or indirectly have contributed
to the law being broken. Culpability is therefore a measure of how much the agent or actor in
question bears responsibility for the given action taking place. Culpability is in this sense a
double edged sword with one side spelling doom for the actor and the other side having the
potential to completely exonerate the individual from the accusations that have been made. On
the undesirable end of the scale for the accused, culpability will be used to prove that the action
committed or not committed constitutes moral evil. On the more desirable end of the scale, the
measure of culpability will determine the occurrence to have been a natural evil where the
individual is considered to be blameless for the actions. The Christian world view holds that an
individual who commits an offence has to suffer the consequences but this will only happen if
they are directly responsible and acted knowingly. An example of this is the story of the first sin
in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were banished for eating the fruit. The three actors
involved were the serpent, Adam and Eve. God had explicitly instructed them to partake in the
eating of any other fruit save for the one in the middle of the garden. The two however go against
God and end up eating the fruit as suggested by the snake. Adam attempts to defend himself
saying that he was given the fruit by the woman but this does not get him off the hook. Eve and
the snake do not defend themselves even though she was offered the fruit by the serpent who
justified eating it. The serpent did not eat the fruit but he too was punished. This is a clear
example of culpability, all of them fell short of their moral obligations and this meant they had to
face the consequences of their action (Ashworth and Horder, 2013; Stephen, 2014).
Culpability is part of the criminal justice system’s deliberate efforts to be fair in its dispensation
of justice to both the injured and the alleged agents of the injury. For this to take place, a lot of
careful thought needs to have been done by the authorities involved in determining culpability
for the actions in question. The lack of a procedure or rational system for the determination of
culpability is something that could easily lead to the development of an unfair system where
guilty persons walk free despite committing heinous acts and innocent people being convicted
and punished for what they are not responsible for. Due diligence is necessary as this ensures the
case and suspect are investigated in different levels (Robinson and Barton, 2014). The hope is
usually to get a verdict ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ This is not to say that the criminal law system
is water-tight, mistakes still do take place and individuals go to great lengths to manipulate the
system to their own ends. Having a clearly laid out procedure is very important in reducing the
chances for mistakes taking place in the determining of culpability. Fairness and the delivery of
fair judgments is something that Christians believe in and it is emphasized severally in scripture.
This is seen both in passages that discuss court-like scenarios as well as those where
responsibility for sin is concerned (Herring, 2014). The example of the Garden of Eden and the
occurrence of the first sin as illustrated above exhibits fairness since the individuals were found
culpable as a direct result of their going against the rules put in place by the authority above.
Another example where the importance of fairness is brought up is in Psalm 106:3 where the
psalmist declares that there are blessings in store for those who seek and maintain justice.
Proverbs 16 talks about the importance of believers using balanced scales and while this usually
refers to honesty in business dealings, it can also be applied to the administration of Criminal
Justice (Herring, 2014).
In Criminal law, a person will be considered to be culpable if it is proven that they fulfill four
conditions (Bassiouni, 2012). The first of this is the individual’s being found to have actually
caused the action. This is not really a determinant of culpability but rather a precursor to the
culpability question. The nature of the action is what actually determines if the question of
culpability will arise. The acts of stealing, defilement or killing are examples where culpability
comes in handy. A person being proven guilty will lead to their being labeled strongly with
words such as sex offender, murderer or thief. Besides the harsh judgment in society’s eyes, the
individual also risks severe punishments for the same with death and life sentences being the
more extreme forms of punishment. As such the three preconditions below need to be fulfilled
before any further verdict is passed on the suspected agent’s guilt or innocence (Ashworth and
The action in question needs to have been done deliberately by the actor. This means that the
actor carried out or intentionally set of a sequence of events that was to lead to the crime taking
place. The actor or agent does not necessarily have to have done the final action; it just needs to
be proven that their aim was for the success of the criminal act. If a person for example begins
seeking out sexual relations with minors at the local high school, it will be pretty obvious that
this was their intention. But it will be a different case if they meet a minor at an adult’s function
where security personnel were checking the ages of entrants. This is in line with the teaching in
Hebrews 10 that states the absence of atonement for deliberate sin. This atonement was
somehow an extension of grace to sinners. Christians therefore believe that while people are not
perfect, it is wrong to consciously decide to break the existent laws (Stephen, 2014).
The second pre-condition that is carefully considered in the culpability debate is the ability of the
person being accused to have had control over the situation in question. This consideration
basically seeks to establish that the actor did what he or she did knowing that the action is
forbidden, the nature of the action’s consequences, the presence or absence of a coercive force
compelling the person to do what happened and finally the suspect’s overcoming of existent
constraints to ensure that the criminal act took place (Norrie, 2014).
Christianity will similarly apportion blame to an individual if they knowingly break laws.
Romans 6:23 is clear that the punishment for sin is death. This verse is not an island in as far as
sin is concerned; it is in fact more of a reminder given that there are several other scriptures that
define sin. Galatians 5;19 describes several examples of the sinful nature. This means that
Christians believe in a system where one is culpable for their actions provided they know what
they are doing is wrong but still proceed with it. The New Testament in contrast from the Old
goes to great lengths to emphasize that individuals need to take individual responsibility for their
actions and this suggests that believers need to take extra-ordinary steps to ensure they don’t fall
into these sins (Allem, 2013).
In summary what emerges is the fact that the concept of culpability within the criminal law
system is one reserved for the prosecution of serious crimes, separating the guilty from the
innocent and also in the establishment of the motivation that was behind the person’s action.
Culpability is a based on the autonomy of individuals, the responsibility they hold and also the
consequences and severity of the actions they have engaged in. The issue of blame is not a
pleasant one but from time to time it is necessary to apportion blame in extreme situations such
as when a person’s entire life investment has been embezzled or in the case that life has been
lost. The Christian world-view tends to be in agreement with this point of view as the central
theme is fairness and responsibility for one’s actions. Crime and sin carry similar weight and
from a human point of view, there are some crimes that are graver than others. Christianity and
Criminal Law both agree on the need for due diligence during the investigation of these
incidences because the implications of the judgment tend to be grave (Ashworth and Horder,
The third precondition that needs to be met for culpability to be established is the absence of an
acceptable defense or excuse for the actions give. This provision is made necessary by the fact
that there are extraordinary conditions that can at times compel people to operate outside what is
considered moral boundaries. Killing is very grave due to the social connotations of taking
another person’s life. However there are several scenarios that would permit its excusal. An
example is when it happens during self-defense when the suspect’s life or that of another person
was deliberately put at risk. In this case, the individual will be allowed to walk free but it will
need to be proven that their life was actually at risk requiring that amount of force (Moore and
Another example would be in a road accident where a motorist knocks down a pedestrian who
was crossing on a busy high-way where there is usually no human activity. If the person’s state
of mind was altered say by a previously or recently diagnosed mental problem, they would again
be excused. In this regard the onus falls on the prosecution to ensure that the case goes as
intended. Christianity too is clear about incidences where offences are excusable; this is seen in
Proverbs when it is written that a man who steals food because of hunger has committed a lesser
evil than one who steals out of Greed. Cain’s killing of his brother Abel in the book of Genesis
was not excused because he meticulously planned all the details and led his brother to a secluded
place so that he could kill him out of Jealousy.
As such, it is necessary to highlight the fact that an individual’s vested interest plays a role in the
investigation and determination of culpability. Cain’s jealousy and proximity makes him a
person of interest in his brother’s killing in the same way a person’s known enemy can be
considered a prime suspect in the event they get an injury.
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Ashworth, A., & Horder, J. (2013). Principles of criminal law. Oxford University Press.
Bassiouni, M. C. (2012). Introduction to international criminal law. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
Herring, J. (2014). Criminal law: text, cases, and materials. Oxford University Press.
Moore, M. S., & Hurd, H. M. (2011). Blaming the stupid, clumsy, selfish and weak: The
culpability of negligence.
Norrie, A. (2014). Crime, reason and history: A critical introduction to criminal law. Cambridge
Robinson, P. H., & Barton, J. S. (2014). The Structure and Limits of Criminal Law. The
Structure and Limits of Criminal Law (Paul Robinson ed., Ashgate 2014), 13-23.
Stephen, J. F. (2014). A history of the criminal law of England (Vol. 2). Cambridge University
Stephen, J. F., & Smith, K. J. M. (2014). Selected Writings of James Fitzjames Stephen: A
General View of the Criminal Law. Oxford University Press.
Werle, G., & Jessberger, F. (2014). Principles of international criminal law. Oxford University