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Middle English escusen, excusen, < Old French escuser, excuser


  • 1a : something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused
b plural : an expression of regret for failure to do something
c : a note of explanation of an absence
  • 2: justification, reason


In jurisprudence, an excuse or justification is a defense to criminal charges that is distinct from an exculpation. In this context, "to excuse" means to grant or obtain an exemption for a group of persons sharing a common characteristic from a potential liability. "To justify" as in justifiable homicide means to "vindicate" or show the justice in the particular conduct. Thus, society approves of the purpose or motives underpinning some actions or the consequences flowing from them (see Robinson), and distinguishes those where the behavior cannot be approved but some excuse may be found in the characteristics of the defendant, e.g. that the accused was a serving police officer or suffering from a mental illness. Thus, a justification describes the quality of the act, whereas an excuse relates to the status or capacity (or lack of it) in the accused. "To exculpate" means to free an individual from culpability after they have caused loss or damage, and to represent this in a judgment that is either an acquittal, mitigates sentencing in the criminal law, or reduces or extinguishes the liability to pay compensation to the victim in the civil law.