out of character
The use of ‘Out of Character’ in the Criminal Justice System
In simple terms, ‘Out of character’ refers to conduct that is unusual and inconsistent with the behaviors of an individual. A human being, as we know, is a very complex creature that portrays different kinds of behaviors. While some conducts can be known by the public, others are hidden and can only be revealed when a criminal offense is committed. However, as Doris John exclaims in ‘Out of Character: On the Psychology of Excuses in the Criminal Law,’ all offenders are justified to have an excuse for the criminal offenses they are accused of committing. Reasonably, it might be unfair to subject a criminal offender to punishment while denying them an opportunity to use an excuse to defend themselves.
Nonetheless, I would like to argue there is no such thing as ‘out-out of character.’ The concept of ‘out of character’ is not sufficient to be used in the court of law as the justification of crime. Although all accused persons should granted an opportunity to defend themselves, they do not necessarily need to rely on ‘out of character’ as a means of beating the judicial system. Even if one commits a particular crime for the very first time, they should not be acquitted based on that. There are certain acts of crime that are very rare, but can be committed if an opportunity arises. So, even if this happens, no one should be freed on the ground that the act was inconsistent with their normal behaviors. Otherwise, all the perpetrators of rare offenses like homicide can be set free because they acted out of character.
The theory of excuse and punishment in criminal law is very complex and should be handled with lots of caution. Crime is not limited to known (hardcore) criminals alone, but can as well be committed by model citizens who have no history of crime at all. It is true that people always act according to their characters. Individual reputations are at times misleading because they are constructed by others based on what they think of an individual. This explains why a model citizen can commit a serious crime that can shock their close relatives, workmates, classmates and friends. So, in case this happens, the offenders should not be set free because they merely acted out of character. Anyone can commit a crime no matter the behaviors they have possessed all along.
As Doris emphasizes, the challenges posed by the concept of ‘out of character’ can be resolved by a proper use of character theory. For the criminal justice system to ascertain if an offender is culpable of the crime, the Model Penal Code that advocates for the duress excuse need to be applied. At the same time, a thorough assessment of the act and character of the offender should be conducted. Psychological evaluation of the quality of action and character is important because it can help in determining situation under which the act was committed as well as the motive behind the act. Once these are adequately analyzed, a proper decision can be made regarding the capability of the offender engaging in such acts. These can help in giving a fair trial as the culpability of the offender to commit a crime is determined.