Criminal Liability for Omissions: An Inventory of Issues


Larry Alexander

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The absence in Anglo-American law of any general duty to rescue others from harms - the legal permission to be a Bad Samaritan - has been both criticized and defended in numerous articles and books. There are, however, a number of exceptions to the legal permission that are enforced through the criminal law. Thus, one has a duty to rescue another if he has caused that person's peril, if he has previously agreed to rescue that person, if he is that person's husband or father, and so on. These exceptions to the "no legal duty to rescue" principle have received very little scholarly attention. Yet they raise a number of interesting issues, both theoretical and practical. My paper brings many of these issues to light and in some instances tentatively suggests how they should be resolved. My ambition, however, is not to have the last word on the issues' analyses, but is, rather, primarily to interest criminal law scholars in the issues I survey.