EXCUSE. A reason alleged for the do ing or not doing a thing.
This word presents two ideas, differing essentially from each other. In one case an 'excuse May be made In order to show that the party accused Is not guilty ; in another, by showing that though guilty he is less so than he appears to be. Take, for ex ample, the case of a sheriff who has an execution against an individual, and who, in performance of his duty, arrests him: in an action by the defend ant against the sheriff, the latter may prove the facts, and this shall be a sufficient excuse for him ; this is an excuse of the first kind, or a complete justification ; the sheriff was guilty of no offence. But suppose, secondly, that the sheriff has an execu tion against Paul, and by mistake, and without any malicious design, he arrests Peter instead of Paul: the fact of his having the execution against Paul and the mistake being made will not justify the sheriff, but it will extenuate and excuse his conduct, and this will be an excuse of the second kind.
Persons are sometimes excused for the commis sion of acts which ordinarily are crimes, either be cause they had no intention of doing wrong, or be cause they had no power of judging, and therefore had no criminal will, or, having power of judging, they had no choice, and were compelled by neces sity. Among the first class may be placed infants under the age of discretion, lunatics, and married women committing certain offences in the presence of their husbands. Among acts of the second kind may be classed the beating or killing another in self-defence, the destruction of property in order to prevent a more serious calamity, as the tearing down of a house on fire to prevent its spreading to the neighboring property, and the like. See Dalloz, Diet.