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Movie Project
Law Abiding Citizen
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Nicollette Levi

I. Abstract
Law Abiding Citizen is about a man named Clyde Shelton who is an honorable family man, until
the day his wife and daughter are murdered in a home invasion. He hopes that the men involved
with this dreadful crime receive their rightful punishment, but a rising prosecutor named Nick
Rice makes a deal with one of the killers in exchange for a testimony. Ten years later, that man is
found dead and Shelton calmly admits his guilt. Shelton claims that he killed the man for
retribution. Then he hands Rice an ultimatum: Fix the broken legal system or suffer the
consequences.
Word Count: 101

II. Identification
Central Ethical Issue:
Is it right for Clyde Shelton to kill his wife and daughter's murderer's and those involved with
that case to get justice for his wife and daughter's murder?
The entire movie Clyde Shelton is seeking justice for the murder of his wife and daughter
because he feels that the legal system failed to bring justice to their deaths. He believes that
justice has been robbed from him because Nick Rice, the prosecutor of the case who was
unwilling to take a chance on lowering his 96% conviction rate, chose to make a deal with Darby
(the actual murderer), letting him plead guilty to a lesser charge, in return for testifying against
Ames. Ames is falsely found guilty of masterminding the break-in and both murders and is
sentenced to death. Shelton feels betrayed by Rice's actions, as he had pleaded with him not to
make the deal and to at least try convict both of them, and because he chose to release the actual
killer. Shelton couldn't understand how someone could murder a woman and her daughter, and
only need to serve a couple years in prison. So, Clyde Shelton decides to take justice into his
own hands and kills Ames, Darby, and those involved in the case allowing Darby to serve such a
short sentence.

III. Research
1. www.swlaw.edu/pdfs/lr/41_1salzmann.pdf: This article focuses on how popular culture,
such as movies like Law Abiding Citizen, influence people's perception on the law and
legal system. The article gives two purposes the movie serves for as a legal analysis. The
article also investigates the different perceptions related to plea bargaining. Then it
explains why the popular culture portrayals have the ability to change public perception
of the legal process, even when they are not true. The article also opines on how this film
may contribute to negative perceptions of pleas. In addition it discusses how lawyers in
the criminal justice system should understand and respond to these fictionalized public
beliefs.

2. http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/plea-bargain-pros-and-cons.html: This
article examines the pros and cons of plea bargaining. The article states that more than 90
percent of criminal convictions come from negotiated pleas. In addition, the article shows
the points of view towards plea bargaining of different players in the criminal justice
system. For judges, the key incentive for accepting a plea bargain is to alleviate the need
to schedule and hold a trial on an already overcrowded docket. For prosecutors plea
bargaining assures a conviction, even if it is for a lesser charge or crime. For a defendant
in a criminal case, plea bargaining provides the opportunity for a lighter sentence on a
less severe charge, and to have fewer (or less serious) offenses listed on a criminal record.
3. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41963513/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/dad-ill-kill-mysons-murderer-if-hes-released/#.VlYOvGcQXIU: This article talks about a father who
claims that he'd kill his son's murderer if the murderer is released from prison. Michael
Woodmansee was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1982 for killing a young boy and
eating the boy's flesh. But the plea bargain deal allowed him to be released early for good
behavior. The father of the boy has said "I do intend, if this man is released anywhere in
my vicinity, or if I can find him after the fact, I do intend to kill this man." He also said "I
cannot think, I cannot sleep. All I think about is trying to find a way to get this man to kill
him." The father said he wanted to kill Woodmansee "as aggressively and painfully as he
killed my son."

IV. Stakeholders Chart


Clyde takes the law into his
hands
Clyde Shelton

Nick Rice

Darby

Ames

Sarah

Jonas

Kills the people involved with


his wife and daughter's
murders case, dies in a bomb
explosion in prison
Has to find a way to stop
Shelton before he kills all of
his peers, eventually kills
Shelton with Shelton's bomb
Gets murdered by Shelton
very brutally and painfully
Execution gets tampered with
and dies very brutally and
painfully
Dies in a car explosion
planned by Shelton
Gets shot by Shelton and dies
in a car explosion conducted

Clyde doesn't take the law


into his hands and accepts
the decision of the court
Mourns the death of his wife
and daughter, but continues on
with his life
Continues to make deals with
murderers to keep his high
conviction rate
Goes on with his life of doing
drugs and continues to kill and
rob people
Execution goes as planned and
dies by lethal injection
Continues to work for Nick
Rice helping him keep his
high conviction rate
Continues to work as a
District Attorney

Judge Laura Burch

by Shelton
Gets shot through a phone by
Shelton

Continues to work as a judge

V. Application
Part 1: Consequential Theory
1. The consequential theory I chose is called act utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the view
that what we ought to do morally is produce the greatest possible utility for the greatest
possible number of people. The Utility Principle states that the right action in any
situation is the one that tends to produce the greatest possible balance of happiness over
unhappiness for the greatest possible number. Act utilitarians argue we should apply this
principle to every action we take. The core of act utilitarianism is Bentham's Utility
Principle. Bentham said that a variety of factors would have to be considered, including
the intensity of the pleasure an act tends to produce, the duration of the pleasure, its
likelihood of occurring, the immediacy or delay in experiencing that pleasure, the number
of people who experience the pleasure or pain. Act utilitarianism focuses on what an
individual should do in a specific circumstance. Act utilitarianism shifts our focus away
from self-centered thinking and requires us to think more globally, but act utilitarianism
makes some debatable assumptions. Act utilitarianism assumes that happiness and
unhappiness, or pleasure and pain, are of a nature to be measured and predicted
accurately, but these are subjective feelings. In addition, act utilitarianism overlooks
important moral concepts like individual rights. The welfare and rights of an individual
can get lost in the overall well-being of the group (Addis, Ethics applied, 2004, pp. 127130).
2. The steps to applying act utilitarianism is to first, identify the ethical decision to be made.
So the ethical decision for Shelton's case would be, Is it right for Clyde Shelton to kill
his wife and daughter's murderer's and those involved with that case to get justice for his
wife and daughter's murder? The next step is to list all possible optional actions. Shelton's
options are to either take the law into his own hands or not to take the law into his own
hands and accepting the decision of the court. The following step is to list all people
affected by these optional responses. The people that are affected by the possible options
Shelton has are Nick Rice, Darby, Ames, Jonas, Sarah, Judge Laura Burch, and Clyde
Shelton, of course. The next step is to determine the net utility of each option. So, for the
first option, which is for Shelton to take the law into his own hands the outcome will
result in unhappiness for Shelton, or a sad face, because though he gets revenge for the
murder of his wife and daughter, he dies in a bomb explosion in prison. For Nick Rice,
the first option will result in unhappiness because though he eventually stops Shelton by
killing him with a bomb, his friends have been killed by Shelton. For Darby, the outcome
for the first option results in unhappiness because he ends up being killed by Shelton is a

very brutal and painful way. The first option for Ames results in unhappiness, because the
outcome is that though Ames still is executed, his execution gets tampered with, causing
his death to be extremely painful and brutal. Option 1 results in unhappiness for Sarah
because she gets killed in a car explosion, which was planned by Shelton. Jonas gets a
sad face because the first option results in his death because Shelton shoots him and
Jonas dies in a car explosion. For Judge Laura Burch, the first option results in
unhappiness because she gets shot through a phone by Shelton and dies. Therefore, the
option of Shelton taking the law into his own hands results in seven sad faces. Then the
next option of Shelton not taking the law into his own hands and accepting the decision
of the court results in a happy face for Shelton because although he mourns the death of
his wife and daughter, he eventually moves on with his life. Option 2 results in a neutral
feeling for Nick Rice because he continue to work as a prosecutor with a high conviction
rate, and although he makes deals with murders, it doesn't affect his happiness. For
Darby, option 2 results in a neutral feeling because he continues to live his life full of
drugs. Ames gets a sad face because he still gets executed by lethal injection. Option 2
results in a neutral feeling for Sarah, Jonas, and Judge Laura Burch because their
outcome is that they continue to work and live their lives. Therefore, option 2 results in
one happy face, one sad face, and five neutral faces. The last step to applying act
utilitarianism is to choose and follow the option that produces the highest net utility. For
this case, option 2, which is Shelton not taking the law into his own hands and accepting
the decision of the court, produces the most happy faces (Addis, Ethics applied, 2004, pp.
130-133).

Part 2: Non-Consequential Theory


1. The non-consequential theory I chose is the natural law theory. Natural law theories of
ethics conceive of morality and its rules as being part of the organization of the universe,
which is that moral principles govern the world just as much as natural scientific laws.
Natural scientific laws reveal to us how the world is, while natural moral laws indicate
how the world ought to be. Natural law theorists invariably tie morality to some aspect of
human nature. They claim that there is something about humans that allows us to
understand moral principles and then do our duty to "follow nature." Aquinas' Natural
Law Theory states that the basic principle of "Good is to be done and pursued, and evil
avoided," is embedded in every human soul, whether good or evil. Aquinas assumes that
there a few things that all humans value. These are called universal human goods or
values, they include human life, health, procreation, welfare of children, knowledge, and
human relationship. Aquinas also assumes that if these inclinations are values shared by
all humans, that they must be part of our basic human nature. He also adopts Aristotle's
reasoning that our purpose in life is to fulfill our human nature, and the foundation of
ethics is to fulfill our purpose. Therefore, actions that promote these shared universal
values are "right", because they help to fulfill our human nature and purpose. Actions that

violate or interfere with these values are "wrong," because they also interfere with the
fulfillment of our nature and purpose (Addis, Ethics applied, 2004, pp. 165-169).
2. The steps to apply the natural law theory is to first, consider all possible optional actions.
The optional actions for Shelton are to either take the law into his own hands or to not
take the law into his own hands and accept the decision of the court. The next step is to
evaluate each option to see if it violates or interferes with any of the universal human
goods. Option 1 violates the value of human life because when Shelton takes the law into
his own hands he plans to kill his wife and daughter's murderers and everyone involved
in that case. Option 2 doesn't violate any universal human values or goods. The next step
is to eliminate all option that clearly violate one or more universal human good.
Therefore, option 1 is eliminated from Shelton's possible optional actions. The last step
is to apply any options remaining that are morally permissible. So Shelton must accept
the decision of the court and not take the law into his own hands (Addis, Ethics applied,
2004, pp. 169-172).

VI. Decision Making


The wisest and most ethical decision for Shelton is to accept the decision of the court and
not take the law into his own hands. First of all, accepting the decision of the court and not
taking the law into his own hands, results in the most people in happiness according to act
utilitarianism. Also, it doesn't violate any universal human goods after applying the natural law
theory. By accepting the decision of the court and not taking the law into his own hands, Shelton
allows himself to fully mourn the death of his wife and daughter. In addition, Shelton gets to
move on with his life. By accepting the decision of the court and not taking his the law into his
own hands, everyone but the murderers essentially wins. Nobody suffers or loses from this
action, more than they would have if Shelton made no action at all. Ames would have died
regardless, and Darby is just a low life. Those involved with the case continue to do their job and
get to keep their lives. At the end of the day, accepting the decision of the court and not taking
the law into his own hands, is the best decision for Shelton to make.

VII. Reflection
The movie, Law Abiding Citizen, was overall a very good movie. Its intensity was
extremely intriguing and kept my interest at all times. There were a few parts that were quite
disturbing, mostly in the beginning of the movie. Gerard Butler did a fantastic job of going from
the average father and husband to the revenge seeking serial killer. I found myself rooting for
him even though he was constantly murdering people. I really liked how this movie drew
attention to the flaw of plea bargaining and the adversarial system. The adversarial system causes
lawyers to mainly be interested in winning the case as oppose to seeking true justice.

Work Cited Page

Addis, Don. "Consequential Ethical Theories." Ethics Applied. Ed. 7.0. ed. Boston: Pearson
Education, 2004. 127-133. Print.
Addis, Don. "Non-Consequential Ethical Theories Part 1." Ethics Applied. Ed. 7.0. ed. Boston:
Pearson Education, 2004. 165-172. Print.
"Dad: I'll Kill My Son's Murderer If He's Released." Msnbc.com. NBCNews.com, 8 Mar. 2011.
Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41963513/ns/us_newscrime_and_courts/t/dad-ill-kill-my-sons-murderer-if-hes-released/#.VlYOvGcQXIU>.
Law Abiding Citizen. Dir. F. Gary Gray. Perf. Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx. Alliance Films Inc.,
2009. Film.
"Plea Bargain Pros and Cons - FindLaw." Findlaw. Thomson Reuters. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.
<http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/plea-bargain-pros-and-cons.html>.
Salzmann, Victoria S. "THE FILM LAW ABIDING CITIZEN: HOW POPULAR CULTURE IS
POISONING PEOPLES PERCEPTIONS OF PLEAS." 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 26 Nov.
2015. http://www.swlaw.edu/pdfs/lr/41_1salzmann.pdf

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