Subjectively Right, Objectively Wrong: A Moral Question
Suppose, for example, I correctly believe someone is trying to kill me. You, a stranger, take some entirely innocent act which I reasonably interpret as the beginning of an assassination attempt. I attack you, injure you, and then discover my mistake. What ought to happen to me?
The answer that fits my intuition—I think I could justify it in terms of the economic analysis of law, but that isn't the approach I'm interested in at the moment—is that I am guilty of a tort but not a crime. I have injured you and so owe compensation but did not intend to violate your rights and so do not deserve punishment.
Now, to make the question more interesting, replace me by the government. You are arrested for a murder you did not commit, convicted on convincing evidence, and jailed awaiting execution. The only way in which you can save your life is by escaping, killing a guard in the process; you do so. A month later—after you would have been executed if you had not escaped—someone else confesses to the murder, providing absolutely convincing evidence of your innocence. What now is your status? Are you a murderer because you killed a guard? Or are you innocent on grounds of self defense, with perhaps a claim against the government for false imprisonment?
The government and the guard were subjectively innocent, since they reasonably believed you were a murderer and so deserved to be executed (I'm not interested, at the moment, in whether capital punishment itself is morally justified—it just makes the example simpler). But they were objectively guilty, since in fact you were not a murderer and they were thus attempting to kill you when you did not deserved to be killed. You are both subjectively and objectively innocent of killing someone without justification, since they were in fact trying to kill you and you had no other way of defending yourself—unless their subjective innocence makes their actions morally correct.
Do other people agree with my intuition—that you are innocent, the government and its agents liable to you for damages but not deserving of punishment? If not, do you have a different approach to such situations, preferably one that applies to both private and state actors?