1. Elements of a Crime:
a. Actus Reus: Physical Act (or omission) criminalized in a particular statute
b. Mens Rea: Mental State required for criminal liability
c. Circumstances: Facts that limit the reach of the provision (criminal statute)
d. Harm: Some criminal statutes include this element. Viewed as a social harm that merits punishment when caused in certain situation
e. Causation: If statute includes harm as element, it also includes causation, which links the Actus Reus & the harm.
2. Sources of Criminal Law:
a. Common Law: Historical roots of Statutory Criminal Law. Common Law crimes created through judicial decisions that served as precedents for future applications & development of the law.
i. Felony v. Misdemeanor: All Felonies such as murder, rape, & burglary were punishable by death, while misdemeanors carried less severe punishments, such as imprisonment, land forfeiture, whipping, fines, forced manual labor.
ii. Relevance Today:
1. Some Jurisdictions accept common law crimes when those offenses aren’t inconsistent w/ statues (may also recognize CL defenses)
2. Some Jurisdictions have statutes generally defining a crime, but leave detailed definition to common law precedents.
3. Important tool of Statutory Construction.
b. Statutes: Legislature serves primary role in determining what types of conduct are labeled as crimes. Legislature creates a crime when it concludes there’s an aspect of wrongfulness, person’s acts are not socially beneficial, & general consensus that conduct should be actively discouraged.
c. Administrative Crimes
d. Model Penal Code: Although not adopted in full in all (if any) jurisdictions, it provides foundation for understanding how basic principles of criminal law can be applied consistently across spectrum of state statutes & judicial precedents.
i. Advisory system to bring stability & congruence to criminal statutory system.
3. Classification of Crimes
a. Felony v. Misdemeanor: Crimes punishable w/ more than 1 year in prison are Felonies, while Misdemeanor’s carry less than a year imprisonment
b. Malum in Se & Malum Prohibitum
i. Malum in Se: “Wrongful in Itself” – Crimes involving moral turpitude; offender has engaged in a breach of a social norm.
1. Includes CL Felonies (murder, rape, robbery, burglary, arson, & mayhem) b/c conduct was clearly against social norms
ii. Malum Prohibitum: Wrongful based on violating legislative or admin provision.
1. Includes Record-keeping, environmental tax, & other regulatory offenses
2. So categorized b/c Leg enacted them as means to ensure integrity of administrative state & req. adherence to its regulations, but conduct isn't viewed as involving serious moral wrongdoing in itself.
iii. General Rule: Only Malum Prohibitum crimes can be Strict Liability offenses, which are crimes that don’t require proof of D’s mental state.
4. Statutory Interpretation
a. Plain Meaning: Cts typically Start w/ statute’s text itself, looking for plain meaning of the words. Clearest indication of legislative intent.
i. May use dictionaries, consider Title of statute, etc
b. Legislative History: If statute’s terms can't be determined solely from text, Cts then examine legislative history to try to discern intent of legislature when the law was passed.
i. Discussion at hearings, committee rpts, and floor debates.
ii. Examine changes in the law to identify meaning of statute’s words
iii. Look to see how the same term is used in other statutes
c. Ejusdem Generis: When general language follows specific terms in a statute, this rule limits general language to specific categories listed.
i. Ex: Statute prohibiting possession of dagger, pistol & other deadly or dangerous weapons, wouldn’t include flare gun designed as an emergency signaling device
d. Precedent: Cts look to prior case law to see how judicial opinions have previously examined that statute
e. Policy Considerations: Finally, Cts also look at what motivated legislature to pass the law & what purpose legislature had when legislation was initially considered.
f. Rule of Lenity (Rule of Strict Construction) Applies to criminal statutes that don’t have clear meaning or are subject to more than one constitutional meaning
i. Requires statute be interpreted narrowly to favor the accused
ii. Policy: Make certain the accused has fair notice of the crime.
iii. Critics: Reject rule on theory that it’s too pro-defendant & gives insufficient weight to interests of the prosecution & intent of legislature
g. Constitutional Restraints
i. Vagueness: Statute can't be so “vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning & differ as to its application.”
1. Vague Statute violates Due Process
2. Cts require clear statutes to:
a. Allow people to arrange their conduct so as to steer clear of unlawful acts
b. Prevent arbitrary & discriminatory enforcement of laws
c. Avoid limiting individual freedom of speech & expression.
ii. Federalism: Fed Gov’t can only pass legislation within the exercise of its constitutional powers. Thus, when Congress passes law that encompasses conduct that’s traditionally a state concern, federalism concerns arise.
iii. Right to Privacy: Criminal Statutes can't violate right to privacy guaranteed by 14th Amendment Due Process Clause
iv. Cruel & Unusual Punishment: Prohibited by 8th Amendment
v. Ex Post Facto: D can't be punished for a crime that wasn’t a statutory offense at time he committed the act. Punishment is limited to what is contained in statute at time of the act
1. “A law that retroactively changes legal consequences of acts committed or legal status of facts & relationships that existed prior to enactment of law. In reference to criminal law, it may criminalize actions that were legal when committed; or it may aggravate crime by bringing it into more severe category than it was in at time it was committed; or it may change or increase punishment prescribed for a crime, such as by adding new penalt
session as A.R. must be knowing & not accidental
e. Common Law v. MPC
i. Common Law: Crime must include either voluntary act or omission when there’s a duty to act.
ii. MPC: Much more specific à See above; Involuntary Acts ≠ Actus Reus
f. Vicarious Liability: D may be responsible for the acts of another, i.e., if the actus reus, committed by X, is imputed to D
i. Ex: Statute may provide that the owner of a bar is liable for employee’s act of selling liquor to a minor
8. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind)
a. In General: Refers to the mental state needed for criminal liability
b. Proof of Mens Rea: Prosecution must prove Mens Rea beyond a reasonable doubt
i. Circumstantial evidence used to prove what was in Ds mind at time of crime
c. General/Specific Intent:
i. General: The D intended to perform the physical act (though not to intend the result or to violate the law) (Recklessly, maliciously, criminal negligence)
1. BRIM: (1) Battery; (2) Rape, (3) Involuntary Manslaughter; (4) Murder (other than intent-to-kill forms)
ii. Specific: The D must have a particular state of mind in relation to the offense conduct, such as a conscious object to cause a result or with a purpose to engage in the illegal conduct
1. Intentional, Deliberate, Willful (Purposeful); Knowingly, W/ Knowledge
2. BAM ACTS: (1) Burglary; (2) Assault (intent to frighten or batter) (3) Murder (Intent-to-kill-forms only); (4) Attempt; (5) Conspiracy; (6) Theft; (7) Solicitation
i. Intentionally/Purposefully: Person wanted the result to occur or was simply aware that it was very likely to occur
ii. Willfully: The act must have been the product of the D’s volition or will
1. What Must Be Known: What the D knew or should have known
2. How Certain is Knowledge: A person has knowledge of a particular fact if the person is aware of a probability of its existence
iv. Recklessly: D recognized that his or her behavior presented a risk, was aware of facts that made the risk substantial and unjustifiable (Objective), and nevertheless went ahead despite this knowledge (Subjective)
v. Negligence: D created a risk of harm by failing to act as a reasonable person would have acted