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Criminal Law
Charleston School of Law
Phillips, Kimberly D.

Criminal Law Phillips Fall 2015

I. Historical Analysis of the Criminal Law-

– Historically, our system of criminal law was developed through the common law. Today, in order for something to be a crime, there must be a statutory prohibition (in that jurisdiction) against it.

– The criminal law in any jurisdiction is likely to comprise of common law principles as well as some formulations derived from the Model Penal Code.

o Model Penal Code (MPC) = a set of model criminal laws drafted by the American Law Institute.

– Purposes of criminal law: punishment, moral retribution (Regina v. Dudley)

o Types of punishment:

§ Retribution

§ Rehabilitation

§ Deterrence

· Specific (restraint)

· General

II. Fundamental Elements of a Crime-

– The fundamental elements of criminal liability are the foundational requirements that apply to all or virtually all, crimes.

– There are four fundamental requirements in order for something to be a crime.

o Crime = Act + Mental State + Result

1. A voluntary act (Actus Reus)

2. A guilty mind (Mens Rea)

3. Concurrence

4. Harmful Result and Causation

– The elements that make up a crime are found in the common law and the particular state statutes from the jurisdiction charged.

A. Actus Reus- (Was there a physical act or an omission?)

– The requirement of a voluntary act is a prerequisite for criminal liability.

– A person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act or the omission to perform a legally imposed act of which he is physically capable. (MPC 2.01)

– Regardless of whether its an act — or a failure to act— a critical attribute of the actus reus requirement is that it must involve some sort of physical behavior.

1. One cannot be charged with a crime purely on the basis of having criminal thoughts.

a. Voluntary Physical Act-

– In order for an act to be culpable, it must first be voluntary.

1. Why? Because it is unfair to punish one for an act that is out of control and punishment would serve no deterrent purpose since you can’t deter people from doing something they have no control over.

– An act is voluntary if the actor’s actions were the product of his own volition.

– An act is not voluntarily when it is done while the person is in a state of no control.

1. Evidence of the state of consciousness of defendant can be used to show the voluntariness of the action. (State v. Boleyn)

2. If the defendant does not have the requisite mental state for the crime charged, he cannot be said to have acted voluntarily.

Ø A person who, though capable of the action, is not conscious of what he is doing, may suffer from a condition called automatism and his actions are said to be involuntary.

Ø Unconsciousness, or automatism, is a complete defense to a criminal charge, separate and apart from the defense of insanity; that is an affirmative defense and that burden rests upon the defendant to establish unless it arises out of the state’s own evidence. (Fulcher v. State)

3. The difference between the state of diminished capacity and unconsciousness is one of degree only: where the former (diminished capacity) provides a partial defense by negating a specific mental state es

and in health, and to do whatever may be necessary for their care, maintenance, and preservation, including medical attendance if necessary.”

Ø A parent who fails to take any action to stop instances of child abuse can be prosecuted as a principal for exposing the child to the abuse (parent may be charged as the actual abuser).

3. Where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for another

Ø Where one contracts to assume responsibility of another and fails to that is the violation of a legal duty. (Commonwealth v. Pestinkas)

4. Where one has voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid

– A legal duty may also be imposed when a person puts another in peril (pushes a person in a well and they cannot easily get out)

– Property owners may be obliged to ensure a minimum level of safety on their premises for visitors and customers.

– When a person has a duty to control the conduct of another (or of the person’s animal). (I.E. A parent may be held liable for not stopping something that the parent’s child does)

– Outside of the common law principles for omission liability, state or federal laws may also require that certain acts be done. For example: teachers may be required to report evidence of child abuse and and citizens may be required to file taxes.