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Criminal Law
Drexel University School of Law
Tibbs, Donald F.


MPC §2.01 Requirement of Voluntary Act; Omission as Basis of Liability

(1) 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 an act of which he is physically capable.

(2) The following are not voluntary acts within the meaning of this Section:

a. A reflex or convulsion;
b. A bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep;
c. Conduct during hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion;
d. A bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual

(3) Liability for the commission of an offense may not be based on an omission unaccompanied by action unless:

a. The omission is expressly made sufficient by the law defining the offense; or
b. A duty to perform the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law.

Involuntary v. Voluntary Acts

· The Queen v. Parks
o Sleepwalker acquitted
· People v. Newton
o Gun brought into NY by action of pilot, not voluntary action of suspect
· People v. Decina
o Possibility of criminal charges based on failure to take seizure medication for known condition before driving
o Based on idea of “knowledge without precaution,” although that language is lacking from MPC
· Patty Hearst, Lee Malvo
o Failed brainwashing defenses
· People v. Newton
o Newton shot in stomach, returned fire on police while in unconscious state
o Court defined unconscious as “where the subject physically acts in fact, but is not, at the time, conscious of acting”
o Unconscious acts WILL BE CONSIDERED as conscious acts if self-induced

Acts of Omission

· Jones v. U.S.
o Friend’s child dies in Jones’ care from abuse and malnourishment
o “The omission of a duty owed by one individual to another… will make the other chargeable with a crime provided that;
§ The duty neglected must be a “legal” duty and not a mere moral obligation; and
§ It must be a duty imposed by law or contract, and the omission to perform that duty must be the immediate and direct cause of death.

Sources of legal duty to act

· (1) Statute imposes duty to act (file taxes, register for draft)
· (2) Status relationship imposes a duty to act (parent/child)
· (3) Contractual relationship imposes a duty to act (doctor/patient)
· (4) Voluntary assumption to care for another prevents others from rendering aid
o Cannot undertake to assist another and then quit, if doing so would leave victim in a worse situation than prior to the undertaking of assistance
· (5) Defendant’s creation of peril
o Cannot push man into pool and then watch him drown
· (6) Defendant’s status as landowner
· (7) Duty to control third parties (children or employees)

Major Exception

· Not required to place yourself in harm’s way to prevent the harm to another
o Omission based on fact that you might die if you render aid, even if you have a legal duty to do so, will not satisfy Actus Reus of a crime.

· State v. Walden
o Mother had duty to act when she watched a friend beat her child to death
· People v. Henson
o Parent can be charged with negligent homicide for failing to get medical attention for sick child
· Commonwealth v. Twitchell
o Failing to get medical attention for child based on religious beliefs still actionable
· People v. Heitzman
o Child cannot be convicted for omission to care for a parent without more that establishes a legal duty to do so
o No charges for daughter who knew father living in poor conditions with brothers


MPC §2.02 General Requirements of Culpability

(1) …A person is not guilty of an offense unless he acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently, as the law may require, with respect to each material element of the offense.

(2) Kinds of Culpability Defined.

a. Purposely. A person acts purposely with respect to a material element of an offense when:

i. …It is his conscious object to engage in conduct… or to cause such a result; and
ii. If the element involves the attendant circumstances, he is aware of the existence . . . or he believes or hopes that they exist.

b. Knowingly. A person acts knowingly with respect to a material element of an offense when:

i. If the element involves the nature of his conduct or the at

s charged with arson. No arson because arson is a specific intent crime and cannot transfer the intent to steal to the intent to commit arson.

· Exceptions
o Can transfer intent from one victim to another.
o Felony murder.

Mens Rea Defenses

· Mistake of Fact
o At its heart, a MOF is a claim that the D did not have the necessary mens rea for the crime because the D made a mistake or was ignorant of a fact she had to know to be guilty of the charged offense.
o What matters is if the mistake prevented D from forming the requisite mens rea.
o Analysis
§ No mens rea, no crime
§ Some mistakes don’t matter if D knows enough to be guilty of a crime
o Gordon v. State
§ D voted when he was under 21, but believed that he was 21.
§ Court read knowledge requirement into statute.
§ Mistake must be honest and reasonable.
· Mistake of Law
o General rule is that mistake of law is no defense.
o If D misreads, misinterprets, or misunderstands law, too bad.
o Three exceptions
§ (1) When mistake of law acts like mistake of fact
· When element of law requires that D know what the law requires
· People v. Wendt
o D failed to file a tax return because he believed through reading newspapers and court opinions that he was not required to file taxes.
o Statute only required that D was consciously aware that a failure to file his return was practically certain to be caused by his conduct.
§ (2) Mistakes of law that do not negate mens rea are a defense if D is misled by an official authority, including situations where:
· (a) The law is not published
· (b) The mistakes arises from reasonable reliance on a statue that is later determined to be invalid
(c) The mistake is based on reasonable reliance on a court