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

Spring 2011
The object of punishment is to reinforce that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to the overall utility, i.e., to overall happiness or pleasure of society.  Criminal law seeks to achieve that objective with the purpose of preserving law and order, and reducing crime the future.  It does so by punishing criminals under four generally recognized theories of punishment. 
The first is general deterrence, which seeks to deter people (and co-felons) in general from committing a particular crime.  This theory serves as a practical constraint by requiring the punishment of those who we in a position to avoid causing harm to society, but chose otherwise.  The second is specific deterrence, when seeks to deter specific persons from committing specific crimes if and when they are faced with a similar set of facts in the future.  The third is rehabilitation, which aims to treat or teach the defendant so that he will no longer commit crimes in the future.  This theory is applied because fairness seems to require punishing only those who deserve blame for acts they have chosen to perform, and interests of society are best served by helping to put them into a position to make better choices by providing life skills training such as job training, therapy for drug addiction, and family planning.  Lastly, the fourth theory is retribution.  This theory is applied to punish someone because they deserve to be punished as the ‘just deserts’ for their harm to society.  It is a practical imposition of the morals and ethics of society onto the criminal mind by which we seek to punish in proportion to harm caused by the crime, and the degree of culpability in the criminal. 
Generally, not every criminal succeeds at crime: (1) some try their best and fail; (2) some change their mind and stop short of their goals; and (3) some get caught before they can complete their crimes.  Attempt punishes offenders who intend to commit a crime (referred to as the “target” crime) and act to implement that intent, but do not achieve their goal.  The objectives of punishment are: (1) Police can prevent crime by arresting individual before he can succeed’ (2) Enables the criminal justice system to punish individuals who have acted on their criminal intentions and are dangerous; and (3) Can seriously punish those who intend to commit a crime in the same manner and to the same degree as those who actually do.  We punish attempts because we cannot punish thoughts, but we can punish thoughts when they are coupled with a substantial act towards completing that thought. 
When a defendant argues that was impossible for him to commit the crime because of some intervening fact, he will lose.  This is because we are dealing with the crime of attempt, which should be punished if the accused intents to commit the crime even if the crime itself was never factually possible. 
The Appropriate Punishment — how far should we go with punishing attempts?
·         MPC 5.05(1) punishes attempts as severely as the completed crime b/c same danger & same blame regardless of success
·         CA 664 punishes less severely than completed offense unless the conduct was just as threatening
·         Fed. Sentencing Guidelines 2X1.1(b) recommends significantly less UNLESS D committed, or would have committed but for interruption, all the acts necessary to complete the substantive offense
The goal of punishment for felony murder is specific and general deterrence because it seeks to (1) specifically deter persons (and their co-felons) from committing felonies; and (2) generally deter people (and co-felons) from (a) committing crimes; (b) engaging in serious felonies by holding them liable for all the carnage regardless if the killing is negligent or accidental; and (c) engaging in reckless or negligent behavior during the commission of the felony.  We hold a defendant is strictly liable for deaths that occur during or as a consequence of the defendant’s perpetration of an independent, inherently dangerous felony – even though he did not intend or d

fining the offense; or
b.       A duty to perform the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law.
INVOLUNTARY ACTS — An act is not involuntary because simply because the actor did not mean to do it, or did not desire the outcome.  Instead, an involuntary act requires some muscle movement without any control of the mind, or an act done by someone who is not conscious of what they are doing.  See, e.g., Queen v. Parks (sleepwalking); People v. Decina (a seizure while driving is involuntary, however the failure to take seizure medication before driving is not); People v. (Huey) Newton (“where the subject physically acts in fact, but is not, at the time, conscious of acting”).  The problem with not punishing involuntary acts is that a criminal can always claim that a criminal was involuntary. 
Sleepwalking — The Queen v. Parks (1992) (Sleepwalker acquitted)
A Seizure is involuntary, failure to medicate is not — People v. Decina (1955) (Possibility of criminal charges based on failure to take seizure medication for known condition before driving)
Note: Based on idea of a voluntary act by “knowledge without precaution,” although that language is lacking from MPC
Moved by someone else — People v. Newton (1973) (Gun brought into NY by action of pilot in response to erratic behavior of suspect, not voluntary action of suspect)
Unconscious Act — People v. Huey Newton (1970) (Newton shot in stomach, returned fire on police while in unconscious state)
Note1: Court defined unconscious as “where the subject physically acts in fact, but is not, at the time, conscious of acting”
Note2: Unconscious acts WILL BE CONSIDERED as conscious acts if self-induced