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Criminal Law
Rutgers University, Newark School of Law
Jones, charles

ELEMENTS OF CRIMINAL LAW

1) Act (Actus Reus) (M.P.C. 2.01(1)) the MPC is not law but a formulation of provisions of criminal law that reflect modern thinking of how elements should be interpreted.
a) act
b) omission
2) Mens Rea (mental state)
3) Concurrence of act and state of mind.
4) Resulting harm or the result of conduct
5) Causation between intent, act and consequence of harm
6) Punishment
7) Legality (origin in the 8th or 14th amendments and equal protection clause)
a) Sufficient notice of criminal prohibitions
b) Punishment must be proportionate to the conduct

JUSTIFICATIONS OF PUNISHMENT

Retribution:Backward-looking – D gets what he deserves. Punishment is imposed to vent society’s sense of outrage and need for revenge.
Utilitarian:Forward looking, to deter, set an example to others
Rehabilitation: Imprisonment provides the opportunity to mold or reform the criminal.
Incapacitation: (Restraint) While imprisoned, a criminal has fewer opportunities to commit acts causing harm to society.
Special Deterrence: Punishment may deter the criminal from committing future crimes. Forward looking
General Deterrence: Punishment may deter persons other than the criminal from committing similar crimes for fear of incurring the same punishment. Forward-looking.
Education: The publicity attending the trial, conviction, and punishment of some criminals serves to educate the public to distinguish good and bad conduct and to develop respect for the law.

ELEMENTS OF A CRIME

Actus Reus: A physical act of unlawful omission by the defendant;
Mens Rea: The state of mind or intent of the defendant at the time of his act;
Concurrence: The physical act and mental state existed at the same time;
Harmful Result and Causation: A harmful result caused (both factually and proximately) by the defendant’s act.

ACTUS REUS

Requirement of Overt and Voluntary Conduct. It must be a conscious exercise of the will.
Rationale: An involuntary act will not be deterred by punishment.
Note: A voluntary act is not rendered involuntary simply because it may include an involuntary act or because it had unintended consequences.

Criminal liability must be based on voluntary conduct. No act is punishable if it is done involuntary. (Martin v. State: drunk guy forced on highway by police and then charged with being drunk on highway; RULE: Cannot be guilty of crime where conduct was not voluntary.)
MPC § 2.01(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. (People v. Newton: D shoots cop while unconscious from being shot himself); RULE: Where not self-induced, as by voluntary intoxication or equivalent, unconsciousness is a complete defense to a charge of criminal homicide. HOWEVER, if D knows of frequent involuntary act, he may be convicted. (Regina v. Parks: D knows he’s subject to epileptic attacks, drove car, killed 4 people).

(a) Habit: The MPC expressly declares that a habitual action done without thought is to be treated as a voluntary action.
(b) Possession: The MPC 2.01(4) provides that possession is an act only if the per

perform operation?)
– Person who tries to help might end up causing more harm (e.g. faulty CPR)

Criminal liability must arise from more than a moral duty to act; a legal duty must exist.

MPC § 2.01(3)(a) and (b): Liability for a commission of an offense may not be based on an omission unaccompanied by action unless: (a) 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.
Pope v. State: (D failed to aid in rescuing child from abusive, mentally ill mother after taking them both in to her home). No duty to do so b/c relationship that is req’d (by statute) between D and V does not exist. Assumption of care does not apply b/c mother was always present. Crim liability may not apply solely on acts of hospitability and kindness.
Danger invites Rescue: People v. Oliver: woman gave man a spoon and left man in her apt. to overdose. RULE: Where one takes charge of a person unable to prevent harm to himself, legal duty is imposed. RULE 2: Where one’s conduct had contributed to creating unreas’ble risk of danger, D has legal duty. HOWEVER, BUT SEE People v. Beardsley: D’s conviction for manslaughter was reversed b/c D owed no legal duty to woman (not his wife) who stayed over weekend and overdosed.