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Criminal Law
Rutgers University, Newark School of Law
Coombs, Russell M.

Rule of Criminal Responsibility: a person is not guilty of an offense unless her conduct, which must include a voluntary act, and which must be accompanied by a culpable state of mind (mens rea), is the actual and proximate cause of the social harm, as proscribed by the offense.
Culpability/Element Analysis (gov has to prove that all the elements coexisted at the time of the crime and determine the culpability as to each element) – CONCURRENCE needed
Actus Reus (Voluntary Act) – some crimes are specifically defined in terms of the acts the D must have committed (rape, burglary), others do not particularize the requisite acts and thus a conviction must be based upon the general concept of what constitutes a criminal “act” (homicide).
1. An act (commission) – must be conscious and volitional
i. volitional: must have will to conduct, reflexes, convulsions, movements during sleep and hypnosis are not sufficient “acts” bc they are not volitional (MPC 2.01)
a. doesn’t matter if coerced to do it
ii. cognitive: awareness of conduct must be present, if there is a failure of cognition there is always going to be a failure of volition
a. Exception: a state of unconsciousness will not preclude a finding of criminal liability where the D was at fault in causing his unconsciousness, or engaged in conduct that D knows he might become unconscious.
iii. Rationale:
a. Deterrence: useless to punish involuntary actor bc he can’t be deterred
b. Retributive: person doe not deserve to be punished unless he chooses to put his bad thoughts into action
1. Society must give pple the opportunity to desist from wrongful activity
2. an omission (failure to act) – ordinarily, a person is not guilty of a crime for failure to act, under some circumstances liability for failure to act (most omissions are homicide cases)
i. How do you justify the no duty to help rule even when there would be no harm to yourself?
a. to require aid by law is to run the risk of imposing liability to those who aren’t even aware of the wrongdoing.
b. difficult to prove mental element of why person stood by
c. difficult to decide if all 38 bystanders are culpable (Genovese)
d. Promote individual liberty
ii. Prosecution has to show 3 things (CL):
a. There was an omission:
b. Required Mens rea?
1. either intent: purpose or knowledge OR under the gap filler of recklessness std
2. if no mens rea requirement then the scope of omissions statutes would be very broad.
c. There was a duty to act: Does Everyone who have knowledge have a duty to act and should be held liable?
1. duty based upon relationship:
a. parent-child: Does that also apply to adult children with senile parent? [Williquette, 243] i. Is parent still responsible or have a duty to act even after child reaches majority? (not many cases)
ii. there is an argument of necessity here, if children can’t take care of themselves someone has to and the parents are the ones responsible.
b. contractual relationships:
i. doctor-patient
ii. child care
iii. adult care-taker (nursing home)
c. prisons and jails
i. where inmate is made helpless by law, and the ward and guards have a duty to help
d. voluntary act to help so that you have begun aid halfway or have reduced the chances of aid from others, you have a duty to carry out aid.
e. Duty by risk creation
f. Statute says there is a duty
iii. MPC 2.01(3)
a. Liability based on omission in 2 circum:
1. if the law defn the offense provides for it
2. if the duty to act is otherwise imposed by law
iv. Liability for complicity: situation where we don’t need an omission std to be held liable
a. Actually desired the criminal result
b. And actually contributed to the result
3. Status is not enough (Constitutional limitation by the 8th amend)
i. e.g. being an alcoholic is a status that may not be made a criminal offense. However, there is no constitutional bar to making acts related to status criminal (public drunkenness).
ii. Powell v. Texas –
4. Possession (crimes of possession are inchoate offenses)
i. The Act (CL):
a. is the person voluntarily takes control of the object and rt to exclude others or (omission) in which person omits his duty to dispossess the article
b. must be done so knowingly, meaning that must know that the object is under your control (does not mean that you have to know what the thing is)
c. Constructive possession is enough to satisfy the act requirement (even though not physically in control of the object, but had control of it)
ii. Mens Rea:
a. Look to see if statute requires scienter, usually yes
b. Default term is recklessness
iii. Knowledge:
a. have the thing
b. know what thing is – this is Q of mens rea not actus rea
c. know that thing is illegal
d. possible that legisl could make it strict liability offense
iv. Then see if you have tools such as presumption and constructive possession
v. MPC Appr 2.01(4):
a. Possession is an “act” if the possessor either knowingly obtained the object possessed or knew she was in control of it MPC: does not require that you know about the illegality of the object but only that you had knowledge that you had control over it.
vi. Wheeler v. U.S.[231] – constructive possession and presumption to help Gov get over difficulty of proof
vii. People v. Glory [228] 5. MPC VOLUNTARY ACT 2.01(1)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mens Rea (mental state)
6. CL mens rea
i. Intentionally:
a. Meaning: (subjective)
1. it is his desire to cause social harm
2. he acts with knowledge that the social harm is virtually certain to occur as a result of his conduct
b. Difference btw Motive and Intent:
1. Intent limited to one’s purpose to commit proscribed act ィ for what
2. Motive concerns all inquires into why one did proscribed act ィ why
3. Motive not relevant in substantive crim law except as evidence tending to show D committed the crime
4. motive can also relevant in claims of defense: if motive for intentional action is legally justifiable (self-defense)
c. General v. Specific Intent (only in CL, MPC does not make distinction)
1. General: intent to do something on undetermined occasion, only state of mind required is an intent to commit the act constituting the crime (e.g. statutory rape and rape)
a. All actor has to do is conduct the actus reus with a culpable mind
2. Specific: special mental element required above and beyond any actus reus of the crime, over and beyond any mental state required wrt the actus reus of the crime. (e.g. murder – not just intent to pull the trigger but intent to kill)
a. When statute requires that actor know some particular circumstance
d. Transferred Intent: if one intends injury to the person or property or another and in the effort to accomplish this he inflicts harm upon a person or property of other than the one intended, he is guilty.
1. one who accidentally harms a bystander while failing to inflict harm ot the intended victim acts with the culpability of the intentional wrongdoer.
2. When it does not apply:
a. Misidentification
b. Kills intended victim but bullet goes thru and kills another person, intent can’t be transferred bc “used up” in the 1st victim
i. don’t want disproportionate punishment
c. if the crime by defn precludes it
i. e.g. Ford v. State [125] – D threw rocks at X (driver) with intent to maim X, rocks struck car and seriously injured V ( passenger)
assault (attempted battery) of X
D’s conviction of “assaulting any person with intent to maim such person” in relation to V was overturned bc D’s intent to maim X was not transferable by statute
d. No transferred intent among diff crimes
ii. knowing or w/ knowledge
a. subjective std
b. Meaning:
1. Knowledge of a material fact (an attendant circumstance) is a required element of an offense or person correctly believes it exists
a. E.g. fed crime for a person to knowingly import into the U.S. any controlled substance
b. a person who drives a car containing pot into the country is not guilty unless he “knows” of the presence of the contraband (the attendant circumstance) US v. Jewell [144] 2. willful blindness is equivalent of knowledge of factィaware of a high probability of the existence of the fact in Q, and deliberately fails to investigate in order to avoid confirmation of the fact MPC 2.02(7)
c. CASES:
1. State v. Beall [140] – D convicted of knowingly concealing stolen property; challenged jury instruction that “knowing includes situation in which rsnble person would be led to believe items were stolen” –sustained the appeal
a. Objective elem: concealment of stolen goods
b. Mental elem: knowlingly
c. When it is knowingly wrt to circum, have to be aware but not practically certain
d. Jury instruction bad bc can use obj std only when mens rea is negligence [Hazelwood][155] e. When mental state is knowledgeィne

oints and kills someoneィreckless
b. If thinks it’s a toy gun and kills someoneィneglignece
d. Negligently_________(criminal line)
1. difference from “reckless” ィ actor should’ve been aware but was not actually aware of the risk
2. Gross deviation that would justify punishment, substantial and unjustifiable risk is one that constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the actor’s situation (subjective): grossly negligent if taking a risk that the 1) probability of harm occurring is high and 2) the harm is severe 3) and outweighs the benefit of the conduct.
3. CASES:
a. State v. Williams [159] – young cple with elem and high school educ convicted of manslaughter for negligently failing to provide child with med attn
i. Also not norm
ii. Labeling as felons pple who had no subj knowledge of their wrongdoing
e. Civil negligence: failure to perceive the risk that a rsnble prudent person would perceive, you are negligent if you are slightly taking a risk over social benefit
1. Hazelwood [155]-minority view and is an exception to the rule that something more than civil negligence is necessary for a crime
a. wanted to make sure that the D’s crime does not go unpunished (huge media exposure)
2. State v. Williams [159] – no subjective knowledge of wrongdoing
a. uneducated parents didn’t take child to hospital and died, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which usually requires “recklessness”
8. Strict liability
i. MPC 2.02(1) abolishes strict liability and requires some kind of mens rea
a. Only exception is ß2.05: voluntary act and mens rea reqments don’t apply to offenses graded as violations, violations are offenses that cannot result in imprisonment
ii. If the legislature wants to set a strict liability offense, it must say so clearly (CSR)
iii. Usually applied in public welfare offenses
a. malum prohibitum: conduct is only wrong bc it is prohibited (traffic laws)
b. punishment is minor
c. violation threatens safety of many people (e.g. food and drug)
iv. Some non-public welfare cases (statutory rape)
v. Adv of SL:
a. efficient: don’t have to det whether they knew, puts burden on individuals so that they make sure they don’t commit the act.
b. prevent bogus “I didn’t know” defense
vi. Prob of SL:
a. unfair (violate DP)
1. can reduce unfairness if only applied to sml grp of pple
b. unproportional (violate 8th Am)
vii. Stepniewski [173] – Ds convicted under statute which said “intentionally refuses, neglects, or fail…” argued that intentionally modifies all words following it ィ Ct said intent not specific element here
a. Not usual case, usual case is Morrisette [175]ィwhen culpability reqment silent, Ct will impute some form of intent
1. Convicted of conversion of gov property that he believed had been abandoned
2. Statute did not mention intent but bc it evolved from the CLィneed mens rea
9. Transferred Intent (MPC 2.03(3))
i. Transferred intent: (CL and MPC are in agreement) “When recklessly or negligently causing a particular result is an elem of an offense, elem not est if actual result not within risk of which actor is aware or in the case of negligence, of which he should be aware (the same kind of injury or harm intended would suffice for intent element) UNLESS:
a. MPC 2.03(3)(a): same offense but committed on a different person than intended.
b. 2.03(3)(b): actual result is same kind of injury or harm as the probable reuslt
1. No transferred intent among different crimes but can be convicted for