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

Seven Basic Principles of Criminal Law
1. Requirement of an act
2. Mental State (mens rea)
3. Concurrence of an act and intent (joint union)
4. A result from conduct intended, usually harmful, but sometimes harm will not be clear
5. Causation – harm has to be causally related to the actor
6. Punishment
7. Legality (notice and proportionality)
a) Person must have notice that the act is criminal
b) Punishment must be proportional to conduct

Intent—what the person sets out to do
Motive—why a person does an action

I. Evidence

Evidence is admissible if it is:

Probative—if the proposition is more likely to be true given the evidence than without the evidence
Material—logical connection to the facts of the case, substantially important as to influence party (relevant)

People v. Zackowitz – Unless the Δ has made his general character an issue in a criminal prosecution evidence of his character is inadmissible
§ Evidence of possession of guns in his house and evidence of his character was improperly admitted

Federal Rules of Evidence
§ RULE 403 – Although relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. (evidence is excluded is probative values is outweighed by unfair prejudice)

RULE 404(b) – Evidence of other crimes wrongs or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge[identity] or absence of mistake or accident. (Crimes may be admissible for purposes of proof)

Evidence of past crimes is generally not admissible except:
Signature – If other crimes are so identically similar in method as to earmark them…the device used must be so unusual and distinctive as to be a signature (brides in the bath)
Sex Offenses – Rule 413 – sexual assault case, can admit past sexual assaults; Rule 414 – child molestation
Impeachment—If the accused chooses to testify in his defense, then the prosecution can cross-examine about other crimes for purposes of impeaching his testimony
Jury Instructions – When told that testimony is inadmissible, they often disregard that and consider the testimony anyway

II. Punishment

Elements of Punishment
1. Must involve pain or other consequences normally considered unpleasant.
2. Must be for offense against legal rules.
3. Must be for an actual or supposed offender for offense.
4. Intent must be intentional administered by human beings other than offender.
5. Must be imposed & administered by an authority constituted by legal system against which the offense is committed.

Justifications for Punishment

1. Deterrence
a) General- punish individual in order to teach others
b) Specific – punish individual in order to deter him from committing future crimes.
Incapacitation: incarceration prevents individual from committing more crimes
2. Retribution
a) Just Deserts – punishment justified because it was a deserved response to the wrongdoing.
3. Rehabilitation – reform individual to prevent further crime.

Justification Theories of Punishment

Utilitarian – punishment is only permissible if it will prevent a greater evil

avoid pain, get pleasure
general deterrence – D should be punished to deter others
specific deterrence – D conduct is punished to deter D from doing the same thing

Retributive – just desserts, punishment of a wrongdoer is justified because it is a deserved response to the wrongdoing

those in jail have a moral duty to pay the price for society’s wrongs
focus on harm to society

Rehabilitation—incentive to change behavior

Regina v. Dudley & Stephens (1884) -Δ involved in shipwreck along with young boy. They killed and ate him to survive. Likely, but not 100% certain that they would’ve died if they hadn’t killed boy – might have been rescued. (didn’t have a choice) Punishment was in form of retribution
§ Necessity can be claimed as a D to murder when two men kill an innocent third party for food.
§ Cannot take life of innocent V to save your own

Three Prongs of Necessity Killing (Lord Hale)
1. conservation of life
2. necessity of obedience
3. necessity of Act of God or of a stranger

U.S. v. Bergman (1976) – Dmade fraudulent claims for Medicare. D had high character so no point of confining to incapacitate.

Reason for punishment was for general deterrence (to prevent others from committing similar crime).

US v. Jackson (1987) – 30 minutes after release from prison, Jackson robbed again.
§ D is a career criminal so specific and general deterrence as well as incapacitation.

U.S v. Johnson (1992) – D was given lighter sentence due to extraordinary family circumstance, but Court notes doing this for family, not for D.

State v. Chaney (1970)- D found guilty on 2 counts of forcible rape and 1 count of robbery. He was given concurrent 1 year terms of imprisonment and provides parole at the discretion of the parole board.
§ A criminal sentence should be sufficiently harsh so as to effectuate the societal purpose of incarceration.

III. Burden of Proof:-due process clauses of the United States Constitution require the prosecutor in a criminal trial to persuade the fact finder “beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime . . . charged.

prosecutor has burden of proving crime
defense has burden of proving any affirmative defense

1. Burden of production
coming forward with enough evidence to put facts in issue
2. Burden of persuasion
burden of convincing the triers of fact

In Re Winship: High burden is required because society should condemn a man for commission of a crime when there is reasonable doubt about his guilt. Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.

Allocating Burden of Proof
Patterson v. N.Y(Mullaney Wan-a-bee)- D shot his estranged wife’s lover after he saw his wife in a state of semi-undress in the presence of her lover. Prosecution is required to prove every “material element” of the offense. Prosecution is not constitutionally required to disprove any defenses to the crime. D claimed N.Y statue unconstitutional due to: Court held it didn’t violate the due process clause of the constitution for a state to require the D to prove an affirmative defense.

implied malice aforethought ( Mullaney v Wilbur)

Maine statute held unconstitutional because statute required prosecution to disprove a defense, due to statute incorporating malice aforethought as a material element.
N.Y. statute only requires showing intent to kill; defense is responsible for proving otherwise.

MajorityàWinship standard was not violated, as D claimed on appeal because prosecution proved elements of m

e of involuntary unconsciousness is introduced in a homicide, requested instructions on the matter should be given. The unconscious defense can exist when the subject acts but is not all the while conscious as well. Negates Actus Reus

I.e.: somnambulism, hypnosis, etc. (see Cogdon below)
Legal Insanity – distinguish involuntary act from insanity
burden of proof – on the defense, insanity is an affirmative defense


Broad Meaning: That a person had a suffered capacity & opportunity to make a reasoned choice on how to act.

Narrow Meaning: The movement of our body that follows our own volition. It represents the C/L concern that criminal responsibility should only be attached to those who are accountable in a very person way for their actions.

People v. Decina – epileptic driver were culpably negligent. The time frame is extended, and can be determinable factor in the outcome of the case. Decina’s voluntary decision to drive was his Actus Reus. He knew he was epileptic.

Cogdon (Ghost, Spiders & N. Korean): Court found woman not guilty of killing her child when she thought she was defending her child from the attack of a soldier when in fact she was in a somnambulistic state & hit her child in the head w/the axe while child was asleep. Court found her not guilty because the act of killings, while illegal, was not held to be her act. MPC §2.01(2) (b)

Status Offenses: Offenses which require proof of status as opposed to conduct. (vagrants, addicts, etc.)

Possession Acts: Courts require D knowingly possess, thereby a voluntary act must be proven.

MPC§ 1.13 (2) definition of voluntary/involuntary movement:
o involuntary: reflexes, convulsions, conduct during unconsciousness, sleep, hypnosis and generally, “any conduct that is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual”
o voluntary: will, muscular contraction or bodily movement by the actor (pulling of a trigger)

1c. Omissions – Culpability by omission requires a pre-existing duty.

Person is not guilty of a crime for failure to act, even if the failure permitted harm to occur to another, & even if the person could’ve acted at no personal risk to safety.
Notwithstanding the general rule, person has a legal duty to act in various circumstances if he was physically capable of doing so. MPC §2.01(1)

1. No Duty

Ø People v. Beardsley: married man fails to come of aid of the woman with whom he is having an affair after she took a lethal dose of poison in his presence. She died. Man was not held liable, because woman was not his wife and thus he was not in the required status relationship.
WHY duty should be owed to husband but not to long time boyfriend? Difficult to set limit (what constitutes “long time”?) Fair warning is important: