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Criminal Law
South Texas College of Law Houston
Wheeler, Michael E.

I. Introduction – Crime is any social harm defined and made punishable by law
a. Elements State must prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt to establish criminal accountability
1. Mens Rea – mental state (also most difficult to establish of four)
i. intentional, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence
1. in order from highest degree to lowest degree of awareness
2. Actus Reus – the actual prohibited act
i. Sometimes can be satisfied through a concept of “Negative Act”
1. Omission of doing that which is legally bound – has a legal duty
1 Ex. statutory requirement to file taxes
2. General Rule: One is not to be held criminally accountable unless…
1 he/she had knowledge of the legal duty to act and…
2 they were physically capable of the required affirmative act
3. Concurrence – actus reus is triggered by the mens rea
4. Causation – the defendant brought about the harm and there must be no intervening factors (legal doctrine, act by victim or third party) to break the causal chain.
i. Only called for if the crime requires a particular result
b. History
1. Common law makes the perimeters of the statutes clearer
i. Legislative intent behind the laws; can be prompted by judicial decisions
c. People v. Kohrig – seat belt law case…
1. regulations that limit person’s constitutional right to privacy may be justified by:
i. A compelling state interest and…
ii. must be narrowly tailored to express only those legitimate state interests
d. Legislative function is unrestricted but not absolute
1. Controls found in the Federal and State Constitutions
i. Ex. Palmer v. City of Euclid – deals with a suspicious person ordinance
1. No man should be held criminally responsible for the conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be prescribed
2. Ordinance was too vague or broad
3. Not protected by state constitutions

II. Classifications of Crimes
a. English Common Law Classifications
1. Treason – high (against the king) or petit (against the prince or less)
i. capital offenses punishable by death
ii. Focus was on the nature of the harm
2. Felony
i. Clergyable
ii. Non-Clergyable
3. Misdemeanor
i. Malum in Se (Wrong/Evil in itself)
1. i.e. murder
ii. Malum Prohibitum (wrong only because legislature has prohibited)
1. i.e. parking ticket
b. Modern Classifications

1. Risk of harm involved in action
2. Standard of awareness can be subjective or objective
i. This class deals with subjective awareness of risk
d. Common Law Interpretations of Mental State
1. General Intent
i. Voluntary action
ii. Failing to act while under a legal duty to do so
iii. Common to all crimes and is sufficient for conviction unless a particular offense requires some additional element
2. Specific Intent
i. To designate a specific mental element that is necessary to commit the crime
3. Criminal Negligence
i. Can be substituted for general intent
ii. Implies something done with a state of mind involving this type of blameworthiness
1. Common law- applied subjectively
2. MPC – applied objectively
e. Other Elements to Consider for Common Law Mens Rea
1. Malice
i. Not a term used by MPC
ii. For crimes excluding murder (Murder uses malice aforethought)
Includes both a negative and positive element