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

South Texas College of Law

Michael Wheeler-Criminal Law-Fall 2014

4 components of Criminal Law (other than strict liability)

– Mens Rea (guilty mind)

– Actus Reus (guilty act)

– Concurrence between first two

– Causation (in some cases)

3 major groups in Common Law

– Treason

– Felony

– Misdemeanor

– Petty Offenses

o A misdemeanor punishable by not more than 6 months imprisonment

– Infraction

o Punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 days and a fine of up to $5000 and is also a petty offense


– A statute that violates a right to privacy (or other rights from the Constitution) may be upheld if it shows a compelling state interest and the statute is narrowly drawn to achieve that interest

o Some rights may be considered fundamental; personal intimacies of the home, the family, marriage, motherhood, procreation, and child rearing

– State’s police power must have a rational basis and not be arbitrary or discriminatory or violate a fundamental right

o May be used to promote economic welfare of the state; must be for the public interest

– No man shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed

Responsibility in General

– Malum in se

o Against the law b/c it is evil in and of itself; no question this is evil and a punishment is needed; technically, all crimes in common law fell into this category

– Malum prohibitum

o Wrong because legislatures have prohibited the conduct; not wrong in and of itself

– Distinction btwn misdemeanors and felonies is normally to do with punishment

– Infamous vs. Non-infamous cases

o Nature of offense, not of the punishment

o Common Law

§ Infamous could not be a witness

o “infamous” – felony; “non-infamous” – not a felony

Mens Rea

– Factors where no mens rea can be formed

o Too young OR too disturbed in mental health

– For Mens Rea

o On the negative side there must not be found any factor which is sufficient for exculpation or excuse

o On the positive side there must be found an intent to do the deed which constitutes the Actus Reus for the offense charged (or some other mental state recognized as a substitute such as criminal negligence)

– Courts must presume and establish that legislature intended some culpable mental state

– Common law broke crimes into 3 categories involving the mental state

o General Intent crimes

§ Voluntarily doing an illegal act; not doing an act required to do and capable of doing

o Specific intent crimes

§ (e.g.) larceny – intent to steal the glass; a specific intent is needed to be convicted

o Crimes having criminal negligence providing sufficient mental state to hold one accountable

– Negligence and Recklessness

o Recklessness

means an intent to do the very harm done, or harm of a similar nature, or a wanton and willful disregard of an obvious likelihood of causing such harm

o Requires only an intent to do harm w/o lawful justification or excuse

o Some intents to kill (heat of passion) does not qualify

o Negative side

§ Absence of all justification, excuse or legal mitigation

o Positive side – presence of either

§ Actual intent to cause particular harm or harm of similar nature

§ Wanton and willful doing of an act w/ awareness of plain and strong likelihood that such harm may result

– Knowledge

o Deliberate ignorance – deliberate attempt not to know info can make a person liable (for jury to decide)

o Knowledge comes in more than one form:

§ Guilty knowledge: awareness of a fact through own observation

§ Guilty belief: you can believe, which turns out to be correct, is knowledge

§ Guilty avoidance of knowledge: shutting one’s eyes for fear of discovery of what it would disclose – consciously avoiding the truth

– Willfulness generally means an act which is:

o Intentional, knowing, or voluntary, as opposed to accidental