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

Wheeler Criminal Law Fall 2015

I. People Criminalization, Definition and Classification

a. Nature and Purpose of Criminal Law

i. 4 components (besides strict liability)

1. mens rea (mental)

2. actus reus (unlawful action)

3. concurrence between the two

4. causation beyond a reasonable doubt

b. Classification

i. Three major groups in common law:

1. Treason

2. Felony

3. Misdemeanor

ii. Petty offenses: a misdemeanor punishable by not more than 6 months imprisonment

iii. Infraction is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 days and a fine of up to $5000 and is also a petty offense

iv. Stave v. Perry

1. D’s room had two windows that faced a sidewalk that employees from a local plant would pass on their way to work. Several young ladies have accused him of indecent exposure for two different occasions. He claims it was carelessness.

2. Mens Rea decision: deliberately or intending to be indecent or lewd

a. Court finds it to be carelessness and negligence

3. Marshall the evidence, so that there is a standard, that the judge/jury can compare this man’s intention. Establish the mindset by marshalling evidence, to build an argument to the judge/jury so that they feel comfortable that all elements have been satisfied.

v. Handouts (?)

1. Cardinal = carnal (in handouts)

2. Recidivism (?)

vi. People v. Kohrig

1. Ds have 4 cases of traffic citation for violation of the safety belt laws. They claim that this statute violates the due process clause of the constitution because if violates (1) right to privacy and it goes beyond (2) the police power of the legislature. The state claims that this statute promotes public safety and that is helps economically because it reduces the costs of serious injuries in car accidents.

2. Primarily state and federal constitutions controls the discretion of legislative power

3. Constitutionality of the statute? (Note state vs. federal const.)

4. A statute that violates a right to privacy (as well as other rights provided by the constitution) may be upheld if it upholds a compelling state interest and the state is narrowly drawn to achieve that interest

a. However, rights may be considered fundamental

b. Supreme court says: personal intimacies of the home, the family, marriage, motherhood, procreation, and child rearing

5. The state’s police power must have a rational basis and not be arbitrary or discriminatory or violate a fundamental right

a. Police power may be used to promote economic welfare of the state. Must be for the public interest and promotes the welfare of the state

vii. Palmer v. City of Euclid, Ohio

1. P was convicted of violating the “suspicious person ordinance”. He had just dropped off a woman and proceeded to park his car. He was then arrested. At the station he said he did not know the name of the woman he dropped off and that he did not know where she was. He also gave 3 addresses to the police.

2. Common law came about from kings messengers, coming to hear complaints and use their wisdom to make these “common laws”

3. Now we have legislature, which is almost unrestricted. (Discretion is not absolute). There are controls in federal and state constitutions

4. Compare the actions with the ordinance

5. “Being out without visible or lawful business” is too vague

6. An underlying principle is that no man shall be held criminally responsible for conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be proscribed

7. Ipso facto (?)

8. Per Curiam (?)

9. Per Curiam is more differential because it only questions the ordinance and goes back to the legislature and tells them to rethink it. As applied, you have done something wrong. Where the concurring says the whole ordinance is improper and they can’t regulate in such a manner. There is no chance to fix it.

viii. Texas Penal Code 1.01, .03, .07, 2.01, 12.01-.04

c. Responsibility in general

i. Malum in se

1. This against the law because it is evil in and of itself

2. No question this is evil and a punishment is needed

3. Technically speaking, all crimes in common law fell in this category

ii. Malum prohibitum

1. Wrong because legislatures have prohibited the conduct

2. Not wrong in and of itself

iii. Distinction between misdemeanors and felonies is normally to do with punishment (LOOK UP) Texas Penal Code

iv. Court jurisdiction may come to play in deal with types of crimes

1. Other procedural differences

2. Holding public office

3. Arresting

4. Voting

5. Grounds for divorce

v. Doctrine of “felony murder” – unintended death that occurs during a felony

1. If this death occurred in a misdemeanor, the defendant will only be a candidate for involuntary manslaughter

vi. Infamous vs. Non-infamous cases

1. Nature of offense not of the punishment

2. Common Law

a. Infamous could not be a witness

3. “infamous” – felony

4. “non-infamous” – misdemeanor

II. Mens Rea

a. Responsibility means answerability or accountability

i. Criminal responsibility is answerability to the criminal law

ii. No one is answerable to the criminal for the consequences not legally imputable to him

iii. But, someone can have committed a crime, but will not be held responsible due to certain circumstances.

b. “Criminal intent” is often used to express the requirement of blameworthiness

i. “General criminal intent”- the mental element so designated is not limited to actual intention

c. Mens rea

i. Guilty mind

ii. Mind at fault

d. Every crime is made up to two constituent parts

i. The physical part (actus reus)

ii. The mental part (mens rea)

e. If we can prove the ex


v. A further issue (even when we have decided to “cross the line”: the accused must show a subjective awareness of an objective awareness.

vi. The court found that “willfully” (statute) does not = specific intent

s. Negligence and Recklessness

i. An act done with such a wanton and willful disregard of socially-harmful consequence know to be likely to result, that the attitude of mind will be more blameworthy than is imported by the word “negligence”

1. Reasonable v. unreasonably risk

2. Realizable v. unrealizable risk

ii. Negligence is any conduct, except conduct intentionally harmful or recklessly disregardful of an interest of others, which falls below the standard established by law for protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm (Torts definition)

iii. Criminal negligence falls so short of social acceptability that it affords criminal responsibility

1. Punish more severely under a standard of recklessness

2. This something more must be found to establish mens rea

iv. Gian-Cursio v. State

1. After a period of remission, pulmonary tuberculosis returned and Victim left his physician to go to Ds (chiropractors) for a natural remedy. They were aware of the condition. V was eventually died.

2. Did the defendants intend the death? No

a. Criminal (Culpable) negligence

3. Objective standard

a. Same kind of risk as Peterson but the judge the awareness factor by an objective test

i. A reasonable person

ii. Reasonable doctor (this case)

b. They are “holding themselves out as well-trained doctors”ßheld to a different standard

4. Factors that are used to make this decision (negligence v. criminal negligence) for accountability

a. Looking at the risk involved (unreasonable?) – Risk of harm

b. Awareness of that risk – standard of awareness of that risk by which one is judged

i. Objective (reasonable man)

ii. Subjective (individual)

5. This cases uses the objective test

6. Risk: How do we know when a risk becomes unreasonable? What are we “balancing”

i. Balance social utility and the potential for harm

ii. Awareness of risk

b. Common law criminal negligence (subjective or objective test)

i. Both (technically)- not specifically discussed

1. But look at it with the sub component