Select Page

Criminal Law
South Texas College of Law Houston
Williams, Kenneth A.

Criminal Law Outline

Prof. Williams—Spring 2015

· Some Basics

o Criminal Law: State v. Defendant (no plaintiff)

§ Burden of proof: Beyond a reasonable doubt (highest legal standard)

o Two Sources of Criminal Law

§ Common Law

§ Model Penal Code (MPC)

§ Why do we punish? Retribution theory and Utilitarianism

o Five types of punishment:

§ Incapacitation: rendering harmless to society a person otherwise inclined to crime

§ Retribution (MOST COMMON): Intentional Infliction of pain and suffering on a criminal to the extent he deserves it because he has willingly committed a crime.

§ General deterrence: pressure that the example of one’s criminal’s pain and suffering exerts on potential criminals to not commit the crimes they are contemplating

§ Specific deterrence: pressure that the bad memories of an incarceration keep one from committing crimes again

§ Rehabilitation: skills or values acquired to convert a criminal into a law-abiding citizen

· Elements of a Crime

o 1) Actus Reus

o 2) Mens Rea

o 3) Causation

· Actus Reus Requirements:

o Actus Reus can be satisfied by a Legal Act:

§ Legal act

· Act + Volition = Legal Act

· What is an act—Bodily movement

· What is volitional—conscious choice to move your body

§ Or

§ Omission

· Omission + Duty to Act = Legal Act

· Duty comes from:

o Status of relationship (ex: parent/child)

o Statutory duty (ex: to pay taxes)

o Contractual duty (ex: babysitter)

o Assumption of care (ex: after a rescue)

o Creation of risk (ex: car accident)

o Voluntary/Involuntary

§ Voluntary: A movement controlled by the mind, not just the brain

§ Ex:

· “I raised my arm”

· “My arm came up” (not responsible for involuntary or unconscious movement or movements that is not the product of effort)

§ Watch out for test questions on this issue

§ Ex: D gets in car and drives to corner store and hits V

· Situation 1: D has a sudden onset of seizure = brain (involuntary);

· Situation 2: D has previous history of seizure = mind (voluntary)

§ What is NOT a voluntary act?

· Sleepwalking

· Thoughts

· Seizures (if there is no prior history)

· Spasms

· Reflexes

· A pushes B into C

o Result: No voluntary act for B

o Actus Reus Omissions:

§ General Rule: An individual has NO legal duty to act to prevent harm to another; subject to a few limited exceptions

§ Examples of Actus Reus Omissions:

· 1) Parents have a duty to protect their minor children, and spouses may have a duty to each other (Relationship exception)

· 2) A driver may have a duty to stop and render aid (Statutory Duty Exception)

o Ex. Bad Samaritan Laws

· 3) A babysitter has a duty to protect the children in his/her care and a Dr. has a duty to provide medical care for their patients (Contractual Exception)

· 4) A person who wrongfully harms another’s person or places a person or property in jeopardy of harm has a duty to aid (Creation of Risk Exception)

· 5) A person who voluntarily gives aid to another in harm has a duty to continue to provide aid, at least where an omission would put the person in a worse position if the actor has not initiated help (Assumption of Care Exception)

· Status Crimes

o Cannot be convicted on a status (who you are)

o Conviction must contain an act, and status is NOT an act!!

§ Addicted = status; Using = conduct

· Robinson v. State of California: Criminal penalties may not be inflicted upon a person for being in a condition he is powerless to change

o If homeless, cannot be charged with being drunk in public because you have nowhere to go

· Mens Rea Introduction:

o Mens Rea means “a guilty mind” or culpable mental state. It is generally required for nearly every crime.

o Purpose: Can only deter conduct of those who know they have done wrong

o Common Law Rules v. MPC

o Subjective v. Objective

o Motive is NOT mens rea

· Common Law Mens Rea:

o Specific Intent: Intent to do the crime

o General Intent: Intent to do the act that caused the crime

o Recklessness

o Negligence

o Transferred Intent: Law transfers the actor’s state of mind from the intended victim to the unintended one

o Strict Liability: No mens rea but still have to prove actus reus

· MPC Mens Rea:

o Purposely: “Conscious object”

o Knowi

tes mens rea so the necessary elements of a crime cannot be proven.

§ Different rules for different Mens Reas:

· Specific Intent Crimes: Reasonable OR unreasonable mistake permitted (must be in good faith)

· General Intent Crimes: Reasonable mistake ONLY permitted (must be in good faith)

· MPC: Mistake can negate: Purpose, Knowledge, Reckless

o Negligence CANNOT be negated-RPP Standard

· Strict Liability: No mistake of fact permitted

o Mistakes of Law (i.e. ignorance of the law)

§ Common Law: Mistake of law is not a defense because everyone is presumed to know the law

§ Marrero Exception: Can be a defense only if a public servant (someone charged with interpreting the law) tells you something wrong and you rely on it

· Key: Did Defendant go to whoever’s job it is to enforce the law for advice? Ex: Judge, DA

o If so, Mistake of Law exception will work

§ MPC: No mistake of law

· Causation: The link between the voluntary act and the social harm

o Two types of causation (both must be proved)

§ Actual Cause “but for”

§ Proximate Cause “legal cause” OR “foreseeability”

o Actual Cause (“But For”)

§ There is no criminal liability for social harm caused unless it can be shown that the D’s conduct was cause-in-fact of the prohibited result

§ Question to ask: “But for D’s voluntary acts, would the harm have occurred when it did”?

· No: Actual Cause has been met (move on to Prox. Cause)

· Yes: Actual Cause has not been met and D is free from criminal liability

o i.e. The harm would have occurred anyway

o Proximate Cause (legal cause)

§ The key is “foreseeability” and “remoteness”

§ There are two types of legal cause:

· Direct Cause

· Intervening Cause

o Dependent

o Independent