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Criminal Law
South Texas College of Law Houston
Moses, Ray E.

Moses Fall 2016 Criminal Law Outline
Voluntary Act/ Actus Reus: Burden of proof on the prosecution
Common Law:
A “voluntary act” is a willed muscular contraction or bodily movement by the actor. An act is “willed” if the bodily movement was controlled by the mind of the actor. 
Possession does not constitute an act
Model Penal Code:
§2.01 Requirement of Voluntary Act; Omission as Basis of Liability; Possession as an Act
MPC does not specify what a voluntary act is but does specify an act that is involuntary
A person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct that includes a voluntary act or omission to perform an act of which he is physically capable.
The following are not voluntary acts within the meaning of this Section:
a reflex or convulsion;
a bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep;
conduct during hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion;
a bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual
If the possessor either knowingly obtained the object possessed or knew she was in control of it for a sufficient period of time to be able to determine possession
Texas Penal Code:
(a)  A person commits an offense only if he voluntarily engages in conduct, including an act, an omission, or possession.
(b)  Possession is a voluntary act if the possessor knowingly obtains or receives the thing possessed or is aware of his control of the thing for a sufficient time to permit him to terminate his control.
Exception to Voluntary Act Requirement
Offenses that constitute a “violation” (an offense for which the maximum penalty is a fine or civil penalty)
EX: If a person blacks out and runs a stop sign, they can still be convicted of the violation even though they didn’t act voluntarily
Voluntary Act Omission:
A failure to act, especially something that one has a moral or legal obligation to do.
Common Law:
Generally: “Subject to a few limited exceptions, a person has no legal duty to act to prevent harm to another even if she can do so at no risk to herself, and even if the person imperiled may lose her life in the absence of assistance.”
Exception: “When common law duty to act exists, and assuming that she was physically capable of performing the act, a defendant’s omission of the duty to act serves as a legal substitute for a voluntary act.”
Duty to act:
Status relationship:
Parent/child, husband/wife, etc.
Implied of expressed
a person who undertakes the care of a mentally or physically disabled person and fails to do so may be found criminally liable based on omission for his ward’s injury or death.
An act that harmed the victim
A person who harms another or places a person in jeopardy of harm, or who damages property, even if unintentionally, has a common law duty to render assistance.
EX: one who accidentally starts a house fire may be convicted of arson if he fails to extinguish the fire or take other steps to prevent or mitigate the damage.
EX: there is a split of authority regarding whether one who justifiably shoots an aggressor in self-defense has a subsequent duty to obtain medical attention for the wounded aggressor.
Voluntary assistance
One who voluntarily renders assistance to another already in danger has a duty to continue to provide aid, at least if the subsequent omission would put the victim in a worse position than if the defendant had not commenced the assistance at all.
Statutory duty to act
EX: a driver involved in an accident must stop his car at the scene; parents must provide food/shelter to their minor children.
Model Penal Code:
§2.01 Requirement of Voluntary Act, Omission as Basis of Liability; Possession as an Act:
Liability for the commission of an offense may not be based on an omission unaccompanied by action unless:
The law defining the offense provides for it
A duty to perform the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law.
Model penal code says a duty to act requires that the actor be physically capable of the necessary act. If the actor which has a duty is not physically capable of performing the duty, they cannot be convicted.
Texas Penal Code:
§6.01 Requirement of Voluntary Act or Omission
A person who omits to perform an act does not commit an offense unless a law provides that the omission is an offense or otherwise provides that he has a duty to perform the act.
Mens Rea:
Common Law:
Motive: Relevant for specific intent crimes which by definition require proof of a specific motive.
“specific intent” offense is one in which the definition of the crime:
proof that the actor’s conscious object, or purpose, is to cause social harm set out in the definition of the offense.
(1) includes an intent or purpose to do some future act, or to achieve some further consequence (i.e., a special motive for the conduct), beyond the conduct or result that constitutes the actus reus of the offense. EX: “breaking and entering of the dwelling of another in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony”; or
(2) provides that the defendant must be aware of a statutory attendant circumstance EX: “receiving stolen property with knowledge that it is stolen.”
“general intent”
actor can be convicted upon proof

ity to a D who intending to kill/injure one person kill/injure another.
MPC: 2.02 Actor is liable for crime if the only difference between what actually occurred and what the actor desired was 1) different offense committed or 2) different person or property was injured.
TPC: 6.04(b): Same as MPC
Strict Liability:
Common Law:
Strict-liability offenses require no mens rea
Purpose of strict-liability is to protect general welfare of society
EX: Statutory rape which is aimed at protecting underage females who may be too immature to make knowing decisions about sexual activity.
EX: Include statutes that prohibit the manufacture or sale of contaminated food or drugs to the public, anti-pollution environmental laws, as well as traffic and motor-vehicle regulations.
Model Penal Code:
The Model Penal Code does not recognize strict liability, except with respect to offenses graded as “violations.”
§2.05 When culpability requirements are inapplicable to violations and to offenses defined by other statues; effect of absolute liability in reducing grade of offense to violation.
The requirements of culpability prescribed by §2.01 and 2.02 do not apply to:
Offenses that constitute violations,
Offense defined by statues other than the Code, insofar as a legislative purpose to impose absolute liability for such offenses or with respect to any material element thereof plainly appears.
Notwithstanding any other provision of existing law and unless a subsequent statue otherwise provides:
When absolute liability is imposed with respect to any material element of an offense defined by a statue other than the Code and a conviction is based upon such liability, the offense constitutes a violation; and
Although absolute liability is imposed by law with respect to one or more of the material elements of an offense defined by a statue other than the code, the culpable commission of the offense may be charged and proved, in which event negligence with respect to such elements constitutes sufficient culpability and the classification of the offense and the sentence that may be imposed therefore upon conviction are determined by §1.04 and Article 6 of the code.