Select Page

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

I.                     GENERAL
a.     Crime: any social harm defined and made punishable by law.
                                                               i.      Offenses against the person
                                                             ii.      Offenses against property
                                                            iii.      Offenses against habitation or occupancy
b.     Types of Crimes
                                                              i.      Malum in Se: crimes that are inherently dangerous or immoral. (includes suicide even though it is not illegal)
                                                             ii.      Malum Prohibitum: crimes that regulate behavior, but are not inherently dangerous/immoral (parking violations).
c.      Proof beyond a reasonable doubt. (all elements)
d.     Limits on Criminal Prosecution
                                                               i.      Due process
1.      Criteria for vagueness
a.      It must be written so thatordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited; and
b.      so as todiscourage arbitrary and discriminatory application.
2.      Scienter(prior knowledge) can void an argument for vagueness.
3.      A statute can be unconst. vague“on its face” or as applied to that individual.
                                                             ii.      Right to privacy
1.      Only fundamental rights are those protected by 14th amend.
2.      A criminal law can be drawn that violates privacy rights so long as it:
a.      Is “justified by a compelling state interest” (seat belts) &
b.      it “is narrowly drawn to express only the legitimate state interests at stake.” (gun laws)
II.                   ELEMENTS OF CRIMES
a.     Mens Rea (mental state): criminal intent or criminal state of mind (not the same as motive).
                                                               i.      General Intent
1.      volitional doing of a prohibited act, intent to commit the act
a.      intoxication is not a defense
b.      good faith mistake is not a defense
c.      rape, battery, kidnapping
                                                             ii.      Speci

eaning under certain crimes (murder, arson)
                                                             v.      Knowingly
1.      Guilty knowledge – aware due to observation. Does not have to be a “high probability.”
2.      Guilty Belief – belief that turns out to be correct is knowledge.
3.      Guilty Avoidance
a.      Shutting one’s eyes (deliberate ignorance)
b.      Telling you something and I don’t know if it is truthful or untruthful (no effort made to determine).
                                                           vi.      Willfully
1.      requires an evil or bad purpose unless the context of the statute says otherwise (then it reverts back to intentional only).
a.      Something intentional or deliberately done and not an accident.
b.      It excludes holding someone accountable for negligence.
If it is a true crime, it must have the elements of evil or bad purpose