Select Page

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


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 that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited; and
b. so as to discourage 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)

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, MA (I)
ii. Specific Intent
1. Intent to do some further act or cause some additional consequence beyond that required to complete the actus reus.
a. cannot be inferred from doing the act
b. Intoxication may be a defense if it negates the specific intent (burglary – going into a house to pass out)
c. Good faith mistake is a defense if it negates the specific intent.
d. Murder (express MA), solicitation, attempt, conspiracy, assault (attempted battery), larceny, robbery, burglary, false pretenses, embezzlement
iii. Negligence
1. an act done with a high probability of harm and a great degree of unreasonableness.
2. knowledge of a substantial risk, but disregard that risk
a. use subjective for test
3. involuntary manslaughter
iv. Malice (combo of the above 3)
1. the absence of all elements of justification, excuse or recognized mitigation (no evil or bad purpose req’d) &
2. the presence of either:
a. an actual intent to cause the particular harm which is produced or harm of the same general nature OR
b. the wanton and willful doing of an act with awareness of a plain and stro

. Transferred Intent
1. Intending to harm one person and does greatly similar harm to another.
2. legal fiction
3. Person cannot be convicted for a mens rea of one crime and the actus rea of another. (concealing a weapon and intending to marry a 2nd wife)
ix. MPC mental states
1. Purposely/intentionally – a desire to engage in certain conduct or cause a certain result.
2. Knowingly: an awareness that something will occur or does exist.
3. Recklessly: an awareness of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that something will occur or does exist.
4. Negligently: a situation where a person should have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result would occur or a certain circumstance would exist.
a. The risk is balanced with the social utility of the act.
b. objective

b. Actus Reus (the prohibited act or omission)
i. Voluntary act OR
ii. Omission: one must realize they have a legal duty to act to be criminally accountable (filing income taxes).

c. Concurrence
Actus reus must be attributable to the mens rea.