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

Criminal Law: Wheeler

I. Introduction – Crime is any social harm defined and made punishable by law
a. Purpose
1. Allows a system of checks
2. Allows a system of punishment
3. Control human behavior and protect society
i. Substantive Law
1. The part of the law that creates, defines, and regulates the rights, duties, and powers of parties
b. Why do we impose Criminal Sanctions
1. Prevention
2. Restraint
3. Intervene and provide rehabilitation
4. Deterrence
5. Educate between what is good and bad
6. Retribution
7. At the bottom line we are trying to determine a minimum standard of contact that we as a civilized society will tolerate
c. History
1. Common law makes the perimeters of the statutes clearer
i. Legislative intent behind the laws, can be prompted by judicial decisions
d. People v. Kohrig – seat belt law…
1. regulations that limit person’s constitutional right to privacy may be justified by:
i. A compelling state interest
ii. the legislation must be narrowly drawn to express only the legitimate state interests at stake
e. Legislative function is unrestricted but not absolute
1. Controls found in the Federal and State Constitutions
2. Palmer v. City of Euclid – suspicious person ordinance, person in car that gets pulled over
i. No man should be held criminally responsible for the conduct which he could not reasonably understand to be prescribed
ii. Ordinance was too vague or broad
iii. Not protected by state constitutions
f. Elements to Establish Criminal Accountability
1. Mens Rea – mental state
2. Actus Reus – prohibited act
i. Negative Acts
1. Omission of doing that which is legally bound – has a legal duty
a. By statute – taxes
2. May be sufficient to make the actor criminally liable
3. Concurrence – actus reus is triggered by the mens rea
4. More Elements may be required depending on statute
i. Causation – is person you are trying to hold accountable responsible for crime?
ii. There must be no intervening factors to break causal chain.
5. State has burden of proving all the elements beyond a reasonably doubt

II. Classifications of Crimes
a. English Common Law
1. Treason – high (against the king) or petit (against the prince or less)
i. capital offenses punishable by death
ii. Focus was on the nature of the harm
2. Felony
i. perjuable – could receive church sanction which is not death – all you had to do is read a bible passage
ii. nonperjuable – death and forfeiture of land
3. Misdemeanor
i. Malum in Se (Wrong/Evil in itself)
ii. Ma

sregard constitutes a gross deviation from standard of care that ordinary person would exercise as viewed from the actor’s standpoint
1. State v. Petterson (Oregon 1974)
a. Def should have been aware that racing was dangerous, court viewed subjectively
4. Criminal Negligence – lowest degree of awareness
i. Actor ought to have been aware that a substantial and unjustifiable risk was in place
1. Gian-Corsio v. State
a. Awareness of risk was an objective standard of a reasonable well trained medical professional
5. Risk
i. social utility – fewest deaths
ii. risk of harm involved
6. Awareness
i. subjective
ii. objective
d. Common Law Interpretations of Mental State
1. General Intent
i. Voluntary action or doing a negative act
ii. Failing to act while under a legal duty to do so
iii. Common to all crimes and is sufficient for conviction unless a particular offense requires some additional element
2. Specific Intent
i. To designate a specific mental element that is necessary to commit the crime