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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.      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 strong likelihood that such harm may result.
3.      Malice may have a different meaning 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.
c.      If it is a true crime, it must have the elements of evil or bad purpose
                                                        vii.      Absolute/Strict Liability
1.      Not regarded by community as involving a moral impropriety (parking tickets)
2.      if the law comes out of common law, it is assumed there is a mens rea requirement
3.      Strict liability will normally be held constitutional unless the penalty is too severe (gun laws)
a.      When a jail penalty is involved, you must review the legislative intent to determine if there should/intended to be a mens rea or not.
4.      Vicarious liability: holding someone (employer) responsible for another’s (employee) actions. Mens Rea by employee still required.
a.      Absolute Vicarious Liability: holding someone (employer) responsible for employer’s actions and mens reas (if the employee were to act outside of their normal instructions). (selling alcohol to a minor)
                                                      viii.      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
                                                              i.      Actus reus must be attributable to the mens rea.
                                                            ii.      Mens rea must trigger the actus reus.
                                                          iii.      Δ must have the mens rea at the time of the act.
d.      Causation (Result – if required)
                                                              i.      If proof of a result is required, the act/mens rea must have caused that result (murder=death)
                                                            ii.      No intervening cause that breaks the causal connection
                                                          iii.      2 Tests to be Applied when evaluating causation (must meet bot

                                                                                                   ii.      Independent felony rule (not c.l.)
1.      Predicate felony must be somewhat independent of the killing.
2.      merger if it is not sufficiently independent (aggravated assault, manslaughter)
                                                                                                                                  iii.      proximate cause limitations
1.      what did they intend?
2.      what happened?
3.      would it be unjust?
                                                                                                                                  iv.      must be dangerous (not c.l.)
1.      inherently dangerous – in the abstract/on its face
2.      in the way it was committed – as applied to the facts (drug use)
                                                                                                                                    v.      During the commission of the crime (not c.l)
1.      Commission of the felony usually includes the flight from the crime
2.      The escape is part of “one continuous transaction.”
3.      Still involved in the chain of events surrounding the felony.
4.      Res gestae – time of the killing, the place of the killing and the causal connection are considered to determine if the D was still in the commission of the felony.
5.      A murder committed to facilitate the flight can be felony-murder. (killing an officer that pulls D over 45 miles from the scene in fear that he would notice the bag of $$ in the backseat.)
                                                                                                                                  vi.      Redline Test (not c.l.): felon not liable for acts of nonfelons during the act.
1.      when one of the co-felons is shot by the victim or a police officer, there is no felony-murder.
2.      when a police officer shoots another victim during the felony there is no F-M.
3.      Foreseeability: so unlikely than what felon would intend, that it would be unjust to hold felon accountable.
4.      Shield Law: a felon’s act in using a victim as a shield or in compelling a victim to occupy a place or position of danger constitutes a direct lethal attack against the victim (liable for felony-murder).
                                                          iv.      Statutory Murder
1.      Capital Murder
a.      special circumstances
2.      1st Degree
a.      Express MA – Intent to kill with premeditation and deliberation
                                                                                                                                      i.      Premeditation: cool mind capable of reflection, must have reflected prior to the crime.
                                                                                                                                    ii.      Reflection, deliberation, reasoning, weighing