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Criminal Law
South Texas College of Law Houston
Baird, Charles

Study Materials
Criminal Law
Judge Baird

Chapter 1 – Introduction
· The model Penal Code – May 1962 –common law needed revision to comprehensively address criminal matters
o It addresses more general matters – more than just definition of particular criminal offenses
o It carefully defines all matters covered – definitions rather than presumptions
o Created crime categories – three felonies and two misdemeanors
o COMMON LAW felonies are those offenses punishable by total forfeiture of land goods or both (murder, manslaughter, sodomy, rape, mayhem, robbery, arson, burglary, and larceny)
o Added criminal intent – mens rea
Penal code was structured to provide: FAIR WARNING and many other things (deterrence, uniformity, etc.)
· Revisions of Federal Criminal Law
o RULE OF LENITY – language must be clear when defining criminal acts, if not, the court resolves any ambiguity in favor of defendant, when there is no legislative intent present

Sentencing Provisions of Modern Criminal Codes
· Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 – 18 U.S.C.A. – changed sentencing procedures for federal criminal cases












· Two basic approaches to sentencing:
o The legislature categorizes the crime and the sentence is determined by this categorization – saves time and is more equal to all being sentenced
o Individualization of sentences that are handed out taking in all of the characteristics of the crime and of the offender – the severity of the penalty should depend on the blameworthiness of the offender
· Indeterminate Sentencing Movement
o Created by the parole system which set out to “sentence” offenders regarding their conduct in jail and their recidivism rate – rehabilitation
In Texas we try to address: Rehabilitate, Deter the activity, Retribution (punishment for punishment’s sake)
o Judges can take into account their history, severity of this crime, and use minimum and maximum recommended sentences to apply a sentence that is appropriate
o Offenders can receive parole on good time credit
o Model Penal Code recommended the establishment of a uniform maximum sentence and judges could set a minimum at an acceptable length
· Movement for sentencing reform
o Driven by inequalities in the indeterminate sentence, offenders getting longer sentences for non-legal reasons, and by the fact that a sentence was usually selected arbitrarily, not for any good reason – deterrence
· Recent Reform: Determinate Sentencing
o The Federal Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 incorporates a determinate feature that an offender will serve 85% of their sentence
o Adoption addresses parole concerns but does not address: prosecution plea bargains, judge discretion in sentencing, or multiple charges/convictions, etc.

The Structure of a Non-Capital Criminal Case
Formation of a Law (STATUTE)
Violation of law (Crime)
Suspect Arrested (Stay in Jail or released on bond)
Suspect Charged (Grand Jury indictment(fel) or charged by an Information(misd))
Pretrial Motions and Plea Bargain
Trial (Either convicted or acquitted)
Punishment (Issued by jury or judge)
Appeal (14 courts of appeal statewide – hear either crim or civil) either affirm or reverse
Court of Criminal Appeals (highest court of criminal appeals) (P.D.R. – Petition for Discretionary Review)
U.S. Supreme Court (writ of certiorari)
Habeas Corpus (Bring me the body – to court and takes the case to the trial court which will then go back to the Court of Crim Appeals if the trial judge recommends the case go to crim appeals)
Can then go to Federal District Ct. & Federal Court of Appeals

Pleading Sufficiency
· If at trial, the prosecution has to prove a fact to secure the defendant’s conviction, that fact must be pleaded in the indictment or information(letter filed by the prosecutor) – Failure to do so will constitute dismissal
Reversible Error – an error that affects a party’s substantive rights or the case’s outcome, and thus is grounds for reversal if the party properly objected
Admissibility of Evidence
· Objections to the admissibility of evidence may be raised if the evidence in question is not relevant to some issue in the case
Evidential Sufficiency
· Sufficient evidence to prove the defendant guilty
Motion for a directed verdict of acquittal – If granted the court takes the case from the jury and places it within the court and is further dismissed.
· The prosecution can not appeal because that would violate double jeopardy issues. This can not be granted for the prosecution because of a right to jury trial.
Jury Instr

inal liability and the penalty imposed should be proportional

Check out Chapter 12….read and re-read

The Penalty of Death

Furman v. Florida – wanted to remove procedural concerns regarding the death penalty, some states abandoned the death penalty altogether, some others went to amended rules
The death penalty had been recognized long before the eighth amendment
Led 35 states to adopt statues that legalize the death penalty – upon support of society

Death Penalties are justified when they include:

Murder and,
One of two “aggravating circumstances”

It must apply only to a subclass of defendants – not every conviction is murder
Can not be unconstitutionally vague


The court is a little more lenient with imprisonment and the eighth amendment

Coker v. Georgia (CB1) Coker goes in to couples’ house and rapes woman…charged with death penalty

Proportional sentence Guaranteed by the 8th amendment

Harmelin v. Michigan (CB2) Harmelin was arrested with 627 grams of cocaine and given life in prison
Solem Test: 1. Check the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction.
2. Check the sentences imposed on other criminals in other jurisdictions.

Reaffirming there is a proportional guarantee by the 8th amendment
The court is not going to deal with the ability of the legislature to determine length of sentences, just proportion

Precision in Definition
The Supreme Court prohibits criminal convictions if a statute is “vague”

If it fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute – it is not definite enough

Chicago v. Morales (CB3) Overbroad gangster loitering clause enacted by the city

If the words in a criminal statute are vague, uncertain they violate the due process clause
A statute can be vague on two prongs:

Notice of the law and information – IV