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Criminal Law
South Texas College of Law Houston
Corn, Geoffrey S.

The roles of the Judge and the Jury in the criminal justice process
Judges’ Role
                                          i.    To define the law for the “fact-finder”
Juries’ Role
                                          i.    “fact-finder”
                                         ii.    Central to notion of justice
                                        iii.    Jury Nullification
1.     Legally no such thing
2.     Jury verdict is final
a.     double jeopardy applies
3.     The jury has the right to ignore the facts and the judge’s instructions on the law and acquit the defendant.
4.     Because the 5th Amendment bars the Government from re-prosecuting a defendant after a jury acquittal, ultimately, a jury has the power to acquit for any reason whatsoever.
5.     Needs to be a “must” instruction.
a.     If Government proves all elements, the jury has an obligation to convict.
Presumption of Innocence
                                          i.    Presumption
1.     a starting conclusion that the jury must initially accept
                                         ii.    Presumptions are rebuttable.
                                        iii.    The presumption of innocence is mandatory at the beginning of a criminal trial.
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
                                          i.    Highest standard of proof
                                         ii.    Rules out every fair and rationale hypothesis other than guilt
                                        iii.    A jury can acquit someone whom they think is guilty if the prosecution has not rebutted the presumption of innocence.
The Principle of Legality
                                          i.    A statute must give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute
Restraint of Government Power
                                          i.    The Due Process clause has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to require that no criminal penalty be imposed without fair notice that the conduct is forbidden. 
                                         ii.    No ex post facto laws
1.     The Constitution expressly prohibits ex post facto laws.
2.     Supreme Court has defined an ex post facto law as one that operates retroactively to :
a.     Make criminal an act that when done was not criminal;
b.    Aggravate a crime or increase the punishment thereof;
c.     Change the rules of evidence to the detriment of criminal defendants as a class; OR
d.    Alter the law of criminal procedure to deprive criminal defendants of a substantive right.
Protection of Freedom of Expression
                                          i.    The “void for vagueness” doctrine, which has been held to require particular scrutiny of criminal statutes capable of reaching speech protected by the 1st Amendment incorporates 2 considerations:
1.     Fair warning
2.     Arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement must be avoided
The Lenity Doctrine
                                          i.    Also known as the “strict construction” principle
                                         ii.    “The tie breaker goes to the defendant.”
                                        iii.    A statute that is overbroad can be saved by statutory interpretation.
1.     The court will choose the constitutional interpretation over the unconstitutional interpretation, all things being equal.
                                        iv.    The intent of the legislature controls the interpretation of the statute.
Elements of a Crime – the State has the burden of proof!
Actus Reus
                                          i.    “Actus” component
1.     A physical act (or unlawful omission) by the defendant
2.     Volition
a.     An act without volition is not a “legal act.”
b.    The “act” of the crime must be voluntary.
c.     An act cannot be purely physical, must also have a mental element to satisfy actus reus.
d.    This requirement can be satisfied by:
                                                                                          i.    Omission
1.     A defendant’s failure to act will result in criminal liability provided 3 requirements are satisfied:
a.     Legal duty to act:
                                                                                                                                          i.    Statute
                                                                                                                                         ii.    Contract
                                                                                                                                        iii.    Relationship between the defendant and the victim
                                                                                                                                        iv.    Voluntary assumption of care by the defendant of the victim – “isolation & seclusion”
                                                                                                                                         v.    Creation of peril by the defendant
b.    Knowledge of facts giving rise to legal duty
                                                                                                                                          i.    The duty to act arises when the defendant is aware of the facts creating the duty to act. (Example: The parent must know that his child is drowning before his failure to rescue the child will make him liable.)
c.     Reasonably possible to perform
                                                                                                                                          i.    It must be reasonably possible for the defendant to perform the duty or to obtain the help of others in performing it.
                                                                                         ii.    Possession
1.     Criminal statutes that penalize the possession of contraband generally require only that
a.     the defendant have control of the item for a long enough period to have had an opportunity to terminate the possession.
2.     The defendant must have knowledge of his possession of the object but need not be aware of its illegality.
                                         ii.    “Reus” component
1.     The “act” results in a certain proscribed harm
2.     Social harm
a.     Some offenses punish mere conduct – conduct crime
                                                                                          i.    No bad result is required to be guilty of such an offense.
b.    The legislature defines “social harm” offenses.

ice of the risk?
2.     Negligence
a.     A person acts negligently when he fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or a result will follow.
b.    Such failure constitutes a substantial deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise under the circumstances.
c.     Failure of subjective judgment
                                         x.    Strict Liability – “NO mens rea” offenses
1.     US v. Cordoba – Basic disfavor of strict liability offenses
a.     Courts are very uncomfortable with strict liability.
b.    Defines strict liability offenses:
                                                                                          i.    A crime that is permitted to attach without regard to fault.
c.     “public welfare offense”
                                                                                          i.    typically strict liability
                                                                                         ii.    punishments are less severe
                                                                                        iii.    public interest outweighs the crime/punishment of the wrongdoer.
d.    Court said that when punishment outweighs regulation of social order, there should be a mens rea requirement.
2.     Garnett: Classic Application of Strict Liability
a.     Statutory rape
                                                                                          i.    The state statute prohibiting sexual intercourse with underage persons makes no reference to the actor’s knowledge, belief, or other state of mind.
                                                                                         ii.    This is a strict liability offense.
b.    Dissent’s argument
                                                                                          i.    The penalty provision, namely making the offense a felony punishable by a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, is strong evidence that the state legislature did not intend to create a pure strict liability offense.
3.     Staples – Federal Courts’ analysis of strict liability offenses
a.     There is a presumption that the legislature intended a mens rea requirement even if it doesn’t explicitly require it in a statute.
b.    If legislature omits mens rea, it will typically be for “public welfare” offenses.
c.     For legislatures to rebut the presumption of mens rea, they must do so very clearly – explicitly in statute or implicitly in some other way.
4.     MPC – Strict Liability
a.     If no mens rea is indicated in the statute, courts will presume that recklessness must be proven at least.