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

Outline – Criminal Law

I. Crime and Punishment
A. crime – conduct which if shown to have taken place will incur a formal pronouncement of the moral
condemnation of the community. (It is in the interest of society in general to prevent such behavior –
not just in the interest of the individual as with civil matters.)
1. the accused has a right to a trial by jury in all prosecutions where the maximum punishment exceeds
incarceration for more than 6 months
a. a unanimous verdict is required in the federal system
2. 2 types of crimes
a. result crimes – actus reus contains an unwanted result (ex. – murder)
b. conduct crimes – actus reus contains only specific prohibited behavior (ex. – DWI)
3. oftentimes actus reus of a crime will include both result and conduct elements
4. motive is the reason why a person commits a crime while intent is the desires to bring about a
certain result (or substantial certainty that a particular result will occur.
a. motive is irrelevant to determination of guilt but it’s very relevant in determination of punishment
(prosecutor would object to evidence on motive in phase I of the bifurcated process; this would
be relevant, along with any aggravating/mitigating circumstances in Phase II – sentencing)
B. in Winship, the Supreme Ct. said due process requires that prosecutor establish all elements of the
crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e. guilt is the only reasonable conclusion).
C. Necessary components of a criminal act:
1. actus reus (AR) – the physical part (criminal act) of the crime that produces the prohibited result
a. attendant circumstance (AC)– circumstance that must be present along with the prohibited
conduct or result in order to constitute a certain crime; the AC is part of the AR of a crime
b. there is a mental component to actus reus which asks whether the act that brought about the
prohibited result was the product of volition (a voluntary act): act + volition = voluntary act
1) volition is the minimum mental state that must be satisfied to establish the actus reus of a
crime; w/o volition, there can be no crime.
2) legally, an act committed w/o volition at law is no act at all
3) an omission w/o a legal duty doesn’t amount to an act, but omission with a duty DOES
amount to an act
a) legal duties where an omission can result in criminal liability include statutory duties (ex. –
failure to pay taxes); a status relationship duty (ex. – husband & wife, parent & child, etc.);
contractual duty (ex. – duties of a police officer); and assumption of care (ex. – you assume
the obligation to care for someone and subsequently omit to provide the necessary care).
a) a person isn’t obligated to put himself in peril in order to carry out a duty
4) possession with knowledge of possession is a criminal act
5) in summary, act + volition = criminal act; omission + duty = criminal act; and possession
+ knowledge = criminal act. (All of these will meet the requirement for actus reus.)
2. mens rea (MR) (“guilty mind”) – the state of mind related to bringing about the prohibited result
a. 4 levels of culpable mental states under the MPC: purpose, knowledge, reckless, and negligent
1) conduct is purposeful if actor has the conscious objective to perform the act or to bring about
a particular result. (purpose is most difficult to prove.)
2) Acting knowingly involves awareness that there is a substantial certainty (i.e. a high
probability) of the occurrence of the prohibited result
a) the MPC expands the definition of knowledge to include willful blindness – so, if the def.
is aware of a high probability of the existence of a circumstance unless he is convinced that
it does not exist. (If def. actually believes fact doesn’t exist, he can’t be willfully blind b/c
you can’t know what you don’t believe.)
3) reckless conduct involves the conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk
a) only difference between recklessness and knowledge involves the level of the awareness of
the prohibited result – with recklessness, there is not substantial certainty that the
prohibited result will occur, but there is a substantial and unjustifiable risk. (Determination
of a substantial and unjustifiable risk is a question for the factfinder & should be measured
by the standard of conduct of a law abiding person in the def.’s situation.)
4) negligent conduct occurs when the def. inadvertently creates a substantial and unjustifiable
risk of which he ought to be aware. (Negli

usation unless there is some kind of intervening
“but for” cause
b. Proximate Causation
1) to have proximate causation, there must first be actual causation
2) To be a proximate cause, the chain of events linking the def.’s conduct must be sufficiently
close to the resulting injury to result in liability. (i.e. there can’t be intervening causes that
supersede the conduct of the def.)
3) an analysis of proximate causation is only relevant to a criminal proceeding when there is an
intervening cause in fact of the injury; in this case, the question will be whether or not that
intervening act is a superseding cause. (If YES, then the def.’s act wouldn’t be the
proximate cause of the injury, and he therefore, wouldn’t be liable b/c the intervening actual
cause broke the chain of causation between the def.’s act and the injury..)
a) The key issue is forseeability: the more foreseeable the subsequent “but for” cause, the
less likely that the original actor’s conduct will be determined to be the proximate cause.
b) also, the more intentional the act of the original actor, the less likely a jury is going to
determine the presence of a superseding cause
c) A coincidence will generally break the chain of causation b/c it is not foreseeable; whereas,
most responses are foreseeable unless the response is grossly abnormal
4) In Velasquez, the ct. reversed a vehicular manslaughter conviction on a man who engaged in
an illegal drag race, and his opponent in the race was killed. The def.’s conduct was an actual
cause of the death of the other driver; however, it wasn’t the proximate cause b/c it was
superseded by the deceased own reckless driving and volitional participation in the race.
a) If the intervening cause was an act of free will (as in Velasquez), then juries are more