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

Criminal Law – Professor Corn — Fall 2010
 
Introduction to Criminal Law
 
I.       What makes something criminal
A.      Societal Condemnation
                                                  1.     Criminal law is different from civil law in that society has an interest in the act which is a crime even though the individual against whom the act was committed may not wish to press charges.
B.      Reflected in the Law
                                                  1.     The criminal act must be reflected in the law. If an act is not reflected in the law, then it is not fair to charge someone with something criminal because the person has no reason to know the act is criminal.
II.    The basic construct of a crime:
A.      A voluntary Act
                                                  1.     The Actus Reus
B.      A “criminal” mental state
                                                  1.     The Mens Rea             
C.      Concurrence
                                                  1.     Where the Actus Reus and the Mens Rea concur
                                                  2.     The Mens Rea connects the Actus to the Reus.
D.      Prohibited Result
                                                  1.     Where the concurrence of the actus reus and the mens rea cause the prohibited result.
III. When is a “crime” not a “crime”: Defenses
A.      Justification
                                                  1.     An act is justified when society determines that because of certain circumstances a criminal act has not been committed.
                                                  2.     The Actus Reus is not present
B.      Excuse
                                                  1.     An act is excused when society determines that because of certain circumstances the defendant did not have the ability to form the mental culpability to commit the crime.
                                                  2.     The Mens Rea is not present.
IV. How are these elements reflected in the law
A.      Common law
                                                  1.     Usually very liberal terms to describe the culpability required to commit the crime.
B.      Statutes
                                                  1.     Very specific.
V.    The Model Penal Code
A.      Created by the American Law Institute to create unity between the different states.
VI. The Proof beyond a reasonable doubt requirement
A.      Identifying the elements of a crime
B.      Understanding the relationship between elements and proof
                                                  1.     The prosecution has both the burden of production and the burden of persuasion.
a.       When the government accuses one of a crime, one benefits from a presumption of innocence.
b.       Presumption of Innocence:
i.         Preliminary conclusion that may disappear if the prosecutor produces enough evidence to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
ii.        The state must rule out every fair and rational hypothesis except that of guilt
iii.      MANDATORY
                                                  2.     All elements of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
a.       This is the level of proof required to rebut the presumption of innocence.
                                                  3.     The defendant has no obligation to disprove any evidence.
a.       If no rational juror would say that the evidence presented by the prosecution proves BRD that the defendant is guilty, the defendant walks without having to present a case.
C.      Role of circumstantial evidence
                                                  1.     Circumstantial evidence cannot in and of itself convict an individual.
                                                  2.     Circumstantial evidence can, however, allow the jury to draw inferences upon which the jury may find that the defendant is guilty BRD.
a.       From the circumstances it must be at least reasonable to convict the defendant.
b.       Inference:
i.         A possible conclusion – Fact finder does not have to infer anything
c.        Presumption:
i.         A starting conclusion; that can be rebutted.
                                                  3.     It is up to the jury to decide the weight of the evidence, not the court.
a.       There is not more value between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence.
D.      Role of inferences
                                                  1.     From circumstantial evidence, one may draw an inference.
                                                  2.     An inference is permissive, i.e. it is not mandatory.
                                                  3.     When an inference becomes the starting conclusion, it is a presumption
a.       A presumption must be rebutted.
b.       The problem with presumptions is that it shifts the burden of proof from the government to the defendant to disprove the presumption beyond a reasonable doubt
E.       Deciphering proof BRD.
                                                  1.     Proof BRD is the proof required to
VII.          The relationship between the finder of fact and the court in the BRD equation
A.      Jury’s Role:
                                                  1.     The roll of the jury is to determine the facts from the evidence and apply the facts to the law.
                                                  2.     Only gets to the jury once the government has established a prima facie case – Jury will not get the case if any element cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt
B.      Judge’s Role:
                                                  1.     The judge decides questions of law.
                                                  2.     He defines the law for the fact finder that control the case
                                                  3.     Cannot overrule the judgment of the jury
C.      A case does not go to the jury when under no circumstances would it be reasonable for t

                                                 2.     Judges interpret the law to implement the intent and meaning of the legislature.
                                                  3.     If the legislature uses terms of art, the court will assume the legislature intended to keep the same meaning.
a.       The court assumes that legislatures draw upon the common law principles to codify crimes.
C.      The limits on legislative discretion in relation to defining crimes
                                                  1.     Legitimate constitutional privileges must be protected
                                                  2.     The law must not be overly broad so that the police know when a crime has been committed.
a.       Society does not want police to be cautious or overly anxious when enforcing crime.
b.       The law does not accept the legislature delegating the privilege to the courts.
                                                  3.     Due Process
a.       Blanket laws – law that give power to prevent conduct detrimental to society – do not give due process.
i.         The law is overly broad.
b.       Laws must be sufficiently clear and concise so that they do not infringe upon personal liberties.
c.        The government chooses how to charge an individual. If they choose the wrong charge, the individual may walk.
                                                  4.     Doctrine of Lenity
a.       In a statutory interpretation battle, when all else fails, courts are required to err on the side of the defendant.
b.       Criminal law proscribes behavior:
i.         For the legislature to make something a crime, they must specify the prohibited result.
ii.        They may not simply make it ambiguous.
c.        Vague v. overbroad
i.         Vague is a law that does not give due process – we do not know what it was trying to prohibit.
A             Loitering statutes
B             Because the law isn't precise enough, it doesn't give adequate notice.
C             Thus a court can declare an unclear, uncertain statute to be unconstitutional
ii.        Overbroad is a law that prevents too much.
A             Infringes upon constitutional rights by proscribing more than is required to meet a constitutional purpose.
B             Statutes only require a reasonable expectation of certainty.
C             Overbroad laws invite abuse of discretion by law enforcement.