Select Page

Criminal Law
St. Johns University School of Law
Simons, Michael A.

Criminal Law – Spring 2015

M. Simons

Criminal Law is entirely Statutory [cases interpret the statute]

People v. Du

– Voluntary manslaughter: mental state is intent to kill, difference from murder is provocation.

What makes a serious crime?

– Extent of the harm. Is it more serious or a greater harm to take a child’s life?

– Intent to kill.

o Choice à we blame people for choices, what they intend to do CULPABILITY = term to account for the seriousness of a crime

Sentencing Rationale

– Protect society

– Punish Δ

– Encourage Δ to lead law abiding life

– To deter others

– Isolate Δ so they can’t commit crimes

– Restitution

– Uniformity

Sources of Punishment

Common Law: All felonies punishable by death and also had misdemeanors

Legislation: NY: A-E Felonies, A-B (petit) misdemeanors, violations; MPC: 1-3(Degree) Felonies, misdemeanor, petit misdemeanor

States: Cali: codified common law; NY: mixed MPC and common law; 40 states have adopted large portions of the MPC. But it isn’t the law anywhere (always modified)


Assess the harm and culpability of every crime under these theories



GOAL: protect society

Forward Looking


Protect Society

If suffering of Δ outweighs the benefit of society then jail/prison may not be beneficial

Crime Prevention

Punishment minimization

1. General Deterrence [send message to other people]

2. Specific Deterrence [send message to Δ; encourage Δ]

3. Incapacitation [isolate]

4. Rehabilitation

BENTHAM: general good of society is enhanced by punishment (only

if net positive)

GOAL: punish Δ [harm +culpability]

Backward looking



KANT: no man should be used as a means


– Race & gender: issues working in the background

– Extent to which the people look to judicial system for resolution



[Coker v. Georgia] charged with escape, armed robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, rape

8th amendment: “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.”

“Evolving standard of decency”

Georgia allows death penalty for rape if there are two aggravating circumstances: (1) rape was committed by a person with a prior record of conviction for a capital felony (2) rape was committed while the offender is in the commission of another capital felony. (p. 75)

What makes a punishment excessive? (and therefore unconstitutional?)

1. It “makes no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment and hence is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering”; or

2. It “is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime”

Harm & Culpab



Judge made laws

Common law codified

(1960’s) American Law Institute

*Just a Model

Applicable to NY

(1965) & Amended

Ex Posto Facto: prohibits retroactive lawmaking by legislature

Due Process: prohibits retroactive lawmaking by judges

Changing the definition of a crime may be unfair because it will violate the policies underlying legality.

Rule of Lenity: Criminal statutes should be “strictly construed” = they should be read for the benefit of the defendant.

Keeler: “It is the policy of this state to construe a penal statute as favorably to the Δ as its language and the circumstances of its application may reasonably permit.

NYPL: General rule that a penal statute is to be strictly construed does not apply to this chapter, but the provisions herein must be construed according to the fair import of their terms to promote justice and effect the objects of the law” § 5.00 Penal Law not strictly construed.

Rules of Principles of Punishment (NYPL) [Objects of the law/6 purposes]

1. Prevent Harm

2. Give notice

3. Define act or omissions

a. To deter