Select Page

Criminal Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Ewing, Charles P.

Criminal Law Outline
Professor Charles Ewing
Fall 2012
I.                    PUNISHMENT – Criminal Law is unique because it’s not about money but about your client’s liberty.  For what reasons/goals should we take away someone’s liberty? 
A) Utilitarianism
1.  Deterrence: The purpose of punishment is to deter others from acting similarly.  To effectively deter, people need notice of the punishments.  However, few people are actually educated on what results when one commits a criminal act.
        1) Specific Deterrence: Deter the specific D from committing future crimes.
        2) General Deterrence: Deter the general public from committing future crimes.
2. Denunciation: The purpose of punishment is to denounce criminal behavior and send that message to society.
3.    Incapacitation: The purpose of punishment is to keep criminals off the streets to protect society.
4.   Rehabilitation: The purpose of punishment is to change criminals into non-criminals with treatment.
B) Retribution: (Just Deserts)
1. The purpose of punishment is to give criminals what they deserve, i.e. an eye for an eye.
The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens
Facts: Ds stranded at sea.  Ds eat the weaker boy in order to survive.  Ds do not draw lots, breaking sailing custom.
Holding:  One may not be involuntarily sacrificed to save the lives of three.  The Queen takes mercy on Ds and commutes their death sentences to six months imprisonment. 
Kansas v Hendricks
Holding:due process not violated , law was not ex post facto
II. PROPORTIONALITY, LEGALITY, & SPECIFICITY – If the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the crime, the courts will often step in.  The 8th Amendment of the Bill of Rights contains a narrow proportionality clause. 
COMMON LAW: Whatever openly outrages decency and is injurious to public morals is a misdemeanor and punishable by law.
MODERN LAW: Do not legislate from the bench-just because it outrages public decency does not mean it will be punishable by law (no ex post facto laws).
Ewing v. California – Proportionality.
Facts: D was previously convicted of 4 felonies.  D then stole golf clubs was sentenced to 25 years to life under California’s “Three Strikes Law.” 
Holding: The sentence is not cruel and unusual because the State has a right to incarcerate habitual offenders to protect the public.  The Court notes if D did not have the possibility of parole, the sentence would violate the 8th Amendment.
Kennedy v. louisianna – Proportionality.
Facts: A Louisiana court found Patrick Kennedy guilty of raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter. Louisiana law allows the district attorney to seek the death penalty for defendants found guilty of raping children under the age of twelve.
Holding: Do states violate the Eight Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment by imposing the death sentence for the crime of child rape? Yes. In a 5-4 decision the Court held that the Eighth Amendment bars states from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the child's death. Applying the death penalty in such a case would be an exercise of “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of a national consensus on the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. 
Commonwealth v. Keller – Legality.
Facts: D was charged with the “common law crime” of indecent disposition of a dead body when she put her dead babies in her basement.  There were no statutes or case law to support this charge.
Holding: Even if no specific precedents/statutes exist, one can be charged with a common law crime if their actions insult public decency (McHale Doctrine).  Therefore, D is guilty.
            1) Common Law: When something outrages decency and is injurious to public morals, it is a misdemeanor and punishable by law.
                2) Modern Law: A court may not legislature from the bench.  Just because an act outrages public decency does not mean it will be punishable by law.  The Constitution forbids ex post facto laws.
Lawrence v. texas – requirement of  harm.
Facts: Police found two men engaged in sexual conduct, in their home, and they were arrested under a Texas statute that prohibited such conduct between two men.
Holding: While homosexual conduct is not a fundamental right, intimate sexual relationships between consenting adults are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
III. ACTUS REUS – A crime must have a voluntary act or omission.  The act must also be concurrent with mens rea.  Sleep walking or a seizure could be a defense.  Almost all acts are considered to be voluntary. 
Elements of a Crime = Actus Reus + Mens Rea + Causation + Result (Attending Circumstances prove elements of the crime)
·         The requirement for an act:
Punishment must be for (1) past (2) voluntary (3) bad (4) conduct (5) specified (6) in advance (7) by statute
The law regards almost every act as voluntary (generally except for seizures or reflexes)
Omission: No liability to act unless have legal duty
MPC 1.13: Defines an act as a bodily movement, whether voluntary or involuntary. 
MPC 2.01: A person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct that includes a voluntary act or omission to perform an act that he is physically capable of.  Possession is an act if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control.
Proctor v. State
Facts: D was convicted “keeping a place with the intent and for the purpose of unlawfully selling liquor.” 
Holding: In order to be guilty of a crime, you must have unlawful intent + an immediate over act.  The statute does not define a crime because it merely punishes thoughts so D may not be convicted.
People v. Newton
Facts: D boarded a flight from the Bahamas to Luxembourg with a gun.  The Captain became aware and landed the plane in N.Y., where D was subsequently charged with violating a N.Y. statute that prohibited possessing a loaded firearm.
Holding: D is not guilty because he did not voluntarily subject himself to the act because he did not voluntarily go to N.Y. or even plan to go to N.Y. with the gun.  The Act must be voluntary.
Martin v. State
Facts: D was arrested.  The police took D to a highway where he committed the act of being drunk on a public highway.
Holding: One may not be involuntarily put in a position that brings his acts in violation of a statute.  D is not guilty because he was involuntarily and forcibly put into the Act by the police.  The Act must be voluntary.
People v. Decina
Facts: D, an epileptic, operated a car knowing he could have a seizure at any time.  While driving, D had a seizure and that resulted in 4 deaths.  During the seizure, D was unconscious. 
Holding: The court affirmed D’s conviction of culpable negligence because D knew he was subject to seizures and that driving the vehicle by himself was dangerous.  D deliberately took a chance by making a conscious choice to drive disregarding the consequences which he knew might follow from his conscious act.
                1) The court is abandoning Newton and Martin.  Here, D did nothing wrong, after all he had a legal driver’s license to drive.  The Act of having the se

to punish people who look at child pornography, so the Courts may bend the law to punish them. 
U.S. v. Tucker
Facts: The police found child pornography in D’s cache file and recycling bin.  D was convicted of possession. 
Holding: The court affirmed the conviction because if one views child pornography online and they know the images will be stored in the cache file, then they knowingly possess those images.
Commonwealth v. Simone
Facts: Police found child pornography on D’s screensaver, in D’s cache/temporary internet files, and search terms relating to child pornography.  Further, they found D “morphed” the images.  D was convicted of possession.
Holding: The court affirmed the conviction finding a person possesses child pornography when it is found on their computer wallpaper and they have actively searched it out.
State v. Lindgren
Facts: D took pictures of a minor.  On D’s computer, the police found thumbnail images.  D was convicted of possession.
Holding: The court affirmed the conviction finding one possessed child pornography when they click on thumbnail images to create larger pictures for viewing, access images twice, and save images. 
D) Omission:
MPC 2.01(3): There are four situations in which the failure to act may constitute a breach of legal duty.
                1) Where a statute imposes a duty to care for another;
                2) One stands in a certain relationship to another (parent/child, husband/wife);
                3) One has assumed a contractual duty to care for another;
                4) One has voluntarily assumed the care of another and so precluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid.
Misc. Duties: A minority of states have Good Samaritan Laws.  Those that do have those laws only require one someone to act if they can do so without danger.  One must assume a duty to be bound.  For example, wearing a lifeguard shirt is not an assumption of a duty.  However, sitting in the lifeguard’s chair is.  Husbands and wives often have a duty toward each other.  If you shove someone into the water, you have a duty to help them.
Jones v. U.S.
Facts: Green arranged for D to take care of her child.  The child lived in atrocious conditions and died as a result.  D was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for failure to perform her duty of care to the child.
Holding: The court reversed the conviction because the jury was not instructed on the duty element of the crimes, which was a critical element of the crime charged. 
E) Status Crimes:
Robinson v. California
Facts: D arrested after police observed him admit to occasional use of narcotics and observed track marks on D’s arms.  D was convicted under a statute that made it illegal to be addicted to narcotics.
Holding: The Court reversed the conviction and found the law unconstitutional because a state may not punish someone for having a mental illness/status.