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Criminal Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Boucai, Michael

Boucai, Crim Law, Spring 2013
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt
 
MPC 1.12 – no person can be convicted of an offense unless each element is proved beyond a reasonable doubt
 
Owens v State
 
Overview
The police officer responded to a complaint of a suspicious car and found defendant sleeping in his car in a driveway with the motor running. The police awoke defendant, who was confused and disoriented. Defendant had an open can of beer between his legs and empty cans in the car. Defendant smelled of alcohol and his driver's license revealed an alcohol restriction. Defendant was eventually convicted of driving while intoxicated. On review, defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him because the State of Maryland failed to establish whether defendant was coming or going from the driveway. The court found that the case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, the court found that the fact that defendant was in a car with beer cans indicated that he was leaving the driveway. Also, the court concluded that the police would not have been contacted if defendant had just entered the car in the driveway. Thus, it was more likely that he had been observed driving in the neighborhood. Defendant's conviction was affirmed.
 
– had been a bench trial (so he had waived his right to a jury, maybe because D thought judge would be more stringent with his inferences)
Outcome
The trial court's decision was affirmed.
 
Reasoning
Was circumstantial evidence enough to support the conviction?
– 2 hypothesis based on circumstance, had to prove that 1 was more likely than 2 to sustain guilty verdict
          1. had just arrived (guilty)
          2. was about to leave (not guilty)
          – was no address in evidence so couldn’t use that piece of info
– not reasonable to infer that one would leave house, get in car, turn on motor then consume enough alcohol to pass out
– also there was a complaint about a vehicle that matched D’s vehicle
 
 
Jury Nullification
 
State v Ragland (Sup Ct NJ 1986)
– D convicted of various offenses including armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon
– judge instructed jury that if they found D was in possession of weapon during the robbery they “must” also convict for possession by a convicted felon
– D argued that “must” was improper because it conflicted with the jury’s nullification power
Pros for nullification – conscience of the community, prevents unfair laws
Cons for nullification – jury can act against legislative and executive branch, jury could be completely arbitrary
Ruling – although nullification power exists, it should not be expanded/advertised if possible
 
Theories of Punishment
 
Retributive
                Deserve punishment, moral culpability
                Backward looking – punishment justified by past conduct
Utilitarian (maximize pleasure and minimize pain)
                Punishment is an instrument to another goal
                Forward looking – trying to influence future conduct
                Bentham – came up with theory
                                Said should be no groundless punishments (victimless crimes)
                                Shouldn’t punish crimes that could not have been prevented
                                                Think insanity, accidental crimes
                                Punishment should not exceed crime
                                                Shouldn’t get death penalty for parking ticket
                                No needless punishments, crimes that could be prevented other ways
 
               
 
Greenawalt, utilitarian justifications for punishment

OR
                2. is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime
 
Holding
“a sentence of death is grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment for the crime of rape and is therefore forbidden by the 8th amendment as cruel and unusual punishment”
 
Reasoning
– life is over for victim of murder, not the same for rape victim
 
Notes
– death is also disproportionate punishment for crime of child rape
 
 
Proportionality for non-murder crimes
– generally the Sup ct is deferential to state legislatures
– only prohibits sentences that are grossly disproportionate
– from Scalia in Ewing, “proportionality – the notion that punishment should fit the crime – is inherently a concept tied to the goal of retribution. It becomes difficult even to speak intelligently of proportionality one deterrence and rehabilitation are given significant weight.”
 
Ewing v California (Sup Ct US)
 
Facts
– D stole some golf clubs but, under Cal’s 3 strike law, was sentenced to 25 to life
                – law reflected State’s policy goals of incapacitation and deterring repeat offenders
 
Discussion
 
Solem v Helm
– ct held life sentence for seventh nonviolent crime was prohibited by 8th amendment
                – had to do with a bad check
 
Harmelin v Michigan
– life sentence for 1st time offender possessing 672 grams of cocaine was constitutional
 
Holding – 25 years to life for 3rd felony is not disproportionate under the 8th amendement