Select Page

Criminal Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Binder, Guyora

Criminal Law
I. Punishment Justifications
A. Deterrence – Sends a message to society of what will happen if the law is broken,       hoping that it will prevent crime. There is an assumption that a “rational” calculation goes on in the minds of the would-be criminal. “Is committing the crime worth the risk of getting punishes?”
B. Incapacitation – Theory of getting criminals out of society so that they can’t commit more crimes.
C.  Retribution – Criminal should pay for what they’ve done. Revenge.
D. Rehabilitation – “Does not really exist, idea only makes people feel good.” (Ewing) Society really does not try to rehabilitate criminals, but we think we do.
E.     Denunciation – Society justifies punishment to express a dissatisfaction with the behavior exhibited by the individual.
II.                The Justification for Punishment – Legality
Commonwealth v. Keller – Common Law State. Where there was no statute on the books for indecent disposition of a corpse (the D did not have notice), the court in PA looked to the common law to fill the gap. It was unsure whether the court made a judgment on the behavior inferred that the behavior was a crime from precedent. The court said Keller should have had notice that her behavior was wrong by taking into account the local customs, standards of decency, etc. This was more denunciation than anything. The problem with applying the common law is that you may punish someone with notice.
Harmelin v. Michigan – D was sentenced to life imprisonment w/o parole for having over 70 grams of cocaine. Supreme Court said this was not cruel and unusual punishment because 1) “cruel and unusual” question should only be applied to death penalty cases, life in prison was not as bad, and 2) society dictates what punishments fit what crimes, MI legislature was the best to determine what kind of drug problem their state had.
III.             Elements of a Crime
1.      Actus Reus – Criminal Act
2.      Mens Rea – Criminal State of Mind (Guilty Mind)
3.      Attending (additional) Circumstances – Concurrence between the mens rea and the actus reus
4.      Causation – State has to prove that the criminal act caused the result
5.      Result
ELEMENT ANALYSISà Basic elements of liability in a criminal case can be divided up into two categories:
OFFENSES (Actus Reus/Mens Rea)                                DEFENSES
                [Culpability]                         [Wrongdoing]                [Responsibility]  
IV.              Actus Reus (Acts)
Conduct Element: An actus reus problem arises when 1. The D has not committed physical acts, but has guilty thoughts, words, status; 2. D does an involuntary act; and 3. D has an omission or failure to act.
A person need not act if: 1) acting would put him/her in danger, 2) acting would interfere w/ duties he/she owes to others and 3) if assistance is being summoned or provided by others.
RESULT ELEMENT [homicide requirement in most jurisdictions where conduct is implied in relation to the harmful result].
CIRCUMSTANCE ELEMENT = the victim was a child, crime occurred at night, etc.
The Actus Reus may have several conduct, result, or circumstantial elements all rolled into one.
Example = Burglary.
[CONDUCT ELEMENTS] (1) Breaking and (2) entering into a [CIRCUMSTANCE ELEMENTS] (1) dwelling house at (2) night and there is damage done to the [RESULT ELEMENTS] (1) property or a (2) person
Prosecution must prove these elements:
Conduct: what you did to cause this harmful result
Act Omission from acting
MPC 2.01
1.      Intent only does not constitute a crime, there must be an act associated.
2.      Possession is an act if the D was aware of it and had time to get rid of or avoid the situation.
3.      The act must be voluntary. An act is almost always voluntary unless it’s a reflex.
4.      Actions consisting of a reflex or convulsion do not give rise to criminal liability unless D had knowledge of the problem and voluntarily put himself in a position that he knew would cause the reflex/convulsion.
5.      One must have a legal duty to act in order for an omission to constitute an act.
6.      When there is a legal duty, it must be the immediate and direct cause of death.
Proctor v. State – Liquor sales during prohibition. Mere intent does not constitute a crime. There must also be an omission or commission of an act.
People v. Newton – D on plane with gun, forced to land in NY. The actus reus must be voluntary, otherwise the D is not subject to criminal liability.
Martin v. State – D’s boisterous conduct at the road did not constitute a crime because his presence at the road was not voluntary, even thoug

question. The D is aware of the circumstances or hope they exist and intends the result to occur.
Knowingly – The result is not his conscious objective yet he is practically certain that his conduct will cause that result.
Recklessly – Consciously aware of the substantial and unjustifiable risk yet disregards that the result will come from his conduct.
Negligently – Unaware of a substantial risk that he should have perceived. Failure to meet the objective standard of a reasonable person.
Regina v. Faulkner – Rum and the ship. Unless the crime is that of strict liability, the D must have the required mens rea for a conviction.
Regina v. Cunningham – Gas meter. Foreseeability of the consequences is a component of determining the mental state of the alleged criminal.
DefensesàTo be liable for criminal offense MUST commit an actus reus with the requisite mens rea, must have committed a wrongdoing, and must have been responsible for that wrongdoing.
These elements must be present simultaneously:
Justifications (negate the element of wrong doing)
EXCUSES [responsibility]: Made mistake and they were sorry for what they did, but should not be held responsible for that action.
Law enforcement
Reasonable mistake of law
Circumstances- you would have done the same thing
àThe prosecution need not bear the burden of proof on the elements of justification and excuses like they would when addressing offenses.
àWhy would politicians make it harder for the prosecution / why would it be to the advantage of legislatures and judges to make the justifications burden of proof harder on them?
Aprendi v. New Jersey: D was convicted pursuant to guilty plea in the Superior Court, Law Division, Cumberland County, of possession of firearm for unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of prohibited weapon. D sentenced to extended term under New Jersey’s hate crime statute and he appealed. àCourt affirmed.