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Criminal Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Ewing, Charles Patrick

Criminal Law, Fall 1999
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 – CommonLawState. 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 –CriminalState 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
IV.              Actus Reus
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.
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 though his conduct was.
People v. Grant – Actions consisting of a reflex or convulsion do not give rise to criminal liability unless D had knowledge of the problem. D assaulted a police officer and later claimed it was due to a seizure.
People v. Decina – An act performed in a state of unconsciousness (seizure while driving) is not voluntary and does not meet the actus reus requirement unless the D knew of his condition and put himself in a position to cause the risk. Court ruled Decina did.
Jones v. United States – One must have a legal duty to act in order for an omission to constitute an act. A legal duty exists:
a.       Where a statute imposes a duty of care for another;
b.      Where one has a certain status relationship to another (family);
c.       Where there exists a contractual duty;
d.      Where one has voluntarily assumed care of another and so secluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid.
People v. Steinberg – If D has the requisite intent to cause serious physical injury then an omission (refusing to get child medical care) can be a criminal act regardless if D knew failure to act would cause the injury or not.
People v. Shaughnessy – The minimal requirement for criminal liability is the performance by a person of conduct which includes a voluntary act of the omission to perform an act which he is physically capable of performing. In this case the D being the passenger in a car cannot make one guilty of trespass.
Robinson v. California – A state law which imprisons a person thus afflicted (drug addict) as a criminal, even though he has never touched any narcotic within the state or been guilty of any irregular behavior there, inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 14th amendment.
Pottinger v. City of Miami – Arresting homeless people for harmless acts they are forced to perform in public effectively punishes them for being homeless.
V.                 Strict Liability – No mens rea requirement, and no defense.
United State v. Balint – The Narcotic Act does not make knowledge a requirment for conviction; justified for the benefit to society.
VI.              Mens Rea
Motive may help us to understand mens rea
Motive is a reason for committing an offense- not intent, knowledge, recklessness or negligence.
An act can be voluntary but not intentional (Decina), voluntariness of the act is separate from mens rea
Reason to figure out mens rea is to justify the mode of punishment (Intent = a greater danger than negligence.
Purposely – a person acts purposely with respect to a particular element if it hsim conscious object to engage in the particular conduct in question or to cause the particular result in 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 per

2.      Negligent Homicide is a 3rd degree felony
Intentional                                                                        Unintentional                                          
Aggravated Murder                                                      1. Depraved Indifference –
Murder                                                                              Murder       
Manslaughter (Voluntary) – Intentional Killing    2. Extreme Recklessness
That would otherwise be murder except for                   3. Recklessness –
Some Mitigating Circumstances                                    Involuntary Manslaughter    
                                                                                                4. Negligence – Crim. Neg.
                                                                                                     Homicide                                                                                                                             5. Felony Murder – no intent
To kill, but if you kill      someone during the commission of a felony you’re guilty of murder
Vehicular Homicide – Vehicular homicide falls under involuntary manslaughter. It is less severe than both Involuntary Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide. The MPC does not have a provision for Vehicular Homicide, but it is considered to be included under the negligent homicide section.
Porter v State – D’s culpability was not strong enough to warrant a MS conviction. Defines “culpable negligence” as gross negligence evincing a “reckless disregard of human life.”
I.                   Involuntary Manslaughter, MPC 210.3
MPC does not distinguish between Involuntary and Voluntary Manslaughter, but many jurisdictions do.
Commonwealth v. Welansky – Wanton or reckless conduct is intentional (commision or omission) where there is a duty to act, which conduct involves a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result. What is intended is the conduct, not the harm.
State v. Williams – Standard of ordinary caution; the caution exercisable by a man of reasonable prudence under the same or similar condition; failure to do so is enough to convict for manslaughter.
People v. Strong – Difference between the crimes of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide is that in one the actor perceives the risk but consciously disregards it and in the other the actor negligently fails to perceive the risk.
II.                Voluntary Manslaughter, MPC 210.3
Heat of Passion, Uncontrollable
Provocation that would cause a reasonable person to be out of control
Law recognizes human frailty – Under certain circumstance someone could lose all control
Judge decides whether or not there was legally adequate