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Criminal Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Ewing, Charles P.

Q: WHAT IS A CRIME?
A: A social wrong/harm defined by law and made punishable by law- contains an actus reus and mens rea
 
Elements of a crime:
1. Actus reus 2. Mens rea (unless strict liability) 3. Attending circumstances 4. Causation 5. Result
àI. Punishment and its Purposes
A. Utilitarianism – basic premise is that punishment itself is evil because it deliberately inflicts harm on a human being; therefore, we should hurt criminals only if some “good” is achieved by the act
                1. deterrence – changing the risk-reward calculations that determine criminal behavior
                                a. specific – deters the criminal himself from crime he might try to commit in future
b. general – deters 3rd party would-be criminals who see the punishment doled out to other criminals; stops themselves from committing crime for fear of similar punishment.
                2. rehabilitation – curing a sickness. Associated with “programs” both during and after time served
3. incapacitation – keeping criminals away from criminal opportunities. Taking away the power to do injury
4. denunciation – moral stand to announce that behavior is wrong and blameworthy
B. Retributivism – Morally fitting that a wrongdoer should suffer in proportion to wrongdoing. punishment is justified on the grounds that wrongdoing merits punishment. Criminals should be punished because they deserve it. Kantian. More determinate, less discretionary. Criminals deserve punishment, and it should be imposed on them even if it serves no utilitarian purpose, either to themselves or public [an eye for an eye].
Alex Carbaga (Robinson): Luis ‘Tree Frog’ Johnson Δ convicted of numerous counts of kidnapping, rape, assault, and imprisoned for life. But what of Cabarga, the Δ kidnapped at 5? 
 
Queen v. Dudley & Stephens: English common law. Necessity, such as the need for victuals when shipwrecked, is no defense against the charge of murder. Why? If necessity were defense to murder, it could be made the legal cloak for unbridled passion and atrocious crime. Duty of Δ was to sacrifice their lives, not take one. Sentenced to death, but commuted after 6 months after Crown recognized that this sort of cannibalism was common at shipwreck.
 
Other Legal Ideas:
1.Brady v. Maryland 1963: doctrine that requires the prosecution to turn over to the defense all material exculpatory (evidence that is favorable to the defendant) evidence.
2. Plea bargaining problematic because prosecution has the power to preset defendants with unconscionable pressures (risk life in prison if loses trial, or take plea and accept guilt and 5 year deal. 90% cases that are not immediately dismissed are plead out.
3. On appeal, guilt is now assumed and appeal must upheld in the light most favorable to the prosecution, and is thus VERY difficult to get a conviction successfully appealed once trial court assigns court.
àII. Proportionality and Legality
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).
I. SCOTUS on Proportionality: inherently tied to Retributivism.
1. Rummel v. Estelle 1980: SCOTUS holds that 3-strike rule does NOT violate 8th. Mandatory life sentence after 3rd offense does not violate 8/14th except in EXTREME circumstances (i.e. death sentence for parking ticket). He is nevertheless released after 8 years at San Antonio DA’s discretion. He did have violent felony convictions, but last one was only for fake check of $130.
2. Solem v. Helm 1983: 8th amendment DOES prohibit a life sentence without possibility of parole for repeat nonviolent offender. adopted test for proportionality: (1) gravity of the offense and harshness of the crime (2) sentences imposed on other criminals in same jurisdiction (3) sentences imposed in other jurisdictions. Solem gets off because of nonviolent nature of his past (writing bad checks). Nonviolent past + unavailability of parole distinguishes from Rummel.
3. Harmelin v. Michigan 1991: life without possibility of parole sentence for a single act of cocaine possession (about a pound and a half). The 8th Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence. Rather, it forbids only extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime.
4. Ewing v. California 2003: SCOTUS holds that 8th Amendment (cruel and unusual) imposes NO proportionality limits. Ewing gets 25 years for his 3rd strike, a minor one of stealing golf clubs, but his previous convictions are violent and serious.
5. Kansas v. Hendricks 1997: SCOTUS holds that Kansas statute establishing principle of involuntary civil commitments is NOT unconstitutional, because it is a civil confinement and therefore does not break double jeopardy and ex post facto laws. Hendricks was about to be released from prison for sexual abusing children (time duly served), but is committed to high security mental institution instead under KS statute. SCOTUS claims civil mental institution confinement is not retributive nor a deterrent (utilitarian).
Commonwealth v. Keller 1964: PA holds that Keller can be convicted under common law for offenses against depriving another of a proper burial and disturbing a deceased body, even if there is no explicit statutory law against iàMcHale Doctrine. Keller had 2 babies that she didn’t want and “buried” them in her basement. No explicit crime, but PA still holds her liable and subject to punishment under “common law misdemeanor.” Conviction affirmed.
Canna Baker (Robinson): Mrs. Baker hides dead body in order to continue receiving welfare checks. Like Keller, not an explicit statutory violation, but ARK law adopts common law of England and there IS a common law against all “offenses against the common decency” and “abuse of a corpse.” Conviction likely affirmed.
II. Modern Guidelines on Sentencing
A. Determinative/Indeterminative
1. Determinate sentence: one whose length is fixed or prospectively measurable at the time of sentencing. Can include the possibil

(a) the omission is expressly made sufficient by the law defining the offense; or
                (b) a duty to perform the omitted offense is otherwise imposed by law
(4) Possession is an act, within the meaning of the Section, if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate his possession.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
An act can be voluntary but not intentional (Decina), voluntariness of the act is separate from mens rea
 
A. Requirement of Voluntariness
    i. Voluntary Acts
                1. Proctor v. State 1918 OK
            Facts: Δ was convicted w/“keeping a place with the intent and for the purpose of unlawfully selling liquor.” 
Holding: Criminal intent alone is insufficient to convict a person. Some sort of illegal act must be performed in furtherance of the intent. Statute unconstitutional b/c it fails to connect intent w/ overt act.
                2. People v. Newton 1973 NY
Facts:Δon a flight from Bahamas to Luxemburg and possessed a concealed weapon. Pilot became aware of weapon and landed the plane in NYC. Δ charged with possession of loaded firearm under NY law.
Holding: Not criminally liable by virtue of voluntary act because Δ not in control of plane, never had plans to pass through jurisdiction of NY, and did not voluntarily land in NY. Act must be voluntary. Court very narrowly defines window of voluntariness.
                3. Martin v. State 1944 AL
Facts: Δ arrested at home. Police take Δ to a highway then charge him with w/ drunkenness in public.Holding: One may not be involuntarily put in a position that brings his acts in violation of a statute. Δ is not guilty because he was involuntarily and forcibly put into the Act by the police. The Act must be voluntary. Again, Court very narrowly defines window of voluntariness.
                4. People v. Decina 1956 NY
Facts: Δ, an epileptic, operated a car knowing he could have a seizure at any time. While driving, Δ had a seizure and that resulted in 4 deaths. During the seizure, Δ was unconscious.
Holding: The court affirmed Δ’s conviction of culpable negligence because Δ knew he was subject to seizures and that driving the vehicle by himself was dangerous. Δ deliberately took a chance by making a conscious choice to drive disregarding the consequences which he knew might follow from his conscious act.