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Criminal Law
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Ewing, Charles Patrick

Criminal Law Outline Fall 2009 Charles Ewing

1. Causation
Actus Reus + Mens Rea –> Result = Crime
[causation] a. Definitions: Causation is part of the act element of many offenses: (1) A voluntary act (2) that causes (3) social harm. But if harm is an indisputable fact, what about causal responsibility? How far backwards is someone responsible for setting actions in motion that then lead to the actual [as opposed to the proximate] cause of harm-
b. Five Basic Criteria For Causation:
1. But-for Causation: necessary conditions or acts, that but-for the harm would not have resulted: But-for is the most basic form of determining criminal liability: it merely asks if the D’s action was in a chain of actions leading to the death [w/out probing into levels of culpability, which is required by the Model Penal Code] 2. Violent Acts: [coming from common law]- neceassary conditions were perceived as criminal when they were violent (this has largely been superseded by foreseeability)
3. Foreseeability: Requiring a connection btwn the actor’s culpable mental state and the result [for a charge of recklessly causing injury, the injury must be one the actor foresaw] 4. Intervening Events: at common law, exculpated the D if the there was a sufficient intervening event that “broke the chain”; that is the event the that caused the harm was a necessary event, not caused by the D: 3 categorical rules
i. Intervening Voluntary Actions: principle provided the means for someone else to commit the act, but did not commit themselves [would probably still accessorily liable] ii. Temporal Intervals: provided that a lengthy enough period of time passed, might exculpate D [this is tricky though] 5. Duties: Generally the same as any omission where the actor owes a duty: contractually bound, mandated by Statue, status, voluntary undertaking-
c. Common Law: Causation:
1. The direct cause is also the proximate cause-
2. Cannot escape liability if the act was sufficiently foreseeable
3. A responsive intervening event will generally not relieve the actor of liability: EX: negligent medical care or refusal of medical care does not get D off the hook [if the medical care was extremely / grossly negligent it may relieve the D] 4. A coincidental intervention may relieve the actor; unless it was foreseeable
5. Apparent Safety Doctrine: if, by virtue of the actor’s conduct, the V is placed in a situation which is the cause of their death, D on the hook- unless it can be shown that the V had already reached a reasonable place of safety, but then puts themselves in harms way [or has a reasonable path to safety but then puts themselves in harm’s way] 6. Omissions normally do not absolve a D for his actions [ex: D beats a father’s son while the father watches; the father’s duty to act does not transfer the liability; though he would probably be accessorily liable] d. Model Penal Code: Legal Cause:
1. Essentially a but-for model: the actual harm must not be too remote, or accidental in its occurrence from that which was contemplated- that is, even if the actual result differs with the respect to person or property harmed, as long as it was a probable consequences corresponding to a the level of culpability [purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently]:
Consider; a driver driving exceedingly recklessly through heavy traffic: he figures he will probably hit other cars but doesn’t care; he does hit another car, which then hits and kills a pedestrian- under the Model Penal Code he had the requisite level of culpability, the actual result differed from the probable result only with respect to the person harmed-
e. Cases:
1. Regina v. Benge 1865
i. D failed to accurately read the time schedule for incoming trains and had his crew set up

t held the D stated a “chain of causation” which ultimately led to the death of the decedent- Insufficient intervening act / it was not superseding-
7. Stephenson v. State 1932
i. D charged w/2nd degree murder- D abducted a woman and attempted to rape and abuse her over several days- she took a poison, trying to kill herself- The court held the D liable: V’s intervening acts were insufficient; were merely a response to a difficult situation: She was mentally irresponsible
ii. 2 Principle: D offered to take her to the hospital, she refused: refusing medical treatment does not get D off the hoo-
The intervening act must supersede anything D had done, so as to break the chain of causation

Inchoate Crimes: Generally: the formation of the requisite Mens Rea, but short of actual commission

2. Attempt:
a. Definition: when an actor (s ) take a substantial step toward the commission of an offense-
b. Common Law:
1. Attempt is a specific intent crime [even if the attempted crime is a general intent crime] the actor must have specifically intended to commit the act-
2. For an Attempt to occur the actor or actors must move beyond the preparation stage: there are several tests courts have used:
i. The Last Act: occurring just before the last act
ii. The Proximity Test: proximate to the completed crime
iii. Dangerous Proximity Test: so near completion, danger of success is very great
iv. Indispensable Element Test: when D obtained an indispensable element to commit the act