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Criminal Law
Temple University School of Law
Natali, Louis M.

I. Actus Reas – Culpable Acts (Guilty Acts)

a. Requirement of Voluntary Action

D has to actually commit the crime himself to be guilty; Police can’t place him in position involuntarily where he is then charged w/ crime
-e.g. Martin v. State police took drunk man out to highway, charged w/ being in public; conviction overturned because there was no commission of voluntary act prohibited by law

Unconsciousness as a Defense to Criminal Act

-if D is unconscious and commits criminal act without being cognizant of doing it, then it is not a criminal act;
-e.g. People v. Newton Huey Newton murdered a cop, but to be murder it must be a voluntary act; actions cannot be voluntary where actor is unconscious

-Exception: if D is aware of physical impairment (e.g. epilepsy) that will cause him to become unconscious, then the Defense is void
-if D makes a voluntary decision that he knows might put him in an unconscious state with the ability to do criminal acts, then he is guilty of those acts
-e.g. People v. Decina driver aware he was prone to seizures but decided to drive in spite; suffered seizure, killed 4 people, convicted of negligent homicide and conviction affirmed on basis that D knew he was subject to seizures yet put himself in dangerous situation
-counter: state licensed him

b. Omissions

Failure to act (omission) can be a breach of legal duty and therefore a criminal act where:

1. statute imposes duty to care for another
-e.g. Pope v. State D not w/in class of persons statute proscribed duty upon

2. one stands in special relationship to other (parent to child, husband to wife, etc.)
e.g. Beardsley D had no legal duty to GF
e.g. People v. Carrol stepmother duty to stepchild
e.g. State v. Miranda live-in BF had legal duty to GF’s kids when GF attacked them

3. one has assumed contractual duty to care; APPEAL said BF no legal duty

4. one has voluntarily assumed care of other and secluded person so that others may not aid
-e.g. Jones v. US to be convicted of involuntary manslaughter needed to be shown that D had legal duty to care for infant and D breached that duty

5. one who puts another in peril by his criminal act (has duty to preserve other’s life)

-even if there is a strong moral duty to act, not a crime unless a legal duty; e.g. Pope v State D didn’t help child when mother was attacking, left for dead

-very difficult to draw line where duty exists and does not; courts differ

c. Distinguishing Omissions from Acts


Cessation of Life support by Doctor is an omission and not an affirmative act
-physicians do not have legal duty act once livesaving measures have proved futile
-omission here not criminal when family members have consented to it

-e.g. Barber v. Superior Court removing life support not breach of legal duty as doctors owed no duty to act futher when treatment was futile

Barber v. Superior Court – Page 208

II. Mens Rea – Culpable Mental State (Guilty Mind)

-The awareness or intention that must accompany the prohibited act, under the terms defined by the offense

a. Basic Conceptions

-More serious the crime, more necessary it is to have a MR

In addition to Actus Reas, a criminal act must be done knowingly

MPC 202/22

oreseeable damage would occur

Illustration: Criminal Negligence

-Unlike civil negligence, criminal negligence requires greater risk of nature that failure to perceive constitutes gross deviation from reasonable person standard
-civil negligence, just a deviation from standard of care, can be applied when penalty needs to be given
-e.g. Exxon Valdez case; D not criminally negligent, just civil, but will convict

-counter: when moral condemnation and social harm attaches to conviction of crime, crime should reflect a guilty mind and require showing of criminal negligence
e.g. Santillanes v. New Mexico court ruled criminal negligence standard required to show Mens Rea

Willful Ignorance

-deliberate ignorance is just as culpable as positive knowledge
-shows a calculated effort to avoid sanctions while violating substance of law
-e.g. Jewell D guilty even though he claims didn’t know MJ was in car

-counter: MPC requires an awareness of high probability fact exists, not merely reckless disregard or failure to inspect

Mistake of Fact

-defense if negates MR necessary or if law says it negates
-not a defense if would be guilty had fact existed, but will mitigate sentence

Mistake must be an honest one, not reasonable, just honest to be a defense
-decision on honesty of mistake is up to jury