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Criminal Law
UMKC School of Law
Berger, Mark

Criminal Law Outline

1) The Justification for Punishment
2) What to Punish
3) Actus Reus
4) Mens Rea
a) Basic Conceptions
i) MPC 2.02 – General Requirements of Culpability
(1) This section expresses the Code’s basic requirement that unless some element of mental culpability is proved with respect to each material element of the offense, no valid criminal conviction may be obtained.
(2) Offers four levels of culpability.
(a) Purpose
(i) The code draws a narrow distinction between acting purposely and knowingly
(ii) A person acts purposely when:
1. if the element involves the nature of his conduct or a result thereof, it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result; and
2. if the element involves the attendant circumstances, he is aware of the existence of such circumstances or he believes or hopes that they exist
(b) Knowledge
(i) The code draws a narrow distinction between acting purposely and knowingly
(ii) Def. – The actor must be “practically certain” that his conduct will cause a result
(iii) Also “Willful blindness”
(c) Recklessness
(i) Recklessness involves conscious risk creation
(ii) It involves acting with the awareness of a risk that is of a probability of less than substantial certainty, and that the risk is also substantial and unjustifiable
1. A surgeon knows there is a risk involved in certain operations, but realizes that it is a justifiable risk
(d) Negligence
(i) Negligence, unlike purpose, knowledge, and recklessness, does not involve a state of awareness
(ii) D is guilty if given the nature and degree of the risk his failure to perceive it is a gross deviation from the care that would be exercised by a reasonable person in his situation.
(3) One of these levels of culpability must be proved with respect to each “material element” of the offense, which may involve
(a) The nature of the forbidden conduct
(b) The attendant circumstances
(c) The result of conduct
(4) The question of which level of culpability suffices to establish liability must be addressed separately with respect to each material element.
ii) Common Law
(1) Holloway v. U.S.
(a) Conditional Intent – D gives the victim an unreasonable condition, which if not met, will cause D to partake in the forbidden conduct (carjacking with specific intent to cause death)
(b) Rule: Court says a D may not negate a prescribed intent by requiring the victim to comply with a condition he has no right to impose.
(c) MPC is in accord with this ruling, holding that you can’t negate a specific intent with by imposing an unreasonable condition.
(2) U.S. v. Jewell
(a) Guy was bringing Marijuana to the U.S. He got in his car made a conscious effort to avoid learning if there was Mary in the car.
(b) Rule: Deliberate ignorance and positive knowledge are equally culpable. I.e. acting “knowingly” is not necessarily to act only with positive knowledge, but also to act with an awareness of the high probability of the existence of the fact in question. When such awareness is present, positive knowledge is not required.
(c) MPC is in accord with this.
(3) U.S. v. Giovannetti
(a) D rented property to someone who was using it illegally, but he didn’t ask, and didn’t know. He knew the people he was renting to, but never inquired or checked as to what was going on. D was acquitted because he didn’t purposely avoid finding knowledge.
(b) Rule: It is not enough to have the mental element of knowledge, you need also to have some purpose action to avoid acquiring the knowledge.
b) Mistake of Fact
i) MPC 2.04 – Ignorance or Mistake
(1) Ignorance or Mistake is a defense when
(a) It negates the existence of a state of mind that is essential to the commission of an offense OR
(b) The law provides that the state of mind established by such ignorance or mistake constitutes a defense.
ii) Common Law
(1) Morality Questions to not allow mistake
(a) Regina v. Prince (no statutes involved, or no policy outlined in statute)
(i) D took away a 14 year old girl, who he thought was 18 (b/c that’s what she told him). D honestly believed this statement and the belief was reasonable, but he is convicted.
1. A reasonable mistake would negate a mens rea of negligence, and recklessness.
(ii) Court imposes strict liability: Mens rea doesn’t matter.
(iii) If you have the mens rea for the lesser offense but commit the greater offense, you will be held liable for the greater offense.
(b) White v. State
(i) Man left his wife while pregnant, although he didn’t know she was pregnant, he was still guilty of wrongdoing
(ii) Does not allow ignorance as a defense, if he abandons her, he does so at his peril, it is a moral wrong
(2) Policy Questions to not allow mistake (Statutes involved)
(a) People v. Olsen
(i) D claimed that he had a reasonable belief that the girl was over 14. The mens rea is negligence, b/c he is trying to show that he had a reasonable belief. Statute had a built in policy requirement, whose purpose would not be served by recognizing a defense of reasonable mistake of age.
(ii) Rule: If a statute has a built in policy requirement, strict liability is allowed.
(b) U.S. v. Feola
(i) D attempted to rob several men who had presented themselves as potential drug buyers. The men turned out to be undercover federal drug agents. D reasonably believed that person was not a police officer
(c) Strict liability is allowed because the statute’s purpose was to afford maximum protection to federal officers.
c) Strict Liability imposed by legislation – eliminates need to prove mens rea (Str

1. D voluntarily engaged cruise control, which got stuck and caused D to speed. D lacked purpose, was convicted anyway.
2. Rule: D who is faultless doesn’t get off the hook because his action is voluntary (If you know what you are doing, the law is suspicious of you saying you didn’t realize it was broken).
d) Mistake of Law
i) MPC 2.04 – does not intend to give a broad defense in cases of mistake of law
(1) If you make a mistake, determine if it is a mistake of the element of the crime or if it is a mistake of the legality of the entire course of conduct to determine whether or not your mistake is a valid defense.
ii) Common Law
(1) Where Mistake of Law is not a defense
(a) When it questions the whole course of conduct
(i) People v. Marrero
1. D misunderstood a statute that he thought allowed him to carry a gun, when in fact it didn’t. D argued that his conduct was excused due to his reasonable misunderstanding.
2. Rule: If you make a mistake about what an interpretation of the law, you have no excuse
a. Why?
i. Encourages odd interpretations of the law
ii. Very easy claim to make
(ii) Cheek v. U.S.
1. D didn’t pay his taxes, b/c he sincerely believed that income tax was unconstitutional. His belief was unreasonable, and challenged the law.
2. Rule: (1) If you make a mistake of the legality of the entire course of conduct, it is not a defense. (2) Unreasonable beliefs, if proved to be a lie by the jury, are not a defense.
(iii) Hopkins v. State
1. D asked attorney about a law, and the answer given was a wrong interpretation. D was perfectly aware of the statute, and did not argue that he was mislead by the attorney.
2. Rule: A person who commits an act which the law declared to be criminal cannot be excused from punishment upon the theory that he misunderstood the law.
(b) When it goes against the intent of a policy motivated statute
(i) U.S. v. International Minerals
1. Court held in this case that it was sufficient to prove that the actions D knowingly committed violated regulations
2. Diff. between this case and Liparota: Highly regulated industry, policy motivated statute.
(ii) Ratzlaf v. U.S.
D gets off because court wants to avoid criminalizing otherwise innocent conduct