Can be a passive thing, making it hard to show if it’s voluntary or involuntary.
Intent is key element of possession –
Act of possession can be voluntary or involuntary, but intent must be:
You know that you possess the substance.
You are aware of the nature of the substance.
Both elements must be present for possession to be a crime!
Basic Elements of a Crime:
Actus Reus – The Voluntary Act
+every crime must have an actus reus
Mens Rea – Mental State (examples: recklessly, malice)
Attendant Circumstances (something that affects whether you have committed a crime)
+examples: lights on at dusk; lights at night; sex laws (age is att. circumstance)
Actus Reus and Mens Rea must occur at the same time
Requires Overt and Voluntary Conduct (i.e. an Act)
If act is involuntary or justified/excused, then there is no Actus Reus
Justifications can include:
Always look to the statute to determine the actus reus required
Martin v. State (pg 182-184)
Defendant is arrested while intoxicated and taken from his home by police.
Criminal liability requires some voluntary act prohibited by law
Depending on Statute, one typically doesn’t possess the required actus reus when they are not conscious of their actions.
People v. Newton (pg 184-185)
Defendant got into altercation with police after being pulled over.
During altercation, defendant was shot in stomach.
Defendant was then able to take control of gun from police officer and fired shots, killing one of them.
Defendant testified he wasn’t conscious of his actions and didn’t remember them, which medical testimony backed up.
Court ruled that unconsciousness was a valid defense.
Voluntary v. Involuntary
Involuntary acts – done by muscles without control of the mind (i.e. spasms and reflexes)
Act can’t be claimed as involuntary just because one doesn’t remember it, couldn’t control their impulse, or results were unintended or unforeseen.
Habit = voluntary act
Possession = considered an act only if person is aware of their possession
Hypnosis = actions performed while in hypnotic trance considered involuntary
Somnambulism = acts performed while sleepwalking are involuntary
Cogdon Case (pg 178-179) –
Mom killed daughter while sleepwalking by hitting her in head with an axe.
Defendant had history of sleepwalking, which was confirmed by her therapist.
Mom could not be found guilty of murder because she was sleepwalking and not aware of her actions.
Insanity v. Unconsciousness Defenses
Legal insanity defense doesn’t rule out the elements of the crime, so burden of proof is all on defendant.
Finding of insanity leads to commitment to institution or other therapy.
Finding of unconsciousness requires no further action, you are free to go.
Reflex is a form of unconsciousness defense.
People v. Decina (pg 179-180)
Defendant suffered seizure while driving car, causing accident that killed 4 people.
Defendant was aware of his condition and susceptibility to seizures.
Law stated that anyone operating or driving a vehicle in a reckless or culpably negligent manner and kills someone will be held criminally negligent.
Since he voluntarily operated the vehicle, knowing the risk that was presented if he had a seizure while driving, he was found liable.
An omission can constitute the required actus reus for a crime, but only when there is a legal duty to act (moral obligations aren’t legally binding).
-MPC §2.01: No liability for omission unaccompanied by actions unless a duty exists
Things that can impose duty:
Status or Relationship
In loco Parentis (Teacher, Babysitter, etc…)
Voluntary Assumption of duty
Seclusion of victim
Creation of hazard (relationship to the circumstances)
Pope v. St
erself up in a room and refused to eat.
They briefly tried to get help by finding her doctor, but failed and gave up.
Sister died and defendants charged and convicted of manslaughter.
Conviction stood on appeal because defendants had voluntarily assumed her care by trying to call doctor.
People v. Oliver (pg 195)
Defendant met man at bar and took him home.
At home, she gave him spoon so he could shoot up with drugs.
Man collapsed and she was unable to wake him, so she drug him out back out of sight and went back out.
Man died from poising from drugs he had taken.
Defendant was liable for man’s death because she isolated man in a way to prevent anyone else from rendering aid to him.
As a general rule, if your omission causes the death of another, and you had a duty and a means to prevent that death, then you will be liable for manslaughter.
Duty of care in medical setting:
There is no duty to continue to provide care where care has become futile in the opinion of qualified medical personnel.
Barber v. Superior Court (pg 208-209)
Patient, while in defendant doctor’s care, suffered cardiac arrest after surgery leaving him in vegetative state.
Based on info from doctors that patient was unlikely to recover, requested that defendant doctors discontinue treatment.
Other than being kept clean, all care was terminated and patient died.
Doctors were charged with murder on basis that actus reus was doctor’s stoppage of treatment, but charges were dismissed.
Court said there was no actus reus, as stopping treatment was simply stopping the act.