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Criminal Law
UMKC School of Law
O'Brien, Sean D.

Fully Stated Rule of Criminal Liability: A person is not guilty of an offense unless her conduct, which must include a voluntary act, and which must be accompanied by a culpable state of mind (the mens rea of the offense), is the actual and proximate cause of the social harm, as proscribed by the offense.
1.       Justification of punishment
Definition – When an agent of the government, who is authorized by criminal conviction, intentionally inflicts pain or unpleasant consequences. 
Theories of Punishment
A.      Utilitarianism – pain inflicted under punishment is justifiable if it is expected to result in the reduction in the pain of a crime that would otherwise occur
Example – if punishment of a crime creates 5 units of pain, it is justified if it prevents more than 5 units of pain in society.
-Benefits versus risk
-Rational thought
Proportionality – punishment must be proportional to the crime
1.       Deterrence – Person is punished in order to convince the general community to forego criminal conduct in the future
2.       Specific deterrence – Punishment deters the punished person from committing further crime
3.       Rehabilitation – punishment is used to reform the convicted person into being a lawful citizen
4.       Incapacitation – If someone is in prison, they can commit no more crime
B.      Retributivism – Belief that punishment is justified whether or not it is deserved. A wrongdoer shall be punished whether or not it will benefit society
1.       Assaultive retribution – Because a criminal has harmed society it is justified to harm him back
2.       Protective retribution – Punishment is not inflicted to hurt wrongdoers but because punishment is a means of securing a moral balance in society
C.      Denunciation – Hybred of Retribution and Utilitarianism – Punishment is justified as a means of expressing society’s condemnation of a crime
-Determinative v. Indeterminate sentencing
                    o            All crimes have several basic elements in common:
                                             ·            1) a voluntary act (actus reus)
                                             ·            2) a culpable intent (mens rea)
                                             ·            3) concurrence between the mens rea and the actus reus and
                                             ·            4) causation of harm
II.            ACTUS REUS- CULPABLE CONDUCT/voluntary act
                  a.            Mere thoughts are not punishable as crimes
                                             ·            Words can be – conspiracy or aiding and abetting
o        Possession as a criminal act- mere possession of an object may sometimes constitute the necessary criminal act
                                             ·            Conscious possession- usually must have knowledge of the possession
                                             ·            Not necessary that D have been aware of the object’s illegal or contraband nature
o        Act must be voluntary to satisfy AR rqmt
                                             ·            Martin v State
                                                                     ·            Facts: Police officers arrested an intoxicated man at his home, took him onto a highway, and then arrested him for public drunkenness
                                                                     ·            Rule: A D must perform the physical act for each element of a crime that has an actus reus component.
                                             ·            Involuntary
§         Reflex or convulsion
§         Unconsciousness- (does not incl self-induced unconsciousness)
                                                                                             ·            People v Newton
                                                                                                                     ·            Facts: D was accused of committing manslaughter after allegedly shooting and killing a police officer during a struggle with the police.
                                                                                                                     ·            Rule: When a person commits an act that is criminal if done voluntarily, lack of consciousness is a complete defense
§         Hypnosis (disputed)
§         Self-induced state – earlier voluntary act may deprive D of ‘involuntary’ defense
§         Ex:
§         People v. Decina – case of person who knows he is prone to epileptic seizures, operates a car on a public highway, has a seizure and kills four people. Court holds him criminally liable.
·         Even though the immediate action causing the harm was involuntary, the defendant knew he was likely to have the seizure and disregarded the consequences.
o        Omissions- usually no liability for an omission to act
·         Example: D sees V (a stranger) drowning in front of him. D could easily rescue V. D will normally not be criminally liable for failing to attempt to rescue V, because there is no general liability for omissions as distinguished from affirmative acts.
·         Pope v. State
·         Facts: D charged with a crime after letting woman and kid stay in her home and failed to call police or stop a mother from committing child abuse that resulted in death of the child or getting med assistance
·         Rule: common law rule of the US does not impose a duty to take affirmative action upon bystanders in emergency situations if they are not responsible for the situation
o        Legal duty- special legal duty to act
§         Special relationship ( Ex: close blood relationship)
·         No relationship: People v. Beardsley– Beardsley spent weekend at his home with woman who was not his wife; woman took deadly dose of morphine; Beardsley did not call doctor for help- she died and he was charged and convicted of manslaughter
·         Ct reversed b/c Beardsley owned deceased no legal duty (not his wife); she knew risk involved
§         Contract
§         Jones v United States-Green and baby lived w/ Jones; baby died from neglect and malnutrition
§         D caused the danger (even innocently)-D usu then has duty to save
§         Undertaking-if D undertakes to give assistant or dissuades other rescuers from helping in reliance that D is already doing so
§         Ex] where D leaves V worse off that he was before (but prob not if he didn’t worsen position)
§         Or if deterred others who may have helped
§         Statute (ex: statutes require medical providers to report child abuse, or tax return)
§         Ignorance of facts- usually D must be aware of the facts that gave rise to the duty
§         Landowner
§         Duty to control conduct of another (Exec controlling co. driver from speeding)
§         Strict liability- person may sometimes be strictly liable to know the facts giving rise to a duty (stat rape)
§         must know facts from which duty arises, but can’t avoid liab by claming he was unaware that a legal duty arose (ex: didn’t know set building on fire)
·         Ex: nursing home unaware that entered K w/ resident can’t claim that he didn’t know of legal duty. 
§         Ignorance of law- usually no excuse/defense
o        Failure to continue life-support- Barber v Superior Ct- physician who, at the request of the patient’s family, disconnects life-sustaining equipment is not criminally liable if the victim had virtually no chance of benefiting from the life-sustaining measures (strange has no such protection)
III.            MENS REA- CULPABLE INTENT; culpable/guilty state of mind; criminal intent
                  a.            Proven thourgh inference
                  a.            Not necessarily state of mind: Most crimes req true “mens rea”- state of mind that is truly guilty (intent or knowledge). Other crimes are defined to req merely Neg or recklessness, which is not really a state of mind at all.
                  b.            Classified MR rqmt into 3 groups
                                            i.             “general intent”- desired to commit the act which serves as the AR (battery)
                                           ii.            “specific intent”- D desired to bring about AR and must have desired to do something further (burglary)
                                        iii.            SPECIFIC INTENT v. GENERAL INTENT
                                                                  1.            General/specific intent distinction usually matters:
                                                                                          a.            When D is intox’d
                                                                                                                    i.            Being drunk does not usu negate a crime of general intent but may negate the specific intent for a particular crime
                                                                                                                  ii.            OR: e.g. Person breaks and enters property. To have burglary, must prove the specific intent of taking personal property. Otherwise, there is the general intent action of trespass.
                                                                                          b.            Mistake of law or fact
                                                                                                                    i.            Ex: breaks and enters and takes prop that he believes to be his own. 
                 c.            Model Penal Code:4 states of mind that give rise to culpability: (highest to lowest)
AR (Conduct)
Red riding ex – ‘destroys’
Attendant Circum
(red riding ex: b

atives the harm/evil sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense
·         D breaks into house, intending to steal only if no one is home; D will be found to have needed intent for burglary since the evils sought to be prevented by law agnst burglary are present despite the condition
·         burglary are present despite the condition
                                                                                                                   ii.            D req’s V to comply w/ condition– D will do (illegal act X) unless V does (act Y)
d.      Motive- D’s motive will usually be irrelevant in determining whether he acted “purposely” or “intentionally”
                                          ii.            “KNOWINGLY”- actor is aware that his conduct is of a certain kind or that certain circumstances exist; he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause certain result; “general intent”; knowing that are committing the act but don’t necessarily intend the result
                                                                    i.            MPC equates ‘willful’ with knowingly
·         Presumption of Knowledge: A statutory or judge made presumption may be used to help prove that D acted “knowingly”
·         Knowledge of Attendant circumstances: Where a statute specified that D must act “knowingly” and the statute then specifies various attendant circumstances, which the definition of the crime makes important, usually the requirement of knowledge is held applicable to all these circumstances.
·         United States v. Jewell
·                     Facts: D prosecuted for smuggling drugs in a secret compartment of a vehicle, but claims he did not know for sure that the compartment contained drugs.
·         Rule: To act knowingly is to act with an awareness of the high probability of the existence of the fact in question
·                     WILLFUL BLINDNESS
* MPC: Knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence, unless he actually believes it does not exist
          * Some courts hold that willful blindness instruction apply only if
1. D was subjectively aware of the high probability of illegal conduct   AND
2. D purposefully contrived to avoid learning the truth of the illegal conduct
                                         iii.            “RECKLESSLY”- conscious disregard of substantial and identifiable risk-Ds behavior represents a gross deviation from the conduct of a law-abiding person
                                                                 1.            Must be aware of risk: Most courts and MPC hold that D is reckless only if he was aware of the high risk of harm stemming from his conduct–“subjective” standard for recklessness.
                                                                                          a.            Commonwealth v Welansky
                                                                                                                    i.             Cocoanut Grove nightclub– teenager changes lightbulb- huge fire, exits blocked or locked
                                                                                                                   ii.            D/owner convicted of manslaughter, acted recklessly not just N’ly- cannot escape imputation of wanton or reckless conduct in his dangerous act or omission if ordinary person in his shoes would have realized the gravity of the danger
Knowingly vs. Recklessness
§         Depends on degree of probility the D recognizes. If high probability, D may be willfully blind, and hence “Knowingly”
§         But if only substantial, but not ‘high prob’, then not knowing
§         Ex: while destroying a package, recklessly destroys book.
·         Package defaults to reckless b/c silent
“NEGLIGENTLY”-should be aware that a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct;