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Criminal Law
University of California, Hastings School of Law
Lee, Cynthia

Professory Cynthia Lee

UC Hastings College of the Law

Fall 2013

Criminal Law OUTLINE


a. Theories of Punishment

(i) Utilitarianism (forward perspective)

1. purpose of law is to maximize net happiness of society

2. purpose of punishment;

a. general deterrence (deter rest of society from committing crime)

b. specific deterrence (criminal will learn lesson & not repeat crime)

c. rehabilitation

(ii) Retributivism (backwards perspective)

1. person who commits crime deserves to be punished

2. types of Retributivism;

a. assaultive retribution (lex tolionis – eye for an eye/revenge)

b. protective retribution (D has right to be punished)

i. securing a moral balance in society

ii. punishment allows criminal to pay debt to society

c. victim vindication (righting a wrong)

(iii) Hybrid

1. According to Hart, a person may coherently argue that the general aim of the criminal law is to deter unwanted behavior, but that retributive concepts of just deserts should be applied in determining whether and how much to punish a particular person.

2. MPC: limiting retributivism, punishment should be proportional to the crime and the criminal’s blameworthiness

b. Principle of Legality

(i) You can’t make laws retroactive

(ii) You can’t prosecute someone for something they did, if at the time that act was lawful.

c. Rule of Lenity

(i) When a criminal statute is subject to conflicting reasonable interpretation, the statute should be interpreted strictly against the government and not the D.

(ii) Model Penal Code does not recognize this principle.

d. Proportionality

(i) Is there a proportional guarantee in the 8th Amend? – crts are uncertain

(ii) Punishment should fit the crime

1. Coker case: Crt ruled that rape is not a crime that a D should be sentenced to death for.

2. Rummel case: D was sentenced to life in prison under habitual offender law. SC upheld sentencing since TX allowed parole & D would be up for parole in 12 yrs.

3. Solem case: D sentenced to life under habitual offender law. SC said this was not proportional to crimes since SD did not allow for parole, as did TX.

e. Types of Crimes

(i) Felony: burglary, arson, robbery, rape, larceny, murder, manslaughter, and mayhem (under CL)

(ii) Misdemeanor

(iii) Malum Prohibitum: act that is wrong only because it violates a statute (e.g. speeding)

(iv) Malum in se: an act that is inherently wrong or even- involves general criminal intent or moral turpitude

f. Jury Nullification

(i) Jury can acquit defendant even in the face of overwhelming evidence

g. Constitutional Issues

(i) Void for Vagueness Doctrine: Under due process clause of the 5th and 14th amendments, penal statute is void if: 1) no fair notice, and 2) encourages arbitrary of discriminatory arrests (see Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville)


a. Actus Reus – a voluntary act that causes social harm/willed volitional movement

(i) Voluntary act

1. A willed bodily movement

2. A reflex or convulsion does not give rise to criminal liability

a. Acting Involuntarily: The Unconscious Defense

b. BUT, if D knows of condition, and does not take necessary steps to avoid possible harm, then D can be found criminally liable.

c. Decina case: Crt ruled actus reus was the act of driving alone w/o taking medicine to avoid known seizures.

i. *Time Framing – D’s conduct included a voluntary act (driving car without using proper medicine)

ii. Habitual act count as voluntary (i.e.) chain smoking, there is no conscious awareness perhaps, but it’s still voluntary.

iii. Acts while drunk or drugged can be voluntary if D chooses to consume them.

1. BUT, drunk or drugged can go against specific intent crimes if D can show no (mens rea) intent to do further act.

(ii) Failing to Act/Omission

a. General rule: criminal liability can be imposed for omission to act where there is legal duty to act and D can physically perform the act

b. Exceptions;

i. Statutory duty (Good Samaritan laws)

ii. Special relationship (parent to child; husband to wife)

iii. Contractual relationship/obligation (Pestinikas case: D contracted w/ V that D would care for V. When D failed to do this, they were culpable.)

iv. When D creates the harm, D has duty to protect others from harm he caused.

v. Assumption of care

b. Mens Rea – guilty mind

(i) Mental states/mens rea terms;

1. Intentionally

a. desired result; virtually certainty result will occur

b. Transferred Intent – if intent is element of crime, and D intends to do harm to X but instead harms Y, then intent would transfer to that act.

c. An intent to cause one social harm does not equal an intent to cause another harm

2. Knowingly

a. awareness of fact or a correct belief in fact’s existence

b. can be proven by “Willful Blindness”: Subjective awareness of high probability AND deliberate ignorance (D took active efforts to avoid acquiring knowledge)

3. Recklessly

a. awareness of substantial and unjustifiable risk and conscious disregard for that risk

b. subjective

4. Negligently (different that civil negligence)

a. D was not aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of which he should have been aware

b. objective

5. Maliciously

a. a wicked state of mind; other crts define as intent or reckless

b. subjective

6. Willfully

a. Expressed intent; other crts define as intent or reckless

b. subjective

(ii) General Intent

(iii) Crimes v. Specific Intent Crimes: one acts with the requisite intent if it is his consc

en the cause of harm had D2 not acted.

4. Modified But-For test: But for D1’s acts, would social harm have occurred when and as it did?

(iii) Is D a Proximate/Legal Cause?

1. Is there sufficient connection between D’s acts and the result, that it is fair/just to hold D legally responsible for the result?

2. Direct Cause Analysis

a. If D’s act is the direct cause (no intervening cause) of the social harm, D is the proximate cause.

3. Intervening Cause Analysis

a. Dependent: An intervening cuase is dependent (or responsive) if it occurs in response to or is dependent upon D’s voluntary act

i. D is not relieved of criminal liability unless the dependent intervening cause was highly abnormal or bizarre (in which case, I/C dependent cause becomes a superseding cause)

b. Independent: if it would have occurred regardless of D’s voluntary act

i. If the I/C is independent: D is relieved of criminal liability (and, I/C independent cause becomes superceding cause) unless the intervening cause was reasonably foreseeable

4. Other

a. De Minimis: If D’s act is minimal contribution to causing social harm, then D’s act is not a proximate cause.

b. Intended Consequences: D’s intentional act occurred but not in the way D had initially intended;

i. and the means of committing the act were also as D intended.

1. *Mother gives medicine w/ poison to nurse intending it to kill her child. Nurse sets medicine/poison on stand. Another child gives med/poison to child. Mother is found to be proximate cause of child’s death.

c. Dangerous Forces Come to Rest: When D’s active force on V comes to rest in apparent safety, D is no longer proximate cause.

1. *D threatens V and V leaves to go to father’s house. Once outside of father’s house, V chooses to remain outside rather than go in, where she’s welcome. V freezes to death. D’s act against V ended when she got to other house. D is no longer culpable.

d. Voluntary Human Intervention

e. Free, deliberate, & informed act on V’s part which leads to V’s death would supersedes D’s culpability. (i.e.) sleeping in the snow outside of father’s house & freezing to death scenario.

f. Omission: omission by victim rarely relieves D of culpability (i.e.) V not wearing seat belt would not relieve D of culpability for death caused by D driving erratically & crashing car.