1. Background and Basics
a. Criminal liability is a form of government imposed control and needs to be justified.
Generally, criminal acts are those that fall into one of the following categories:
1. Cause harm
2. Create an unreasonable risk of harm
3. Are preparatory to the creation of harm
i. Lawrence v. Texas.
b. Schools of thought on criminal law:
1. Retribution – people who commit crimes should pay.
2. Utilitarian – criminal punishment of offenders will deter others.
c. Criminal laws sort blameworthy from non-blameworthy offenders by asking two questions:
1. Was there an actus reus?
2. Was there mens rea?
2. Actus Reus – the “act” component required for criminal liability.
a. Actus reus requires a voluntary act, or a failure to act where there is a legal duty to act.
1. Holmes: An act is a willed muscle contraction.
2. Model Penal Code defines what isn’t voluntary:
a. Reflex or convulsion
b. Movement during unconsciousness or sleep
c. Acts during hypnosis or from post-hypnotic suggestion
d. Act that is not the product of effort or determination by the actor
3. Failure to act can only be punished when there is a legal duty to act. Jones v. U.S.
a. Statutory requirement
b. Status relationship imposes duty
c. Contractual duty
d. Voluntarily assumed duty
e. Status as landowner
f. Tort duty to control certain third parties
g. Defendant created the peril in the first place
b. Possession – actus reus is control over a contraband item.
1. One of the following must be true for conviction:
a. Actor purposely procured contraband, or
b. Actor knowingly received contraband, or
c. Actor failed to terminate control after a substantial period of time
2. Definitions of possession
a. Possession: Contraband on your person or in your exclusive control.
b. Constructive Possession: It is not physically on your person but you still have control over it. Wheeler v. U.S.
i. Control can be joint and does not need to be immediate or exclusive.
ii. Actor is not in control if it is a situation where a reasonable person would not be able to get rid of contraband without asking for permission.
People v. Ireland.
c. Status Crimes are unconstitutional
1. You can’t punish people for simply belonging to a certain class (i.e. drug addict).
Robinson v. California.
a. Retributive theory: the act is not voluntary.
b. Utilitarian theory: it would not do any good to punish the offender.
2. Exception: Society can still punish the voluntary act of being in public while intoxicated. Powell v. Texas.
3. Mens Rea – the mental component required for criminal liability.
a. Theories fo
l intent is more along the lines of morality judgment.
a. Crime elements recognized by the MPC are:
2. Attendant Circumstance
b. Mental culpability standards apply differently to each of the three elements.
c. Mistake of fact defense – first ask if crime was general or specific intent offense.
1. For specific intent offense:
a. If the mistake negates specific intent portion, the question is whether mistake was honest or dishonest.
b. If the mistake negates general intent portion, the questions is whether the mistake was reasonable or unreasonable.
2. For general intent offense:
a. The question is whether the mistake was reasonable or unreasonable.
i. Gordon v. State.
d. Mistake of law defense – two general types, plus registration offenses:
1. Estoppel-Type or Same law mistake: D purports to be ignorant of the very law being prosecuted under. This defense is valid if one of the following applies:
a. Law not published and D was unaware of its existence.
b. D relied on erroneous interpretation of a court decision.
c. D relied on previous statute that was later held invalid.
d. D reasonably relied on public official.