Criminal Law Outline
1st Semester, 2012
a. Proof of guilt at Trial
i. Beyond a reasonable doubt
ii. At sentencing: lower ‘preponderance of evidence standard’. So, judge can take into account a murder count that the D was acquitted of, if the judge believes D was guilty of the murder by a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ when sentencing.
iii. No retroactive crimes allowed (nullum crimen sine)
b. Jury Nullification
II. Principles of Punishment
a. Theories of Punishment
i. Retribution – punishment of wrongdoer is a deserved response to the wrongdoing.
1. Determinate sentencing –
1. General – maybe won’t deter specific person who has already been convicted, but will deter general public/community.
2. Specific – keep people from reoffending.
iii. Incapacitation – keep offenders off the street, don’t let them reoffend.
iv. Rehabilitation – help offender become better citizen with help of treatment/counseling/etc.
1. Indeterminate Sentencing – lets trial judges have broad sentencing discretion, with authority to set appropriate punishment for each offender.
a. Fell out of favor in the 1970’s
2. Scarlet letter sentencing – mail stealer holding placard outside of post office
a. Punishment must be related to the crime.
b. Proportionality of Punishment
III. Criminal Statutes
a. Principle of Legality
i. Criminal statutes should be understandable
ii. Criminal statutes should not delegate basic policy matters to police, judges, or juries on an ad hoc and substantive basis.
iii. Doctrine of Lenity: Judicial interpretation of ambiguous statutes should favor the accused; evidence should be viewed in best light possible for D.
b. Statutory Interpretation
i. Unless otherwise stated, legislature intended to adopt the common law rule when it used common law terms for statutory enactments.
ii. If statute is unclear, look to legislative intent:
1. Common law prior to statute passage
2. Legislative history
3. Circumstances surrounding statute’s adoption
4. Earlier statutes on same topic
5. Previous interpretations of same or similar statute
Chicago v. Morales: ordinance prohibiting ‘loitering’ was struck down by SCOTUS because it was too vague. There was no notice to offenders, and the application of the law was left to the police, who applied it in arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.
Compare with In re Banks: peeping Tom defendant challenged statute that outlawed “peeping secretly into room occupied by a female” as being overly vague (if taken literally would prohibit much conduct much conduct which the legislature did not intend to include) and overly broad (prohibits innocent conduct). Court upholds law based on interpretation of statue, not necessarily strict reading.
§ Terms in peeping tom statute are more clear in terms of common usage than in Morales. Additionally, doesn’t give people notice and really is arbitrarily giving power to police.
§ Must be struck down if after as much inspection/research as possible, the statute is still too vague.
Muscarello v. US: SCOTUS determines ordinary meaning of “carries” in context of statute requiring mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who “carries a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime” includes carrying the gun in a car to a drug deal, not just on person.
IV. Actus Reus – physical component of the crime.
a. Voluntary act – a willed act (difference between pulling the trigger, and having a seizure that causes one to pull the trigger).
i. See Martin v. State, where cops pull drunk man off of his property into public highway and charge him with being drunk in public. Actus reus element is not satisfied because he did not voluntarily go to a public place.
ii. But, issue of timing: skydiver jumping drunk out of plane voluntarily, intending to land on his own land but wind takes him to public road. Begs question of when and what the act is. The breadth or narrowness of the time frame will relate to the conduct that constitutes the crime charged.
iii. Voluntary unconsciousness
1. See Utter: Military vet stabs son to death when drunk out of his mind. When state of unconsciousness is voluntarily induced through drugs or alcohol, not a complete defense.
2. But also Decina: defendant who knew he was subject to epileptic seizures had attack while driving and ran into group of children. Court ruled that he could be charged with “operating vehicle in reckless or culpably negligent manner”.
a. Not all conduct must be voluntary. Court here saw Decina as voluntarily getting into car when he knew was likely to have seizure.
b. Omissions (“Negative Acts”)
i. Statutory duty – tax laws, duties of parents, bad Samaritan laws
ii. Commission by omission
1. When statute imposes duty to act
2. When there is a certain status relationship with another
3. When you have assumed a contractual duty to care for another
4. When you have voluntarily assumed the care of another and in doing so kept others from helping
5. When you create a risk of harm to another
Beardsley: defendant owed moral duty, but no legal duty to mistress who died of self-inflicted overdose in his home. Perhaps the neighbor, who accepted care of mistress in a basement room would have had duty because he “voluntarily assumed care”.
Barber: defendant doctors charged with murder for taking man off of life support. Court found that the doctors committed a permissible act of omission. The doctors had no duty to act (keep patient on life support) once the treatment was found to be ineffective.
c. Social Harm – 3 components:
i. Results crime
ii. Conduct crime
iii. Attendant circumstances – condition that must be present, in conjunction with the prohibited conduct or result, in order to constitute the crime.
1. Statute: it is an offense to drive an automobile in an intoxicated condition.
a. Actor drives car (conduct) while intoxicated (attendant circumstance).
b. “in an intoxicated position” is not a conduct element because the offense does not prohibit a person from becoming intoxicated – only that she may not drive while in that condition.
V. Mens Rea
a. Nature of Mens Rea
i. Mental aspect – thought about harm, not thought about the act.
ii. If there is not a guilty mind, we won’t find fault.
a. Broad meaning of the concept:
a particular fact is an element of an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence, unless he actually believes that it does not exist.
2. See State v. Nations – strip club owner accused of committing the crime of endangering the welfare of a child, where owner “knowingly encourages, aids, or causes a child less than 17 to engage in any conduct tending to injure child’s welfare.”
a. D says she did not know child was underage, but State says it can show willful blindness. Missouri did not adopt MPC statute re: willful blindness – so state couldn’t show D acted knowingly.
b. If MO had adopted MPC, it likely would have been able to win.
f. Strict Liability Offenses
i. Public welfare cases:
1. Most common exception to Mens Rea principle.
2. Must have a light penalty – relatively small fine and not including imprisonment.
ii. Statutory rape is another typical strict liability offense.
g. Mistake of Fact
i. Specific intent crime:
1. If mistake negates the specific intent portion of the crime, then D must be acquitted (see Navarro below).
2. If mistake does not relate to the specific intent portion of the crime, treat offense as general intent crime.
ii. General intent crime:
1. Culpability analysis: did D act with morally blameworthy state of mind?
a. If mistake is reasonable, he is morally innocent and entitled to a defense for want of mens rea.
b. If mistake is unreasonable, he acted with a culpable state of mind and may be convicted.
iii. Strict liability – mistake of fact is never a defense.
People v. Navarro: a good faith mistake – regardless of whether it is reasonable or not – is a defense to specific intent crime. D beam stealer from construction site was charged with larceny – “trespassory taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the intent to steal the property.” The required specific intent is stealing the property, which jury may have concluded the D in good faith believed were abandoned.
*NB: under MPC, D would be acquitted – did not purposely take property of another.
h. Moral Wrong and Legal Wrong Doctrines (common law courts will sometimes fall back on these doctrines when dealing with general intent crime committed under reasonable mistake of fact).
i. Moral Wrong – look at the world through the eyes of the defendant and assume the facts as the defendant himself understood them.
1. If the D acted immorally, it is reasonable for him to assume the risk that the circumstances are different from what he thinks they are and thus be found guilty of some crime.
2. Here, we end up asking: are you a bad guy? The answer turns out to be yes, even though there is a reasonable mistake of fact.