Criminal Outline: Fall 2012
Chapter I: Criminal Law
v American criminal law: the body of law that defines crimes and sentences in the United States.
v 3 elements of crime:
1. Conduct elements: describes the D’s prohibited act
2. Circumstance elements: describes the factual conditions under which the D acted
3. Result elements: the harmful consequences caused by the D’s prohibited act
B. Who Defines Crimes?- The Role of Courts and Legislatures
1. Judge made law is made chiefly through moral reasoning
i. Dudley v. Stevens: After being stranded on a boat for several days Ds killed the weakest member, whom they reasoned would die anyway, so that they could use his body for food. The ct. reasoned that the Ds were still guilty of willful murder because the facts were no legal justification. It is not correct to say that it is necessary to preserve one’s life. (Common law at work).
2. Justifications for Locking up Criminals
i. Avoiding private vengeance
1. Criminal punishment is designed not just to protect law abiding citizens from criminals but also to protect criminals from those citizens.
ii. Regulating the misconduct of the poor
1. Fines do not always deter the poor since they do not have the means to pay but if they were locked up maybe that would keep them from breaking the law again
a. Ex: The People v. Kellog: D was homeless and had been arrested several times for public intoxication and sentenced to a short term in prison. D argued that because he could not help being homeless and he couldn’t help being an alcoholic, to punish him would be a violation of the 8th Amendment: Cruel and unusual punishment. Ct held that even though he couldn’t be criminally liable for being homeless and drunk his conduct was still a safety hazard.
iii. Defining a society’s values and cultures
1. Even the freest societies regulate a wide range of consensual conduct in the interest of promoting particular kinds of culture and suppressing other kinds
a. Ex: ban on prostitution, use and possession of narcotics
C. Proportionality and Vagueness
1. The proportionality doctrine arises from the 8th Amendments “cruel and unusual punishments” clause.
i. The 8th Amendment also requires a very rough correspondence between the severity of a crime and the severity of the punishment imposed against those who commit that crime.
1. Ex: A jaywalker and a murder should not receive the same punishments
2. The void-for-vagueness doctrine (derives from the Constitutions due process clause) requires that crimes be defined with enough precision to inform potential offenders how to avoid criminal punishments. Courts attempt to narrow a vague statute through interpretation.
1. Nash v. United States: D was tried and convicted of violations of a vaguely defined prohibition. However the ct. still held him liable because he knew to some degree that his conduct was wrong.
2. Reasons for doctrine:
a. To allow ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits
b. To control the arbitrary enforcement of a statute
c. Preserve 1st Amendment freedoms
Chapter II: Defining Criminal Conduct
A. Voluntary Acts that Cause Harm
1. Voluntary Acts
a. ACT: a bodily movement (a thought is not an act but speech is an act)
b. For there to be criminal liability a D’s act must have either performed a voluntary physical act OR failed to act under circumstances imposing a legal duty to act.
c. D’s act must be voluntary in the sense that it must be a conscious exercise of the will. Rationale: An involuntary act will not be deterred by punishment. These acts are not considered voluntary and can’t be the basis for criminal liability:
i. Conduct that is NOT the product of the actor’s determination.
1. Ex: A shoves B into C, and C falls to his death. B can’t be held liable
ii. Reflexive or conclusive acts:
1. Acts performed while D was either unconscious or asleep unless D knew that she might fall asleep or become unconscious and engaged in dangerous behavior
d. Omission as an “Act”
i. D must have a legal duty to act:
1. A statute ( ex: failure to fill out tax returns or report child abuse)
2. A contract (ex: an on duty lifeguard)
3. Relationship between D and V (ex: spouses, parent and child)
2. Causing Harm
a. The majority of criminal statutes do not require proof that the defendant caused anything-instead they usually require proof of specified conduct and of a particular mental state.
b. Except for homicide cases most crimes don’t require a connection between causation & injury.
B. Interpreting Conduct terms in Criminal Statutes
Criminal conduct is defined by criminal statutes. Statutes are subject to judicial interpretation.
1. Greater and Lesser Crimes
a.In most criminal cases criminal liability is clear; the relevant line is drawn between more criminal liability and less, not between some criminal liability and none
1. Ex: Under California law, a criminal defendant may be convicted of assisting suicide or homicide, but not both. NO one can be punished for both in a case arising from death.
a. If D merely furnishes (passive role) the means – guilty of aiding suicide
b. If D actively participates in death of suicide victim – guilty of murder
2. The Not-Quite Rule of Lenity
a.Rule of Lenity: Ambiguities in criminal statutes are to be resolved in D’s favor according to the “rule of lenity”. In
(Usually punished more harshly.)
i. Ex: A shoots B. The fact that A shot B does not show that A had the intent to shoot and kill B. However, if A bought a revolver and ammunition shortly before shooting B, carefully loaded the revolver, took careful aim at B, and fired several times, that may circumstantially prove A’s intent to kill B.
ii. Ex: assault: intent to commit a battery, embezzlement: intent to defraud
iii. Specific Intent v. General Intent:
a. Assault= general intent crime; Assault with the intent to rape = specific intent crime
b. Breaking and entering = general intent crime; Breaking and entering with the intent to steal= specific intent crime.
c. Criminal intent – general & specific- must be inferred from the D’s conduct under the circumstances in which the D engaged in the conduct.
d. Attempt crimes are ALWAYS require specific intent
a. Voluntary intoxication negates specific intent NOT general intent. Involuntary intoxication negates general and specific intent.
3. Mistakes of Fact
i. In general intent cases, a D has a valid mistake-of-fact defense if he made an honest and reasonable mistake that negates his culpability.
1. Ex. State v. Oglive: D was found guilty of bigamy (a general intent crime) because although he honestly believed he was divorced from his wife a reasonable person would not have simply assumed
2. In specific intent cases, a mistake-of-fact defense is available if the D’s error was merely honest- it need not be reasonable.
a. Ex. State v. Oglive: D was not found guilty of making a false statement (specific intent crime) because he honestly believed he was divorced and evidence supported this.
4. Mistakes of Law
i. Treated even less generously than mistakes of fact.
ii. Usually ignorance or misunderstanding of the governing criminal law is NO defense to criminal charges.
iii. 3 distinct doctrines govern legal mistakes:
1. A mistake about criminal prohibition is not a defense to criminal charges.
2. Belief that one’s conduct was morally right is no defense
3. An honest claim of legal right to allegedly stolen property does excuse a D from liability, if the crime charged requires proof of specific intent *** rarely succeeds