Criminal Law Outline Fall 2010
Professor Andrea Dennis
I. Nature of “Criminal Law”
The study of criminal law is the study of crimes and the moral principles of criminal responsibility
[1} Comparison to Civil Wrongs:
Criminal Law involves public law
Civil offenses require fees, no jail-time; Both can be brought by government
Violation within criminal activity results in public condemnation, public blame, stigma, outrage. A person convicted of a crime is punished.
“…essence of punishment…lies in the criminal conviction itself”
The conviction is the result of the community’s moral outrage.
Crime: an act or omission and its accompanying state of mind which, if duly shown to have taken place, will incur a formal and solemn pronouncement of the moral condemnation of the community.
B. Principle of Legality: a person may not be punished unless her conduct was defined as criminal before she acted (No retroactive criminal lawmaking-ex post facto) Keeler v. Superior Court: ∆ beats girlfriend while she is pregnant, killing the child, but not the girl
Issue: Whether an unborn but viable fetus is a “human being”
Rule: Murder is the unlawful killing of a “human being”, with malice aforethought
Holding: No. The judicial enlargement of section 187 now urged upon us by the People would not have been foreseeable to this petitioner, and hence that its adoption at this time would deny him due process of law
Without fair notice–if a person can be punished for conduct that was lawful at the time she acted –a citizen lacks adequate opportunity to conform her conduct to the law.
A person cannot be deterred from conduct that has not yet been deemed unlawful
In order to properly prosecute, there must be a criminal law in existence at the time the ∆ commits the offense
*Model Penal Code: a statutory text, which was developed by the American Law Institute (ALI) in 1962. The Chief Reporter on the project was Herbert Wechsler. The current form of the MPC was last updated in 1981. The purpose of the MPC was to stimulate and assist legislatures in making an effort to update and standardize the penal law of the US.
C. Statutory Clarity (Vagueness Doctrine):a person is denied due process of law if she is convicted and punished for violation of a statute that lacks such clarity. The Due Process Clause is not violated unless a law-abiding person would still have to guess as to the meaning of a statute after she or her attorney conducts research into its meaning. In re Banks: ∆ was charged with violating the peeping-tome statute but argues the statute does not clearly state the conduct that is prohibited
Issue: Whether the “Peeping Tom” statute is unconstitutionally vague
Rule: “Secretly peeping into a room occupied by female person.”
Holding: The statute is sufficiently definite to give an individual fair notice of the conduct prohibited, and to guide a judge in its application and a lawyer in defending one charged with its violation, and that this statute violates neither the state constitution nor the Due Process Clause by reason of vagueness and uncertainty.
The root of the doctrine is a rough idea of fairness.
Where a statute is ambiguous or unclear, resort must be had to judicial construction to ascertain the legislative will, and the courts will interpret the language to give effect of legislative intent.
Overbreath: statute offends the constitutional principle that a ‘governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms
Holding: the statute is not overly broad as to proscribe legal conduct and is not unconstitutional for over-breath City of Chicago v. Morales: the enacted ordinance was sought to limit gang activity in Chicago, but it failed to define key terms and phrases within the statute to warn both citizens what was prohibited and policemen what to look for
Issue(s): (1) does it fail to warn ordinary people of the conduct it prohibits and (2) does it authorize and encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
Rule: prohibits “criminal street gang members” from “loitering” with one another or with other persons in any public place.
Holding: (1) the ordinance is vague because it fails to identify and specify a standard of conduct to be followed and (2) does not provide sufficiently specific limits on the enforcement discretion of the police “to meet constitutional standards for definiteness and clarity.”
Avoiding Undue Discretion of Law Enforcement
D.P.C. forbids the enforcement of any statute that, due to vagueness in language, “vests virtually complete discretion in the hands of the police to determine whether the suspect has satisfied its requirements.
D. Statutory Construction (rule of Lenity):where there is ambiguity in a criminal statute, doubts are resolved in favor of the defendant and interpreted strictly against the government. The doctrine comes into play to serve as a tie-breaker between two or more equally reasonable interpretations of a statute. (There must really be a tie) Muscarello v. United States: ∆ had a gun in his glove compartment at the scene and challenges the meaning of the word “carries” in the statute. The court uses a number of sources to determine its everyday meaning and within the statute
Issue: whether the phrase “carries” a firearm” is limited to the carrying of firearms on the person
Rule: “…a 5-year mandatory prison term upon a person who “uses or carries a firearm” “during and in relation to” a “drug trafficking crime.””
Holding: We hold that it is not so limited. Rather, it also applies to a person who knowingly possesses and conveys firearms in a vehicle, including in the locked glove compartment or trunk of a car, which the person accompanies.
*(Fair notice is not actual notice. But one must be able to have access to the true meaning and interpretation of a statute, which is deemed constructive-notice. If there is concern, consult a lawyer. Also, State laws have to be consistent with Federal laws, with the Federal government giving deference to state law. Beware of mist
er the use of the word “must” in the jury instruction conflicted with the jury’s nullification power, which he claimed was an essential attribute to his constitutional right to trial by jury and should be told to the jury
Rule: “…you are entitled to…acquit the defendant, even if the State has proven its case, if you believe that justice requires such a result.”
Holding: the use of the word “must” here will compel the jury to disregard the law and the jury should be told of its right here. However, jury nullification is an unfortunate but unavoidable power and should not be advertised.
III. Principles of Criminal Punishment
· “Proportionality” in the Criminal Law Overview: ensures that an offender receives punishment appropriate to the crime he has committed. Also, “to safeguard offenders against excessive, disproportionate or arbitrary punishment.”
§ Utilitarianism and Proportionality: Punishment should be inflicted in the amount required to satisfy crime prevention. Over-arching theme is the greatest amount of good, for the greatest amount of people. The law should augment the total happiness of the community (avoidance of as much mischief as possible). Any mischief caused by punishment can only be justified if it accomplishes enough good to outweigh its harm.
· General Deterrence: punishment of offenders will help to deter others of committing crimes. The degree of dangerousness of an offense is measured by predicting the overall mischief likely to result from commission of the offense in the future of others. So the more dangerous the crime, the more severe the punishment.
· Specific (Individual) Deterrence: to deter an offender from repeating his actions, a penalty should be severe enough to outweigh in his mind the benefits of the crime, but no more (recidivism)
· Rehabilitation: punishment may help to reform the criminal so that his wish to commit crimes will be lessened, and perhaps so that he can be a happier, more useful person.
· Utilitarians will allow someone to be punished beyond what is deserved to further deter others. Also, they look at the punishment as an evil itself, so they are attempting to balance and justify the wrong. The evil of punishment should not outweigh the evil of the crime, typically. They look at the greater good of the future. Retributivists are narrower.
· Schemes of Punishment (utilitarian): (1) indeterminate sentencing (2-5 years); (2) harsher punishment for repeat offenders; (3) wide range of sentencing-from incarceration to probation