Criminal Law Outline
Part I: Modern Role of Criminal Statutes
A. Principle of Legality
– All crimes are statutory crimes enacted by legislature and then interpreted by the courts
– A person may not be punished unless his conduct was defined as criminal before he acted
– Ex post facto (after the fact): cannot convict someone if his action was not a crime at time of his committing it
– Due Process: this means the judiciary branch cannot enlarge a criminal statute to include actions not included before
– Statutory Clarity: the statute must be clear so people can understand what is prohibited
– Fair Notice Rule: A person has sufficient notice as to the meaning of a statute if its wording would put an ordinary law-abiding person on notice that her conduct comes near the proscribed area.
-Policy reasons for these doctrines:
– It is morally unjust to punish a person whose conduct was lawful when she acted, because she did not choose to violate the law.
– A law cannot have its desired deterrent effect unless people are put on notice of the illegality of their contemplated conduct.
– Permits a government to punish its enemies
– It is antithetical to a system of government
1. The Requirements of Previously Defined Conduct
– Keeler v. Superior Court: man beats his ex-wife attempting to kill her unborn fetus- court rules they cannot enlarge murder statute to include fetuses
– in absence of statutory definition of “human being” the court must look to common law, which does not include fetuses in the definition of a “human being”
– Policy reason: violates due process; our laws are rigid so that the law will be exactly the same for everyone, regardless of who they are. If the law could bend, it could then be used to reach and get a particular person for particular desires. Sacrifice virtues of flexibility in exchange for absolu
t has the word “secretly”
– City of Chicago v. Morales: city ordinance prohibiting “criminal street gang members” from “loitering” but the definition is too vague (unconstitutional) and violates due process clause of 14th amendment: does not specify exactly what conduct (for how long are they loitering, how far away must they move, etc.)
B. Statutory Interpretation
– court’s role is to interpret ambiguity-they do so by looking at legislative history and circumstances surrounding its adoption, earlier statutes on same subject, common law as it was understood at time of enactment and earlier interpretation of the same statute or common law
– US v. Foster: man arrested for “carrying a gun” when it was in the bed of his truck, inside a zipped up bag underneath a snap-down tarp-Court held that it was “carrying” only when it was available for immediate use by the defendant (not in a truck bed, in a bag)
C. Strict Construction/Rule of Lenity