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Criminal Law
University of Georgia School of Law
Dennis, Andrea L.

CRIMINAL LAW
PROFESSOR DENNIS
FALL 2010
 
I. INTRODUCTION
            A. What is a Crime?
                        Crime is a conduct which, if duly shown to have taken place, will incur a                            formal and solemn pronouncement of the moral condemnation of the                            community.
                                    1. What makes a crime different from a civil matter is the                                                     condemnation of the community, which is more important than the                                       punishment.
                                                a. The conviction is what sets it apart.
                                    2. All crimes are statutory crimes (they violate an existing statute).
                                                a. There is no such thing as a common-law crime.
                                                b. The common law has been grafted into the modern                                                           statutory law.
                                                c. A legislature deals with crimes in advance through the                                                      threat of force and condemnation to be imposed by other                                                     agencies.
            B. Constitutional Limitations on criminal Law
                                    1. Various provisions of the United States Constitution                                                impose limits on federal and state legislative action. A state                                       legislature is also limited by its own state constitution, which                                            may place greater restrictions on it than does the federal                                               Constitution.
                                                a. Limits on Federal Action – The “Bill of Rights”                                                       restricts the power of the federal government in its                                                       relationship to individuals.
                                                b. Limits on State Action – The Fourteenth                                                                   Amendment to the United States Constitution imposes                                                 limits on state government. The 14th Amendment:
                                                            i. prohibits states from making or enforcing                                                                    “any law which shall abridge the privileges or                                                               immunities of citizens of the United States.”
                                                            ii. “deprive any person of life, liberty, or                                                                                     property without due process of the law;” or
                                                            iii. “deny to any person within its jurisdiction                                                                the equal protection of the laws.”
 
II. MODERN ROLE OF CRIMINAL STATUTES
            A. Legality Principle
                        A person may not be punished unless his conduct was defined as criminal                          at the time of commission of the offense.  This prohibition on retroactive                                 criminal lawmaking constitutes the essence of the principle of legality.
                                    1. This principle is that there are no crimes without a pre-existing                                         law being on the books. This principle does the following:
                                                a. Prohibition against judicial creation of offenses (state                                                    statutes)
                                                b. Abolition of common law crimes (state statutes).
                                                            c. Prohibition of vague offenses (Due Process                                                                           Clause)     
                                                d. Prohibition of ex post facto laws (Article I, Section 9)
                                                e. Rule requiring strict construction of penal statutes                                                                (general principle).
                                    2. Keeler v. Superior Court:
                                                a. The defendant accosted the pregnant victim and shoved                                      his knee in her abdomen, damaging the fetus and causing it                                           to be stillborn.  The defendant was charged with three                                               criminal counts, including murder.  In response the                                                               defendant filed a writ of prohibition to stop the                                                                          proceedings.
                                                b. The crime of killing an unborn fetus was not specified by                                     the state in a clear statute.
                                                c. He was acquitted because there was no real crime against                                                       what he did.
                                                            i. No one can be convicted of an act they                                                                                  committed before that act was a crime, in other                                                           words, no one may be punished under ex post facto                                                       legislation. 
B.  Values of Statutory Clarity
                        1. Rule of Lenity: Ambiguity in statute should always be resolved in                                 favor of the defendant.
                                    a. It only applies when you’re right on the razor’s edge.  In other                                         words, we give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant.
                                    b. This is not recognized by the MPC.
                        2. In Re Banks:
                                    a. Banks was indicted under the “Peeping Tom” statute.  Banks                                          argued that the statute was unconstitutionally vague.
                                    b. Court ruled that in order to be constitutional, a statute must                                             clearly and “with a reasonable degree of certainty” tell persons                                            who are subject to it what conduct is forbidden. The court upheld                                             th

        guilty, while the second conclusion would result in finding                                                  the defendant innocent.
                                             d. The court affirmed the conviction.
         C. Jury Nullification
                     The act of the jury to ignore the facts and the judge’s instructions on the law and               acquit a defendant regardless of his guilt in relation to the law. The Fifth           Ammendment Double Jeopardy Clause bars the Government from reprosecuting a      defendant after a jury acquittal.
                                 1. The jury is totally secret.  It doesn’t have to explain itself.  An acquittal                          from a jury is absolutely, positively final.  Therefore, the jury can always                                   acquit the defendant for any reason without being subject to sanction or                            appeal.
                                             a. Although if they enter a guilty verdict with insufficient evidence                                                 a judge can enter a JNOV and remand.
                                 2. State v. Ragland:
                                             a. Ragland was convicted of several offenses.  He appealed on the                                      basis that the use of the phrase “must find him guilty” in the jury                                         instructions inappropriately precluded the jury from its power of                                                 nullification, and that the jury’s power of nullification was an                                                 essential aspect of his constitutional right to a jury trial.
                                                         i. Question is Must a jury be informed of its nullification                                                      power in order for a verdict it returns to be valid?
                                             b. It says that the jury should only be informed of its nullification                                       power if such information would have a positive result in terms of                                       policy.
                                                         i. The court reasons that “advertising” jury nullification                                                        will result in confusion, arbitrariness, and a slippery slope                                                     of consequences involving the way attorneys and judges                                                         can and should address the jury at trial.
                                             c. Conclusion was that jury’s do not need to be told their ability to                                      nullify.