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.