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Criminal Law
University of Mississippi School of Law
Hall, Matthew R.

CRIMINAL LAW – Matthew Hall – Spring 2010
–          Purposefully
o   A person acts purposely with respect to his conduct when it is his conscious object to engage in certain conduct or cause a certain result.
–          Knowingly
o   A person acts knowingly with respect to the nature of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is of that nature, or that certain circumstances exist.
o   A person acts knowingly with respect to the result of his conduct when he knows that his conduct will necessarily or very likely cause such a result.
§ “Aware of a practically certain result”
§ Someone cannot be “willfully blind”
o   Knowing conduct satisfies the mental state of a statute that requires willful conduct
–          Recklessly
o   A person acts recklessly when he consciously disregards a substantial or unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a prohibited result will follow
o   This disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise
o   The actor must know of the risk (this is the distinction from negligence)
§ Also distinguish from knowing conduct:
·         If he knows the injury might result, he acts recklessly
·         If he knows the injury is certain to result, he acts knowingly
o   Recklessness therefore involves both objective (unjustifiable risk) and subjective (awareness of that risk) elements
–          Negligently
o   A person acts negligently when he fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a prohibited result will follow
o   This disregard constitutes a substantial deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise
o   An objective standard is used in determining negligence, but it is a more stringent standard than the reasonable prudent person standard in torts
§ The actor must take a very unreasonable risk in light of the usefulness of his conduct, his knowledge of the facts (not knowledge of the risk), and the nature of the harm that might be caused
o   Distinguish from Recklessly
§ Negligence does not require knowledge; recklessness does
§ A man driving home drunk from the bar
·         This is reckless; everyone knows that alcohol impairs operation of a vehicle
§ A man takes medication, and as a side effect is dizzy while driving
·         This is negligent; he should have known of the side effects from reading the label, but such side effects are not common knowledge
o   Because negligent and reckless mental states involve objective and subjective elements, prosecutors will often advocate a more objective view (the actor should have known), while defenders will advocate a more subjective view (the actor did not know)
o   Violation of a statute or ordinance may be evidence of negligence
–          If a statute establishes a culpable state of mind without indicating whether that state of mind is required for every material element of the offense, the established level of culpability applies to all material elements of the offense, unless a contrary purpose appears in the statue (BARBRI).
–          Example – Criminal liability for anyone who “knowingly makes a sale of an intoxicating beverage to a minor” – the defendant will avoid liability if he can show that he did not know that
o   The sale took place
o   The beverage was intoxicating
o   The purchaser was a minor
–          If a statute does not specify a requisite state of mind, the actor must act recklessly, knowingly, or purposely
o   Conversely, negligence as the requisite level of culpability must be explicitly stated in the statute
–          Arguing for the level of fault specified with the idea that negligence as a sufficient mental state must be expressed:
o   Example – Criminal liability for anyone who “sells intoxicating beverages to one whom he should know to be a minor”
§ The material elements
·         Sale of intoxicating beverage
§ The attendant circumstances
·         The purchaser is a minor
o   The MPC will require that the material elements be committed with at least recklessness
o   However, the third element (the purchaser being a minor), may only require negligence (the actor should have known the purchaser was a minor)
–          Concurrence of mental state and act are irrelevant in proving the elements of a crime, but may matter in sentencing procedures (Example – regret / asking for forgiveness)
–          For mistake to operate as a defense, the actor’s mistake must negate the required mental state for the substantive offense
–          Types of mistake, and their negation of culpability
o   Faultless Mistake
§ A mistake that many people would make; actor is unaware of a risk that a reasonable person might not have perceived
§ Negates negligent, reckless, knowing, and purposeful culpability requirements
o   Negligent Mistake
§ Actor is unaware of a risk that a reasonable person would have perceived
§ Negates reckless, knowing, and purposeful culpability requirements
o   Reckless Mistake
§ Actor is aware that he may be mistaken; but truly believes he is not mistaken
§ Negates knowing and purposeful conduct
–          If the actor would have been guilty of another offense had the situation been as he supposed, then mistake will not serve as a complete defense, but will reduce the degree of the crime from what he would be convicted of to the degree to which he would be guilty had the situation been as he supposed (life saving necrophilia)
–          Mistake is no defense to strict liability crimes
–          General structure of Homicide Law
o   Murder
§ First Degree – can be fulfilled by
·         Premeditation – based upon a high mental state; “purposeful plus”
·         Aggravating circumstances – death that occurs during the commission of a dangerous felony; special circumstances encompassing special victims, such as law enforcement or children, etc.
§ Second Degree
·         Purposeful or Knowingly, but not premeditated
·         Reckless but with extreme indifference, which is an aggravating factor
o   Voluntary Manslaughter
§ Classically intentional, but in the heat of passion (a mitigating circumstance)
o   Involuntary Manslaughter
§ Reckless homicide
o   Negligent Homicide / Manslaughter
–          Aggravation, then, is the elevation of the degree of homicide based on extreme indifference (“depraved heart”), or the Felony Murder Rule
–          Extreme Indifference / Depraved Heart
o   Extreme indifference to the value of human life
o   Essentially, this creates a fifth mental state b

the criminal conduct
o   The criminal result may occur due to reasons other than the criminal conduct, but including the criminal conduct
–          Like Torts, criminal liability is limited to “but-for” causation
o   However, defendants very rarely win on these arguments
–          Proximate Cause
o   The MPC requires prosecutors to prove that criminal results are not too far removed or too accidental in order to have just bearing on the actor’s liability or the gravity of the offense
o   To this, many states add: “and not too dependent upon another’s volitional act”
o   General Proximate Cause Issues:
§ Multiple Actors
§ Time
§ Intervening causes / circumstances
§ Intervening conduct of others (especially if their conduct is also criminal)
§ Foreseeability
o   Generally, the defendant has done something bad, but it is not foreseeable that the defendant’s bad conduct would cause the criminal result
–          Inchoate Offenses Generally
o   An “incipient” crime (a crime that is about to become more serious)
o   The actor has begun criminal conduct, but has not finished
o   From least serious to most serious:
§ Solicitation
§ Conspiracy
§ Attempt
o   These classifications only entail the “purposefully” and “knowingly” mental states, because you cannot “negligently” or “recklessly” try to do something
o   Under the MPC, the conduct must be “purposefully” done in order to be held liable for an inchoate offense
§ The mental state as to the result, however, must only be “knowingly”
o   For the Common Law standard, the inchoate crime must be done “intentionally”
o   Limitations
§ There is no “attempted” felony murder rule
§ There is no “attempted depraved heart (reckless plus) murder”
–          Attempt
o   Requires some conduct
§ Conduct related to a Substantial Step
·         Entails more than “thinking”
·         Also more than mere preparation
·         A lot preparation would suffice
o   Significance
§ Generally entails same punishment as completed offense
§ Sometimes, the offense is downgraded to the second degree (especially with capital offenses)
–          Renunciation of Inchoate Offenses
o   In order to be effective, a renunciation must be completely voluntary
§ Turning oneself in is not required, but it helps prove renunciation
§ Destroying tools, weapons, or plans to be used in the offense
§ If the renunciation is some form of calculated decision to avoid detection, apprehension, failure, or to postpone, it is ineffective
o   It is important to distinguish between renunciation and frustration of criminal purpose
o   A complete and effective renunciation is a complete defense to attempt