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Criminal Law
University of Mississippi School of Law
Clancy, Thomas K.

Criminal Law – Clancy
Spring 2006

Basic Concepts

Actus Reus

Determination of choice makes the act voluntary.
(Barber) – Dr. pulled plug on patient
Mens Rea
– practically certain that conduct will cause such a result
Punishment & Sentencing


2 Sentencing Models:
1. Traditional method
2. Structural Sentencing – mandatory sentencing guidelines

Goals of Punishment



General Deterrence

– the gov’t has a right to punish the person for the crime they committed-they committed the crime, so they deserve the punishment. (just deserving purpose) – punish the person who committed the crime so that others will be on notice and it will deter them from committing the same crime. (utilitarian) – change the person’s ways. (Utilitarian) – prevent criminal from committing crime (incapacitate them) – (Utilitarian)


Burdens of Proof

Sufficiency of Evidence

– the test is whether any reasonable person could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Articulable Suspicion

Probable Cause

Preponderance of the Evidence

Clear and Convincing
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

– There is a heavy burden of proof b/c of the presumption of innocence
– this is what the gov’t must prove in criminal cases. (Still less than certainty) – slightly more than 50% proof. (any bit of evidence that can tip the scale in your favor) – A fair probability that something has occurred (less than 50%). It regulates searches and arrests of people. (reasonable suspicion) – Very low level of proof. Not used in a criminal trial – believe that punishment is justified when it is deserved. They have a backward looking approach and base punishment on the commission of the crime. Because the criminal has hurt society, it is right for society to “hurt him back”. However, an innocent person never deserves punishment because he has no debt to repay to society. – believe in general deterrence. Forward looking approach in hopes to prevent future criminal acts. :
Criminal Homicide

Actus Reus

Mens Rea
– 12 mental states exists (this is where the distinction is made)- the killing of a human being (result crime)
Mens Rea

2 approaches to mens rea

1) Culpability – general notion of blameworthiness
– less common approach (wantonness, malicious intent, willfulness, felonious intent, scienter, criminal intent)
2) Elemental – each crime has a specific mental state that has to be proved as part of the crime in order for the crime to be punishable.
-5 categories in the elemental approach (MPC definition)
a. purpose (specific intent)
b. knowledge (general intent)
c. recklessness (conscious disregard)
d. negligence
e. strict liability (no mental state)


a. Conduct or Result– “Conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result – conscious desire to achieve a goal

b. Attendant circumstances – “is aware of the existence of such circumstances or believes or hopes that they exists”

In re Taka C.

D not only have to be aware of the damage but also had to have the goal of destroying the property
– D was charged with malicious destruction of property after sledding down hill on car hood. What was the meaning of malicious? The court ruled that it meant a specific intent to destroy.
Knowledge –


Result Crimes

Attendant Circumstances
– aware that such attendant circumstances exists – aware that conduct is of that nature
State v. Nations

Willful Blindness Doctrine

MPC→ knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of existence, unless he actually believes it doesn’t exist
– turning a blind eye to something that is obvious to avoid actual knowledge of the fact – Hired underage exotic dancer. D had to knowingly hire someone under the age of 17. Actual awareness of the child’s age – not just a high probability that child was under 17.

a) Subjective component:

1. D must be aware of some risk (actual awareness of some risk)
2. D consciously disregards the risk

b) Objective component:

1. Substantiality of the Risk – “gross deviation from the standard of conduct of a law abiding person in D’s situation” …depends on the totality of the circumstances (i.e. playground at either day or night)

2. Unjustified nature of the risk (social utility of the risk) (i.e. shotgun roulette)
**All 4 of these elements must be met.

Minor v. State
– brother playing Russian roulette with a shotgun.

of his control thereof for a sufficient period of time to have been able to terminate his possession (not always minimum time is required)

State v. Flaherty

Knowledge is a key aspect of possession.
MPC requires you know the nature of the item you possess
– D is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. D claims he had no knowledge that he was in possession of the firearm.
– Failure to act MPC 2.01(3)
General rule – people are not liable for omissions.

MPC Exceptions


duty to perform
the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law. makes omission criminal (failure to file income taxes)
Common Law Exceptions – circumstances in which an omission is the basis of liability

where a statute imposes a duty (Beardsly)
where one stands in a certain relationship to another (parent, spouse)

where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for another (babysitter, doctor, jailor)
where one has voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded the helpless person in a manner that prevents others from rendering aid
where failure to act creates the risk → creation of risk to another (negligence)


Policies for NOT imposing liability for Omission

-non-acting party did not create the risk or harm
-where do you draw the line
-law is not virtuous
-a stranger may not know the entire situation

A moral obligation to act does not mean that there is a legal obligation to act.: (only 5 situations): – voluntary if: The following are involuntary acts MPC 2.01(2): – actus reus fits into one of these categories:– physical element of a crime (guilty act)
Both the physical and mental elements of a crime must occur at the same time for criminal liability.

not liable for thoughts alone – must also be a physical act
w/o an act there is no crime – MPC 2.01(2)