Select Page

Criminal Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Coyne, Randall T.



Utilitarianism — punishment’s purpose is to prevent crime and it must serve a greater good.


i. Take criminal off street, less crime.

Deterrence — (General / Specific) focus on society / focus on criminal

i. Prevent future crimes by convicted. (Specific)
ii. Society sees crime is bad. (General)


i. Original goal of system.
ii. Reform defendant.

Retributivism — criminal punishment is justified as long as the offender is morally accountable, regardless of deterrence or good results. Punishment is justified when it is deserved.


i. Eye for an eye. Focus on crime, not actor; focus on past.
ii. Rebalances inequity caused by crime against society.


i. Condemning publicly
ii. Embarrass defendant

Punishment must be for…

In advance
By statute

Maximum Formula:

Crime = Actus Reus + Mens Rea + Attendant Circumstances + Causation + Harmful Result – Affirmative Defenses.


Result offense is based on an outcome; murder (punishing an unwanted outcome, social harm)
Conduct offense is based on prohibited conduct, DWI (punishing a specific dangerous behavior, potential harm)

Necessity For Act/Omission

Overt Act

Cannot punish thought/intent without an overt act. Proctor.

Sometimes act can be fudged; Constructive possession. Maldonado.
Acts can be omissions: see 4 types below. Jones.

Statute imposes duty to care for another
Certain status relationship to another
One has assumed a contractual duty to care for another
Voluntarily assumed the care for another and so secluded the helpless person
One puts another in peril.


Act must be voluntary.

Involuntary acts:

i. Reflex, convulsion or seizure
ii. Bodily movement during unconscious sleep – sleepwalking
iii. Conduct during hypnosis
iv. Shock – shot in stomach; reflex shock
v. Unconsciousness – bodily movement that is otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual

Status Crimes

Cannot punish people merely for being member of a class.
Must be an overt act.


One may not be charged under a law that was yet to be established at the time of the crime.

Ex Post Facto — having retroactive force or effect (article I, section 9 and 10)

Criminal law requires a statute – Judicial expansion unconstitutional.
Due process is where you’re given notice as to what conduct is criminal. (5th and 14th amendments)
Gives you opportunity to choose whether or not to obey laws.
Nullum crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine lege — no crime without law, no punishment without law


vagueness of a statute may invalidate statute if:

it fails to give notice that will enable citizens to understand what conduct it prohibits.
it may authorize or encourage arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.


Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea — An act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is guilty.

Strict Liability

No need to prove a mens rea.
MPC — strict liability offenses = violations (fines)

Proof of Intent

Intent (Common Law)

Intent usually includes not only consciously planned actions, but also those that the person performs knowingly. (Purpose or Knowledge = Intent); so not only includes those results that are a conscious object of the actor, but also those results that are virtually certain to occur from his conduct, even if he does not want them to occ

dard of care.
v. Strict Liability: Intent/knowledge of actor irrelevant.

Malum in se — crimes that are morally wrong – need mens rea
Malum prohibitum — crimes defined by statute – may be strict liability

Mistake of Fact

Common Law a mistake of fact is a defense.

Mistake of fact is not a true affirmative defense. It is really a challenge to proof beyond a reasonable doubt of mens rea.

i. Is it a general intent, specific intent, or strict liability crime?
ii. Strict liability: intent doesn’t matter, and thus mistake doesn’t matter.
iii. Specific intent crime: decide if the mistake relates to the specific intent portion of the crime, and if so does the mistake prevent the actor from having the requisite specific intent.
iv. General intent crime: apply a “culpability” analysis – was the defendant’s state of mind blameworthy, and whether their mistake, and in turn their behavior, was reasonable.

Mistake of fact doesn’t matter if strict liability offense.

Statutory Rape
Applies when ignorance/mistake negates necessary element of offense. Doesn’t apply to strict liability offenses.

Mistake of Law

Ordinarily, knowledge that one’s acts illegal not mens rea element of any crime.
Reliance on official interpretation must be reasonable—determined by jury.

Rare defense, applies when there is reasonable reliance on official interpretation of law. Applies when conduct is wholly passive and behavior wouldn’t trigger knowledge of duty AND law not widely known.