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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.

Deterrence (General/Specific): punish defendant so that the community is convinced not to commit crime (general); punish defendant to deter any future conduct that would be criminal (specific)
Incapacitation: imprisonment prevents defendant from committing any crimes in society
Rehabilitation: non-classical variety of utilitarianism that reforms the defendant so that there won’t be repeat of wrongful conduct

Retributivisim: 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.

Retribution: punishment imposed as repayment; organized vengeance
Denunciation: punishment by condemning (hybrid form of sophisticated aspects of utilitarianism and the victim vindication form of retribution

Malum in Se: crimes that are inherently/morally wrong
Malum prohibitum: crimes that are wrong b/c of definition by statute, legislature, code

Elements of the Criminal Offense

Actus Reus + Mens Rea + Attendant Circumstances + Causation + Harmful Results – Affirmative Defenses

Actus Reus: voluntary act or omission
Mens Rea: a guilty mind, culpable/criminal intent
Attendant Circumstances: additional elements needed to be proven
Causation: the actus reus must be linked to a harmful result
Harmful Results: harm or an increase in risk of harm
Affirmative Defenses (negates): relieves defendant of liability of crime (burden is on D)


Need for actus reus

Punish conduct not simply thought

Not predictors of future crime
Proof is difficult
Free will is still available
Thoughts are private

Criminal conviction requires an overt illegal act (Proctor v. State)

(1) past
(2) voluntary (willed muscular contraction)
(3) wrongful or potentially harmful (includes actual and potential harm) (speeding-yes; keeping a place-no)
(4) conduct
(5) specified
(6) in advance
(7) by statute

Omissions: failure to act when there is a legal duty may constitute a crime

Omission can satisfy the actus reus in 5 cases:

Statute imposes duty to care
Status relationship (parent-child)
Contractual duty (caretaker/babysitter)
Voluntary assumption of care or so secluded helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid
Where you caused the peril

Possession: domain and control over something; MPC 2.01(4) “Possession is an act…if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate his possession.”

Immediate (hands-on) possession, or
Constructive Possession. Requires: (1) effective power over the thing, and (2) intent to exercise that power.

The location/proximity of an object (such as in one’s home) can be enough to permit a jury to find constructive possession by inferring power and intent, but juries get to examine the surrounding circumstances and decide.
Where is the location of constructive possession if the possessor and object are in different places? Look to legislative intent. How long in duration is possession required to be? Possession must be voluntary and intentional, and not a mistake, and brevity might be relevant to those criteria (120).
If two people simultaneously/jointly acquire drugs but only one has physical control over them and then gives some to the other, there is no crime of di

ot outlaw conditions such as drug addiction and illness, it is in violation of the 8th Amendment

States may not outlaw the condition of narcotics addiction (Robinson v. California)
Mothers may not be convicted of delivering narcotics to their newborn children through the umbilical cord during the birth process (Johnson v. State)

Legality: a person may not be prosecuted under a criminal law that has yet to be established

United States courts may not exercise common law jurisdiction in criminal cases; libel (U.S. v. Hudson & Goodwin)
A criminal statute which provides that the English common law of crimes will apply on any subject not regulated by statute is not too vague and indefinite to sufficiently inform a defendant of charges; nonfeasance (State v. Egan)
A judicial alteration of a common law doctrine of criminal law violates ex post facto principles only where it is unexpected and indefensible by reference to the law which had been expressed prior to the conduct in issue; year and a day rule (Rogers v. Tenn.)

Specificity: vagueness of a statute may invalidate a law if; 1) fails to give notice that will enable ordinary citizens to understand what conduct it prohibits; 2) it may authorize or encourage arbitrary/discriminatory enforcement

A statute providing penalties for criminal conduct is unconstitutionally vague if it fails to give sufficient notice regarding the type of conduct prohibited; anti-gang ordinance (City of Chicago v. Morales)