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Criminal Law
University of South Carolina School of Law
Said, Wadie E.

Criminal Law Outline

Criminal sanction à pronouncement of the community’s condemnation of a certain activity

Owens v. State à guy arrested for drunk driving, he was in the driveway passed out, open cans in car
–          Purely circumstantial evidence can sustain a conviction where hypothesis of innocence is unreasonable

Jury nullification à even though the prosecution has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury refuses to convict of its own reasons
–          State v. Ragland à guy appealed alleging instructions that if he had weapon during robbery they “must” convict of possession were improper
o   The jury does not have to be informed of its nullification power

Theories of Punishment

–          (1) Utilitarianism à the object of law is to increase total happiness of the community
o   Punishment serves a useful purpose
o   The pain of the punishment should not exceed the benefit it creates
o   Forms of Utilitarianism
§ General Deterrence – punishment sends message to rest of society
§ Specific Deterrence – punishment deters future offenses of actor
§ Rehabilitation – prevent future crime by reforming offenders

–          (2) Retribution à “just desserts” – the punished deserves a response to his wrongdoing, he is punished because of the wrongdoing 
–          (3) Mixed Theories


Proportionality – punishment should be proportional to the crime
–          Utilitarian meaning – no more pain that necessary to fulfill law’s deterrent function
–          Retributive meaning – punishment takes into account actor’s level of culpability

–          8th Amendment à ban on cruel and unusual punishment

Cases: 
–          Coker v. Georgia à guy sentenced to death after aggravated rape (while committing another felony) – sentence overturned as too harsh
o   A penalty of death for aggravated rape is disproportional, death penalty should be reserved for cases of homicide
–          Ewing v. California à guy sentenced to 25 years for stealing 3 golf clubs under 3 strike rule
o   There is nothing “grossly disproportionate” in applying a the three strike rule, policy considerations for punishing career criminals is acceptable
o   The Court has ruled there is only a “narrow proportionality principle” outside of death penalty cases

Legality à there can be no crime without law and no punishment without crime
–          Ex Post Facto Clause – constitution prohibits enactment of laws that would made a crime out of conduct that was lawful at the time is was performed or increasing punishment for a crime committed before the law took effect
–          Due Process Clause – courts prohibited from expanding the scope of the criminal statutes
o   “void-for-vagueness”
–          “Fair Notice” à statute must be sufficiently clear so that an ordinary person can understand its meaning
–          Criminal statute should not be so broad that it could be discriminately employed by law enforcement officers

Cases: 
–          City of Chicago v. Morales à ordinance outlawed street gang members from “loitering” with others in public places, ruled unconstitutional
o   (1) ordinance could fail to provide notice of what activity creates liability
o   (2) could be discriminately enforced
–          United States v. Foster à guy charged with “carrying” a weapon during a felony, gun was in bed of pickup truck
o   “Rule of Leniency” – In cases of ambiguous law the court must choose interpretation that favors the defendant

Actus Reus

–          Actus Reus à the physical or external component of a crime – the event that society does not want to occur
o   Voluntary conduct (act or omission) + social harm = Actus Reus
§ It is sufficient that a person’s conduct included a voluntary act, all aspects of the conduct do not have to be voluntary
§ An “omission” substitutes for a voluntary act when the ∆ has a legal duty to act
–          Common law definition
o   Voluntary act- a willed muscular contraction or bodily movement by the actor
o   Willed- bodily movement was controlled by the mind of the actor.

o   Utilitarianism à cannot deter involuntary acts, useless to punish involuntary actors
o   Retribution à a person who did not intentionally act in a way that causes harm does not deserve the punishment

–          To be guilty of an offense, it is sufficient that the person’s conduct included a voluntary act. It is not necessary that all aspects of his conduct be voluntary.

Cases:
–          Martin v. State à guy drunk at home, taken to public highway by cop, arrested for being drunk on a public highway
o   A criminal conviction requires a voluntary act
–          State v. Utter à guy stabbed his son, alleges that he might have had a “conditioned response”
o   A conditioned response is not a voluntary act and likely could not sustain conviction (here the conviction was sustained because of a lack of evidence)
o   A voluntary act requires willed action

Omissions – Generally we do not punish individuals for failure to act 
A failure to act may constitute a criminal breach when:
where a statute imposes a duty
where one stands in a certain relationship to another – (parent-child, spouse-spouse, master-servant)
where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for the other
where one has assumed voluntary care for another and has so secluded the other as to prevent the other from acquiring aid elsewhere
where a person creates a risk of harm to the other
o   ex) if you hit someone with care, have duty to check on them
Rationale for limiting liability for omissions:
–          Difficult to prove culpable state of mind
–          Difficult to determine which omitters should be prosecuted – line drawing problems
–          High value placed on individual liberty

Cases:
–          People v. Beardsley à man and woman having affair, woman overdosed, guy left her in care of another, she died, conviction of manslaughter overturned
o   For liability for an omission the actor must have a legal duty to the individual harmed
–          Barber v. Superior Court à man taken off life support continued to breath, doctors removed feeding tubes, he died
o   Failure to provide “heroic” medical care to keep an individual alive is not an actionable omission

Social Harm – the destruction, injury to, or endangerment of some socially valuable interest
–          Result crimes à some crimes prohibit a specific result (i.e. death of another)
–          Conduct crimes à prohibition of specific conduct whether or not harm results (i.e. drunk driving)
–          Attendant circumstances à a certain “result” or “conduct” is not an offense unless a certain circumstance is present at the time of the result or conduct
o   Ex) burglary must occur to a “dwelling house”

Mens Rea

–          Mental state required to commit a crime
–          Broadly à a person has acted with “mens rea” if they committed the actus reus with a “vicious will,” “evil mind,” or “moral blameworthiness” – a “culpable” state of mind
o   “Culpability” definition of mens rea
–          Narrowly à a person commits the actus reus with the particular mental state set out expressly in the definition of the crime
o   “Eleme

element need be satisfied
–          “public welfare offenses” à administrative rules, usually light punishments, the conduct is wrongful only because it is prohibited, violations often threaten safety of others in society
–          On very rare occasions strict liability is imposed to a non-public welfare offense
o   Ex) Statutory rape
–          There is a strong presumption against strict liability, courts will not merely assume that a statute intended to vacate the mens rea requirement without evidence to that fact
–          The MPC allows strict liability only for “violations” and not “crimes”
o   MPC requires aspects of mens rea to be met


Mistake of Fact:
–          Specific Intent offenses à a mistake of fact negates the specific intent; a person is not liable even for an unreasonable mistake of fact
–          General Intent offenses à a person is not guilty of a general intent offense if their mistake of fact was reasonable (unreasonable mistake does not negate culpability)
o   Exceptions:
§ “moral wrong” doctrine à if the defendant knew he was in engaging in otherwise immoral conduct then he assumed the risk that attendant circumstances would create liability – thus a reasonable mistake of fact will not negate culpability
§ “legal wrong” doctrine à if the defendant was knowingly engaged in otherwise illegal conduct then he assumed the risk of being charged with another offense for which he might also be liable – thus a reasonable mistake of fact will not negate liability
–          Strict Liability à a mistake of fact is never a defense to a strict liability offense
–          Model Penal Code (2.04) à a mistake of fact is a defense to a crime if it negates a mental state element, there is no distinction in general and specific intent offenses
o   Exception: mistake of fact is inapplicable if the defendant would have been guilty of a lesser offense had the facts been as the actor believed them to be – defendant will be punished at the level of the lesser offense


Mistake of Law:
–          Generally, a mistake of law, even reasonable, does not relieve an actor of liability
–          Justifications:
o   A mistake of law defense would allow too much fraud
o   Law is definite.
o   Want to encourage knowledge of the law
o   “ignorance of the law is no excuse”
–          Exceptions:
o   (1) actor is excused if at the time of the offense he reasonably relied on an official statement of the law later determined to be erroneous
o   (2) Due Process Clause à in rare circumstances it would violate the due process class to convict a defendant of a crime about which he was unaware
§ (1) if the “unknown” offense criminalizes an omission
§ (2) the duty to act is based on a condition rather than conduct
§ (3) the offense is malum prohibitum (“wrong due to being prohibited”) in nature
o   Ex) generally have to be aware of tax laws