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Criminal Law
University of Toledo School of Law
Harris, David A.

Criminal Law Outline

1) Characteristics of Criminal Law
a) The State v. – it is not only one person who is wronged but whole society
b) consequences of violation can include, loss of rights, restitution, loss of
freedom, and even death
c) there can be no ex post facto laws
2) Major Building Blocks of Criminal Law
Prosecution generally must prove each of the following elements:
a) Actus Reus (guilty or bad act) – physical or unlawful act
b) Mens Rea (guilty mind)
c) Causation (sometimes)
d) Result (sometimes)
Actus Reus
The physical or external element of a crime. Every crime has an actus reus, and it must be a voluntary act.
MPC: Actus Reus is comprised of conduct, circumstances, and results.
1) Voluntary Act: The defendant’s act must be voluntary in the sense that it must be a conscious exercise of the will.
a) Non-voluntary acts include
-A pushes B into C and C falls off a bridge – B’s act is not voluntary
-reflexive or convulsive acts – trained as navy seal super killer
-acts performed while defendant was either unconscious or asleep, unless
defendant knew that dangerous behavior may result in said condition
b) Voluntary Acts (that might seem involuntary)
-doing something because of coercion (someone has gun to your head)
-shooting gun and someone walks in front of you – you still pulled the
trigger, and therefore it was a voluntary action
2) Omission as an Act: Failure to act will result in criminal liability under the following circumstances
a) Legal Duty to Act through…
i) statute
ii) contract
iii) status relationships (parent, spouse, etc)
iv) voluntary assumption of care, and secluding from help
v) creating a risk of harm to another
b) Knowledge of fact giving rise to duty
-defendant must be aware of the facts that create his duty to act
c) Reasonably possible to perform duty
-if it is not possible to help no liability will result
note: some think that there should be omissions statutes imposing penalties on those who can help a person and choose not to (Olympic swimmer watching baby drown)
-some states that have such statutes impose small fines, etc.
Mens Rea
The guilty or bad mind; could take a broad meaning (any morally culpable state of mind) or a more narrow view (certain mental state required by statute)
1) Common Law Intent: there are two types of intent under the common law specific and general (it is only common law that makes this distinction)
a) General Intent: required by all crimes, it is the mental state pertaining only to actions of the crime itself
-Inference of Intent is OK: if A pointed gun at B and pulled trigger then he may have intended to commit X (if facts lead us here), not OK to presume if A then B without analyzing facts
-Transfer of Intent: if A intends to harm B, but harms C instead, intent can be transferred (but not across different crimes)
b) Specific Intent: the mental state required in addition to what is necessary for the crime itself
-it can be a future act, a special motive, an awareness of a circumstance
-specific intent cannot be inferred, prosecution must prove it
-example of specific intent crimes
-Larceny: intent to permanently deprive
-Forgery: intent to defraud
-Solicitation: intent to have solicited person commit crime
-Attempt: intent to complete
-Conspiracy: intent to have crime completed
-1st Deg Murder: premeditation
c) Malice: prosecution must show defendant recklessly disregarded an obvious risk that such harm would result (only required if crime requires)
d) Strict Liability: liability without fault; refers to statutes lacking a mens rea
-typically lighter penalties (often fines, forfeiters and the like)
-public welfare defense
-highly regulated areas
-statutory rape is large area of strict liability
**there are no “mistake” defenses to strict liability crimes
e) Common Law mental states
-intent (conscious objective) same as MPC’s purposely, knowingly
-knowledge – aware that result is practically certain
2) Model Penal Code: there is no distinction between general and specific intent. Instead there are four categories are four categories for mental state of criminal offense.
***Note: the specified state of mind in the statute refers to all material elements of the crime, unless statute says otherwise
a) Purposely: (conscious objective) if result element: conscious object to cause that result / if conduct element: conscious object to engage in that conduct / if circumstances elemental: aware those circumstances exist
b) Knowingly: (practically certain) if result element: aware that it is practically certain that his condu

be one of the causes, not the sole cause of the harmful result. Generally, there are so many causes in fact of a particular event that this doctrine does not effectively limit criminal liability.
1) Simultaneous Causes (Substantial Factor Test): If two or more people
simultaneously cause harm so that neither person alone is a “but for” cause of
the injury, the law creates a fiction to allow both actors to be prosecuted for
their actions. The question asked is whether each cause was a “substantial
factor” in the outcome.
2) Acceleration: The important question to ask is whether, but for the act, the bad result would have occurred at the precise time it did.
B) Proximate Cause: This serves to limit the number of persons subject to liability. This doctrine essentially decides which of the actors who are a cause in fact of harm should be held criminally responsible for that harm. The question to be answered is whether any intervening causes occurred after the defendant’s conduct to “break the chain” of causation. There are three things to look at to determine if the consequences of an act were “reasonably foreseeable” by the actor, they are:
1) the remoteness of the actor’s conduct to the harm caused;
2) the independence of the intervening causes that occurred after the defendant’s act; and
3) whether the actor intended the consequences.
Types of intervening causes
1) when defendants put victim in place where intervention happens
coincidence will break chain in causation, unless result is foreseeable
2) response – when it involves a reaction to conditions created by defendants
break chain only if they are abnormal and also unforeseeable
-in order for medical care to be abnormal it must be grossly negligent, not just negligent
Things to remember
-there is no contributory negligence defense
-omissions can never supersede or cut off liability