The Nature of Criminal Law and Its Analytical Structure
Sources of Criminal Liability
Statute (legality principle)
Case law/common law (statutory interpretation)
Policy (theories of punishment)
Unambiguous = plain language [refer to interpretation rules on p. 70] Ambiguous = 2 or more plausible definitions
Strict construction (rule of leniency)
Fair import (legislative intent)
The Legality Principle: No crime without clear, precise law
Void for Vagueness – If the statute does not adequately define the prohibited conduct it is unconstitutional
A person must be on fair notice; cannot be on notice if the law is vague
Doesn’t mean you have to have read the criminal code, it just has to be somewhere in the code
If a law is clear, then it will better deter violations of the law. It will deter others from committing crimes because they know it violates the law.
Avoiding Disparity and Abuse of Discretion
Ex Post Facto – no law can make an action criminal if the action was taken before the passing of the law and was innocent when done.
Can’t prosecute people for actions done before the law was enacted
Ambiguity doesn’t mean vagueness
If it can be defined then it is ambiguous and not vague
Rule of Strict Construction (Rule of Lenity)
Adopt the interpretation most favorable to the defendant
Rule of Fair Import
Interpret with a view toward the statute’s objectives and with a goal of promoting justice
Theories of Punishment
Retribution (Focus on the offense)
Punish to give offender their just desert
They get what they deserve because they were morally bad
Only punish someone to the degree of their blameworthiness
Sole criterion for punishment is the actor’s moral blameworthiness, as dictated by general moral principles.
Person receives punishment if and only if they are blameworthy and only punished as much as they deserve
Utilitarian – Focus is to prevent or reduce future crime; avoiding social cost of crime; avoiding harm to victims (nature of the offender)
About the individual
Punish that person so that person doesn’t commit the offense again
Punish individual to send a message to the public in general
Cutting off one’s ability to commit crime in the future
Examples – Imprisonment, execution, or any other restraint or impairment that prevents a subsequent offense
Takes away the offender’s desire or need to engage in criminal activity
Medical treatment, psychological counseling, and education and training programs are the most common forms of rehabilitation.
Rules for Resolving Ambiguities
Different language implies a different meaning
A catch-all phrase is limited by the common factor of the item
me that the offense conduct took place
Liable for the foreseeable consequences of your actions even if you later change your mind
Culpability Levels (Must exist as to all material elements of the offense)
Purpose (intent; willful)
Conscious object is to engage in the conduct and cause such a result
Aware of the existence of the circumstances or believes/hopes they exist
Knowledge (sometimes intent)
Aware that it is practically certain that conduct will cause result
Recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life
Consciously disregards the substantial and unjustifiable risk that, under the circumstances, conduct will cause the result.
This is the default culpability standard when it is not mentioned in the statute.
Knowledge of a situation requiring ordinary care to avoid injury to another; and,
Ability to avoid the harm through ordinary care; and,
Omission to use such care when the disastrous result is apparent to the ordinary mind
Actor is not aware of the risk, but a reasonable person would have been aware of the substantial and unjustifiable risk.