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Criminal Law
University of Toledo School of Law
Findlater, Janet E.


Criminal Liability
l 1) Actus Reus 2)Mens Rea 3)Causation

Actus Reus
Definition: 1) voluntary act or omission 2) that causes 3) social harm
l can’t be punished for “bad thoughts”
General Rule
l A person is not guilty of a crime unless her conduct includes a voluntary act
 Note: there are a few limited exceptions to this.

The Act => body movement

Voluntary=> “willed”, caused by the person

l Probably not voluntary: hypnotism
l Voluntary – according to courts: multiple personality disorder
Time Framing of Actus Reus:
l Sufficient to show D’s course of conduct included a voluntary act
l Prosecution does not have to show:
 all of D’s acts were voluntary
 D’s last act was voluntary
l Court may not choose any conduct
 must focus on relevant conduct
 that actually and proximately caused social harm of offense charged
Narrow Time Frame:
Ex: court wants D to escape responsibility
l exclude prior voluntary actions that could make D responsible.
Broad Time Frame:
Ex: epileptic driving a car involved in accident, seizure causes car to crash and kill other driver
l Not voluntary: seizure
l Voluntary: choice to drive car as an epileptic
False exceptions to Voluntary Act Requirement
Statutes that don’t recite Voluntary Act Requirement
l likely that court would require Actus Reus/Voluntary Act
Status Offenses
l statute that punishes people for propensity to act:
 Ex: drug addict , Ex: vagrant => likely to violate constitutional principles
Crimes of Possession
l courts require proof : D knowingly procured/received property possessed
 OR D failed to dispossess herself of object after becoming aware of its presence

l No person may be convicted of a crime in the absence of of conduct:
 includes voluntary act
 OR omission to perform act which he is physically capable
l Involuntary:
 reflexes / convulsions / conduct during unconsciousness, sleep, or due to hypnosis
 Generally:
■ conduct not a product of the effort or determination of the actor either conscious or habitual
l Voluntary Act Requirement Applies to:
 felonies / misdemeanors / petty misdemeanors
l Exception:
 doesn’t apply to “violations”:
■ offense – maximum penalty is fine/civil penalty
■ Unless: a court determines 2.01 is constitent with enforcement of law defining offense

OMISSIONS : Common Law
Generally:no criminal law duty to act to prevent harm to another
 even if death may result from failing to assist
Exceptions to No-Liability Rule:
l D’s omission of a common law duty to act, assuming physical capability
l serves as a legal substitue for a voluntary act
When there is a Duty to Act:
l Status Relationship
 parents to minor children / married couples to each other / masters to servants
l Contractual Obligation
 can be express or implied contract / doctor to patient / babysitter to child
Omissions Following an Act
l Creation of a Risk
 person who wrongfully/innocently harms another or another’s property
 Or who places a person or her property in jeopardy of harm
■ has a common law duty to aid injured/endangered party
l Voluntary Assistance
 person who voluntary commences assistance to another in jeopardy:
■ has a duty to continue to provide aid
l if subsequent omission would put the victim in a worse position had actor not initiated help
l applies even if omitter had no initial responsibility to rescue victim
Statutory Duty to Act :
l “Bad Samaritan” Laws
 Failure to act is an offense if:
 D had capacity to perform duty / D failed to do so with requisite mens rea

l Liability based on omission permitted if:
 1. law definining offense provides for it
 2. duty to act otherwise imposed by law
■ includes duty arising under tort + contract law

Definition: morally blameworthy state of mind
l Generally, need a “guilty mind” to be convicted of a criminal offense.
l particular mental state provided for in the definition of the offense.
Mens Rea

a forward direction, but not backward
Specific Intent Crimes:
l definition of crime includes:
 An additional mental element:
■ intent/purpose to do some future act or further consequence beyond conduct that is the actus reus of the offense
■ OR provides that actor must be aware of a statutory attendant circumstance
General Intent:
l does not contain an additional mental element

l requires prosecution to prove that D committed the actus reus of the offense
 with a culpable state of mind as set out in the specific statute
l legislature may have statutes with different levels of culpability for each material element
MPC: Purposely
l a person acts purposely if it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result
l a person act purposely with respect to attendant circumstances if he is aware of the existence of such circumstances or he believes or hopes that they exist.
MPC: Knowingly
l a result is knowingly caused if the actor is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result.
l Re: attendant circumstances and conduct elements,
 one acts knowingly if he is aware that his conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist
l Re: willful blindness
 knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of attendant circumstances => unless he actually believes that it does not exist
MPC: Recklessly
l a person act recklessly if he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustified risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct.
 Substantial and Unjustifiable