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Criminal Law
Villanova University School of Law
Dempsey, Michelle Madden

Professor Dempsey
Criminal Law
Fall 2014
I.             Common Law
A.           Statutory Interpretation
1.            If a state does not define a term in the statute, the common law definition applies. – Keeler v. Superior Court
2.            If a statute is not clear on its face, the court will seek to interpret the statute in the manner that best gives effect to legislative intentàwhat were they seeking to criminalize here?
a)            Using legislative history of an act and circumstances surrounding its adoption
b)            Earlier statutes on the same subject
c)            CL as it was understood at the time of the enactment of the statute
d)            Previous interpretations of the same or similar statutes
B.           Legality (of the statute)
1.            Principle of LegalityàD may not be punished if his act was not defined as criminal before he acted
a)            Void-for-vagueness doctrineàcorollary of legality principle
(1)          Must provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what is prohibited so that person can conduct themselves accordingly
(2)          Vague statutes provide police and prosecutors the opportunity to act in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner (City of Chicago v. Morales)
b)            Rule of Lenityàanother corollary strictly construed
(1)          Statute is unclear or ambiguous so court must determine legislative intent
(2)          “After seizing everything from which aid can be derived, we can make no more than a guess as to what Congress intended” – (Reno v. Koray)
(3)          ONLY COMES INTO PLAY AS A TIE BREAKERàwhen there are 2+ equally reasonable interpretations of a statute, the one most favorable to D must be abpplied
c)            Proportionality
C.        Actus Reus
1.            Voluntary act
2.            Omission by D is not criminally punishable unless D had a special duty to act
D.        Mens Rea
1.            General Intent (usually can be convicted upon proof of a lesser state of mind)àwhere a statute is silent regarding a mens rea, the default level is “general intent” (S&H, p. 90)
a)            D desired to commit the act which served as the actus reus
b)            Intoxication: not a defense
c)            Mistake of Fact: Mistake must be honest and reasonable to the circumstances surrounding the conduct.
(1)          Critics: The practical effect of denying exculpation to those who act on the basis of an unreasonable mistake of fact is to permit punishment on the basis of negligence, which would be unfair b/c a person is not ordinarily liable unless his negligence is gross. Although liable for civil negligence, would be punished as a criminal wrongdoer. D would also be held to the same culpability as an intentional wrongdoer.
d)            Mistake of Law: Not allowed.
2.            Specific Intent
a)            In addition to bringing about the act which served as the actus reus, D desired to do something further or achieve a further consequence (with the intent to) or be aware of a statutory attendant circumstance
b)            Intoxication: Can sometimes negate the specific intent needed for a crime
c)            Mistake of Fact: Mistake must be honest (a.k.a. negates the specific intent mens rea)
(1)          Legal-wrong doctrine: If D’s conduct causes the social harm prohibited by the greater

nal) Negligence
a)            D should but fails to realize a substantial and unjustifiable risk by his act and this act is a (gross) deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have observed in the actor’s situation
II.          Model Penal Code
A.           Actus Reus
1.            Voluntary act
B.           Statutory interpretation w/ mens rea
1.            A single mens rea term modifies each actus reus element of the offense absent a plainly contrary purpose of the legislature. MPC 2.02(4)
a)            A single culpability term in the middle of the statute suggests such a purpose and this mens rea would not apply to the preceding phrase
2.            Some form of culpability is required for each material element of an offense in MPC 2.02(1) so when a statute is silent on culpability, D must at least be reckless to be convicted under the statute pursuant to MPC 2.02(3)
C.           Mistake of Fact: A mistake is a defense if it negates the mental state required to establish any element of the offense MPC 2.04(1)
1.            Adopts a variation of CL’s legal-wrong doctrine (focuses on D’s state of mind rather than the actus reus)
a)            MOF is not available if D would be guilty of another offense had the circumstances been as he supposed MPC 2.04(2)
b)            Code only permits punishment at the level of the lesser offense