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Criminal Law
Villanova University School of Law
Chanenson, Steven L.

Criminal Law

Fall 2015

Professor Steve Chanenson

I. Theories of Punishment (What Justifies Criminal Law & Punishment?)

A. Retributivism- Backward looking; Moral or philosophical theory of criminal punishment; punishment for crime is a moral good because crime is a moral wrong.

B. Consequentialism (Utilitarianism)- Believes that justification lies in the useful purposes that punishment seeks. Tend to be forward-looking b/c they seek to justify punishment on the basis of the good consequences it is expected to produce in the future.

1. Deterrence- Economic or empirical theory; look not to moral rights and wrongs but to social costs and benefits: Crime is socially destructive, and socially destructive behavior is best reduced by raising the price those who engage in such behavior must pay. (Can be specific-same person won’t do it again, or general-send message to entire population not to do that act)

· Dudley & Stephens – general deterrence, should not eat people; one cannot consent to be killed b/c it is an offense against the state, not the individual; clemency was later granted by the Queen b/c of the situation involved

· Kellogg – Homeless man convicted of public intoxication. Kellogg argued this was cruel and unusual—he couldn’t be convicted based on his status. Court said it was his conduct, not his status; he posed a hazard because he was near a freeway embankment; legislators use three different justifications when a crime does not meet original purposes – avoiding private vengeance, regulating the otherwise hard-to-regulate misconduct of the poor, and defining a society’s values and culture

2. Rehabilitation- Medical or psychiatric theory and was not embraced by the law in 19th century England; Seek to use criminal punishment not to punish offenders but to treat them, so that they keep their noses clean after they are released.

3. Incapacitation-.Incarcerate dangerous people to get them off the street and separate them from society, prevent future harm by these people

C. Expressive Theories of Punishment (Changing Social Norms)

· Must distinguish bad conduct from worse – at least with respect to crimes that are less heinous than homicide

II. Principles of Statutory Interpretation

-Goal is to determine, to the extent possible, the intent of the legislature that enacted the particular statute in question

· Greater and Lesser Crimes

o Severity of the act = severity of the punishment

o You can opt for lesser or greater punishment depending on the ability to prosecute or defend each

o When determining if act is assisted suicide or murder, the determining factor is whether role was passive or active

§ In re Joseph G. – Passive; Assisting suicide (both kids tried to commit suicide)

§ People v. Cleaves – Active; 2nd degree murder (assisted someone with suicide, only one person planned on dying)

o Expression unius est exclusion alterius= expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other

o Ejusdem generis= of the same kind of nature

· The Not-Quite-Rule of Lenity

o Ambiguities in criminal statutes are resolved in defendant’s favor

o Not always true in practice though

o There must be extreme unsureness

o Brogan v. United States – Brogan charged with making a false statement for saying “no” when asked by federal agents if he had ever taken payments. Officers knew he had, but he was charged with making false statement under literal interpretation of law. Brogan—exculpatory ‘no’—is this “any” false statement? Rule: If the language of the statute is clear, the text wins. Statute should be read as written—irrespective of policy consequences or asymmetry of crime and punishment.

o United States v. Bronston – Bronston not convicted of false statement for telling truthful yet misleading statements to federal officer. Defendant was technically truthful even though his words were functionally misleading.

o Price’s 3 meanings= Lenity is dead last in interpretive hierarchy, Lenity limits non-textual broad readings, and Lenity compels choosing the narrowest interpretation among plausible options

III. Constitutional Limits on Criminal Law

A. Proportionality

a. Issue arises when punishments are “grossly disproportionate” to crimes committed

b. Severity of crime and punishment must correspond

c. Claims are toothless, except in some death penalty cases

d. Kellogg case is an example

B. Vagueness

a. Due Process

b. Two Components to Consider:

i. Notice

1. Extreme unfairness: regular people try to follow law but can’t figure it out

a. If a person of ordinary intelligence cannot figure out what is or isn’t prohibited then there isn’t appropriate notice

ii. Arbitrary and Discriminatory Enforcement

1. Too much opportunity for discretion

2. Plaintiff must show inappropriate notice and enforcement

c. CASES on Void for Vagueness Doctrine

i. The statute needs to be unconstitutional in ALL applications; crimes must be defined with enough precision to inform potential offenders how to avoid criminal punishment

ii. Nash v. United States: Charged under Sherman Antitrust Act. Argued it was vague. Court held there was no constitutional difficulty in enforcing Act because one could reasonably infer what actions are prohibited.

iii. Gary v. Kohl: Gray passed out Bibles in front of school. He was arrested after taking all necessary precautions; not convicted. Sued for violation of 14thAmendment. Argued statute was vague. Granted in part, words “legitimate business” were too broad.

iv. Chicago v. Morales: Vagueness may invalidate a criminal law for two reasons: (1) it may fail to provide the kind of notice that will enable ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits, and (2) it may authorize and even encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement

IV. Criminal Law – The General Part

· CRIME= ACTUS REUS [Guilty in action] + MENS REA [Guilty in mind] (Actus reus and mens rea must happen concurrently.)

A. Actus Reus – Conduct, circumstance, and consequence/result (do not need all three types of elements; can have all or any combination)

· Conduct = those elements that describe the defendant’s prohibited act

· Circumstance = those elements that describe the factual conditions under which the defendant acted

· Consequence/Result = the specific harmful consequences caused by the defendant’s prohibited act

· Voluntary acts that cause harm

o Conventional definition of crime: Crime is a voluntary, af

of right, which didn’t happen here

§ State v. Kremer – Strict liability doesn’t apply when there is no negligence and no intent do to the act which turned out to be criminal; Guy ran red light when brakes failed

§ State v. TRD – Sex offender doesn’t re-register his address; Guilty under strict liability approach b/c of legislative purpose; Always want to know where sex offender is – not knowing to re-register is bad, especially when he’s been warned with letters; no mental state (mens rea) mentioned does not always mean strict liability

2. Model Penal Code (MPC) – pg. 195-197

-in the notes page provided here Important

C. Defenses

1. Mistake of Fact

· Defense if it negates the necessary mens rea

· For general intent – made an honest and reasonable mistake about the surrounding circumstances that negates his culpability

o Two types of reasonableness

§ Descriptive= what most people would do, think, believe, etc. under the circumstances

§ Prescriptive= what people should do, think, believe, etc. under the circumstances

§ More unreasonable a belief is – the less likely a jury will be to believe you honestly believe it

· For specific intent – available if defendant’s error was merely honest (need not be reasonable)

· U.S. v. Oglivie: Thought he was divorced, he wasn’t. Falsely entered paperwork and married again. Succeeded on mistake of fact with regard to false official statements, specific intent—honest mistake. Failed on mistake of fact with bigamy, general intent crime—honest but not reasonable mistake.

· U.S. v. Bingar: Binegar was giving free contact lenses to everyone rather than people with specific qualifications. He wasn’t aware this wasn’t allowed. Charged with larceny (specific intent crime) and plead guilty. Appellate judge said he should’ve been instructed with mistake of fact defense. Sentence reversed; plea not provident.

· State v. Bankston: Bankston took items from army base without paying for them. He claimed cashier and her husband said they would pay for them later. At trial for larceny, D said his honest mistake was a defense. Court said no, it was general intent—needed to be both honest and reasonable. Appellate court reversed; said crime was specific intent and his mistake only needed to be honest.

· Stagner v. State: Stagner found by police in stolen car. She said she didn’t know the car was stolen. Man who gave her the car testified that he told her it was stolen. Asked judge to instruct jury on honest and reasonable mistake of fact. Trial court said no because her story wasn’t credible. Supreme Court reversed, saying it was up to the jury to decide on credibility.