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Criminal Law
Wayne State University Law School
Henning, Peter J.



When analyzing any homicide situation, the following questions must be asked and answered?
a.                   Did D have any of the states of mind sufficient to constitute malice aforethought?
b.                   If the answer to a. is yes, is there proof of anything that will, under any applicable statute, raise the homicide to first-degree murder?
c.                   If the answer to a. is yes, is there evidence to reduce the killing to voluntary manslaughter, i.e. adequate provocation?
d.                   If the answer to a. is no, is there a sufficient basis for holding the crime to be involuntary manslaughter, i.e. criminal negligence or misdemeanor manslaughter?
e.                   If there adequate causation between D’s acts and the victim’s death? Did the victim die within a year and a day? Was D’s act the factual cause of death? Is there anything to break the chain of proximate causation between D’s act and the victim’s death?

I.          Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

A.            Enforcing the Presumption of Innocence
Owens v. State (pg. 14)
Mr. Owens was charged with operating a motor vehicle on a public highway while intoxicated. Have to prove: (1) That he operating a motor vehicle; (2) On a public highway; and (3) While intoxicated. To satisfy (2), public highway? It is proof that requires the fact finder to infer what happened. Based on the circumstantial evidence there is enough to tip the scales.
Rule: A conviction based on circumstantial evidence alone, may be sustained if the circumstances are inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

B.            Jury Nullification
State v. Ragland (pg. 19)
It sends a mixed message and should not be advertised and limited. It is the power to act against the law…transform the jury…into the only element of the system that is permissibly arbitrary. 
Rule: The power of jury nullification is not a precious attribute of a right to trial by jury.

II.         What is a Crime?

A.                Introduction
Legislature, Prosecutor – member of executive branch and applies the law, Courts, Jury – makes final decision.
Is there a crime?
1.       Is there a statute prohibiting (or requiring) the conduct? (Legislature)
2.       What are the elements of that offense? (Legislature and Court)
3.       Is there sufficient evidence to prove the offense? (Prosecutor and Jury)
4.       What is the punishment for that crime? (Legislature and Court)

B.                 Constitutional Principles
Harmelin v. Michigan (pg. 70)
Issue: Is the punishment cruel and unusual under the 8th Amendment? Did the legislature exceed its power? The legislature – mandatory life sentence for possession of 650 grams or more of any mixture containing controlled substance. 
§        Scalia/Rehnquist: “the Eighth Amendment contains no proportionality guarantee.” (71)
§        Kennedy/O’Connor/Souter: “[The Eighth Amendment] forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the crime.” (74)
§        White/Blackmun/Stevens/Marshall:  apply Solem 3 – factor test of proportionality. Proportionality Test – (1) the inherent gravity of the offense, (2) the sentence imposed for similarly grave offenses in the same jurisdiction, and (3) sentences imposed for the same crime in other jurisdictions. 
What is the rule from Harmelin? #2 – but it doesn’t give you any definite answer. 
Rule: Imposition of a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, for a conviction of possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine, is not “cruel and unusual” punishment.

C.                 The Requirement of Previously Defined Conduct

ere is a violation of the Due Process Clause when a court construes a criminal statute contrary to legislative intent and applies its expanded definition of the statute retroactively to a person’s conduct. 

III.            Elements of the Offense and Statutory Interpretation

A.            The Values of Statutory Clarity
In Re Banks (pg. 90)
Arrested for violating peeping tom statute. What did D do? 
Any person who shall: (1) Peep, (2) Secretly, (3) Into any room, (4) Occupied by a female
Trial court found that the statute was unconstitutional. What is unconstitutionality? The law was vague – the wording. Statute cannot mean what it says, since, if taken literally, it would prohibit much conduct, which the legislature clearly did not intend to include. Too much ground cover – lacks notice. What generally would fall within the statute? Statues have to be drawn narrowly enough to identify the wrong conduct. 
How do you turn this statute into a constitutional statute? Define peep – from other cases. State v. Bivins – to look cautiously or slyly – as if through a crevice – out from chinks and knotholes. Define secretly – definite idea of spying upon another with the intention of invading her privacy. This language is added to the statute. In Keeler – asking too much – to rewrite the law. Court is trying to narrow the words – so that the words have some content. The crime is now clearer.