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


Basis for Appeal – 1) Insufficient Evidence; 2) Improper jury instruction; 3) Evidentiary Challenge; 4) Constitutional Challenge

Elements of a Crime – 1) Actus Reus; 2) Mens Rea; 3) Circumstances; 4) Harm; 5) Causation

BURDEN OF PROOF – Beyond a reasonable doubt for all facts necessary (any element lacking = acquittal) – Winship
“We’d rather have 10 false negatives than 1 false positive.” –Lord Blackstone
Burden of Production       
U.S. v. Jackson: Gov’t didn’t provide sufficient evidence to show BRD that this was the right Jackson; D has nothing to disprove.

People v. Solmonson: P need only show sufficient evid. that a reasonable jury could give guilty verdict despite contrary evidence
-Circumstantial evidence is enough to convict as long as it shows guilt BRD

Doubt: Can arise from “mere possibility” – left to the common sense of the jurors
P’s difficulty: A series of crimes requires unanimity for each crime BRD
P’s restriction: Venue – must be in the jurisdiction where the crime took place proven by preponderance
·         Evidence of tax records, driver’s license, anything that shows where D lives
D’s restriction: If appellate court finds harmless error or substantial evidence (favorable to gov’t), verdict sustained

Pre-trial: Inferences in favor of government
Trial: Inferences in favor of D
Appeal: Inferences in favor of verdict

THEORIES OF PUNISHMENT – Deterrence, Rehab, Isolation, Education, Retribution, Compensation (MPC § 1.02 2(a)(b))
P’s decisions: Prosecute? Plea agreement? Discretion not affected by judge b/c of separation of powers
P’s restrictions: No cruel and unusual, no double jeopardy, no retroactive punishment

SENTENCING – 1) Indeterminate (up to); 2) Advisory (ought to); 3) Mandatory (no); 4) Mandatory Minimum (legislative); 5) Jury
Determined by preponderance – Considers D’s character, nature of offense, prot. of public
·         Options: Diversion, Financial, Probation, Community Service, House Arrest, Halfway House, Incarceration

STATUTORY INTERPRETATION – Sources of law: 1) Common Law; 2) Statutes; 3) MPC (adopted by many legislatures)
Methods of Interpretation – 1) Plain meaning; 2) Legislative intent; 3) Common Law Analogy; 4) Canons of Statutory Construction
·         Some states have eliminated the power of the courts to create common law crimes (not MI)
·         If 2 interpretations, choose the narrower to keep people out of jail (Rule of lenity)

Example #1: People v. Lopez – Asportation – “Take control of” – What does this mean? D tried to take vic’s van, vic returned, D fled
Answer: Intent to deprive another of property; taking element requires asportation
Method: Compare CL felonious taking element to robbery; legislative history & stat. language pointed to this connection
Rule: When legislature has statute on substantially similar subject, presume legislature wants same interpretation
Rule: Undefined term in a statute is presumed to have its CL meaning

Example #2: State v. Donaldson – Asportation – D broke into care, dismantled steering column w/ control over lights; radio
Answer: Movement not required for larceny; dominion over the vehicle to move/control & exclusion of other dominion suffices
Rule: Possession or control begins a theft & it is completed when actor secures dominion over the object or uses it in a manner beyond his authority. Iowa § 714.1(1)

D’s statutory defense or discrimination: Vagueness. Ex. Columbus v. Kim – D fined for dog barking, violating statute
·         Facial: Statute can’t be applied to anyone, too general
·         As-applied: If can’t be applied in this situation, charges dismissed
·         TEST: D must show individual of ordinary intelligence can’t determine meaning BRD – OR – encourages arbitrary/discriminatory enforcement

ELEMENTS OF A CRIME – 1) Actus Reus; 2) Mens Rea; 3) Attendant Circumstances; 4) Harm; 5) Causation

MPC 1.13(9) “Elements of an Offense” means (i) such conduct or (ii) such attendant circumstances or (iii) such a result of conduct as 1) included in the description of the forbidden conduct in the definition of the offense; or 2) establishes the required kind of culpability; or 3) negatives an excuse or justification for such conduct; or 4) negatives defense under the statute of limitations; or 5) establishes jurisdiction or venue.

ACTUS REUS – 1) Voluntary act; 2) Effect/Harm; 3) Attendant Circumstance

MPC § 2.01(1): “A person isn’t guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act
§ 2.01(2): “The following are not voluntary acts: (a) reflex or convulsion; (b) bodily movement during unconsciousness/sleep; (c) bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort determination of the actor, either unconscious or habitual.

Martin v. State – Any person; while drunk (attendant circumstance); appears in any public area (actus reus); where 1+ are present (attendant circumstance); boisterous/indecent conduct or loud/profane discourse (actus reus). D brought by officers into public.
Rule: Actus reus of appearing in a public place must be voluntary.

Cox v. Director of Revenue – D convicted of driving while intoxicated (was asleep at wheel on side of road).
Court: There is enough evidence to show he drove the car – “physically driving/operating a motor vehicle while drunk”
Rule: When statute describes conduct element of the defense, you have to determine what is comprehended w/in that

Omission to Act – Actus reus? YES. Omission is violation of legal duty to act (statute, status/family, contract, vol. assume) moral duty

West v. Commonwealth – Death of D’s downs sister. They voluntarily assumed her care & charged with manslaughter. This duty can take place over a period of days, weeks, months (ex. tax evasion could occur over an extended period of time).
Rule: One can be held criminally liable for failure to act if 1) statute imposes duty to care; 2) status relationship between parties; 3) one assumes contractual duty for another; 4) One voluntarily assumes care.

Possession – Requires the voluntary act of having within your control something violating the law.
·         Actual possession – Physical control or dominion
·         Constructive possession – Your relationship to an item – prove D has control/dominion over an illegal substance where it was found, proximity (ownership of place where it was found not necessarily enough to prove)
o    Possession requires intent

State v. Windsor – D accused of possessing marijuana on the premises of county jail. Violation occurred in a later point of time b/c the possession continued to the point where he was brought onto the premises. Must be doing it voluntarily, know you have it, and be aware that you have it for long enough that you could have ditched it. Location need not be voluntary.

Watson v. State – D asleep in bed while raid on grandma’s house. Crack on the dresser. Did he have possession? Possession is dominion and control over property or private institution. Court said no possession. May have been if he owned the house.
Rule: Don’t have to own the illegal substance – just have knowledge & possession.

Robinson v. California – Status insufficient for actus reus offense. D charged w/ using drugs/being an addict but being an addict is a status – this is unconstitutional (8th, 14th Am.) b/c criminal liability is imposed on them b/c of their status alone.
Rule: Status cannot be actus reus but conduct stemming from an addition/status can be.
Powell v. Texas – “Whoever shall get drunk or be found in a state of intoxication in a public place” not unconst

on the actor’s liability or on the gravity of his offense.

Exceptions to transferred intent – Misidentification (liable w/ different intent); statutory exclusion; different harm caused.

Strict liability – No intent needed. Commission of actus reus is all that is required for liability.
People v. Nasir – D convicted of possessing counterfeit tax stamps. Knowledge is element of the offense.

MPC §2.05: 1) Is the statute codification of common law?; 2) Statute define a public welfare offense?; 3) Punishment of offense? (unfair?); 4) Criminalization too broad; 5) Burden of prosecutors if not strict liability??
MISTAKE – Defense denying/negating mens rea at the time of the crime, P bears burden to show mistake is not true.
-P starts with “actual knowledge” and can go to “willful blindness”

Mistake of fact (common law approach) – CAN negate intent.

MPC 2.04(1): Ignorance or mistake as to a matter of fact or law is a defense if (i) the ignorance or mistake negatives the purpose, knowledge, belief, reckless or negligence required to establish a material element of the offense; or (ii) the law provides that the state of mind established by such ignorance or mistake constitutes a defense.

·         D: Enough evidence of the mistake to get the jury instruction (put client on the stand)
·         Mistake = gov’t hasn’t proven intent BRD. D has burden of production, must be allowed as part of due process.

Stagner v. Wyoming – D convicted of receiving/concealing stolen vehicle. Was mistake of fact jury instruction properly denied? Rule: A person isn’t guilty of a crime if he commits an act/omits to act under an honest and reasonable belief in the existence of certain facts and circumstances which, if true, should make such act or omission lawful.

Mistake of law (common law approach) – Mistake of law is no excuse.

MPC 2.04(3)(b): A belief that conduct doesn’t legally constitute an offense is defense…when: (b) he acts in a reasonable reliance upon an official statement of the law, afterward determined to be invalid or erroneous, contained in a statute, judicial decision/opinion/judgment, administrative order, official interpretation of public officer/body charged with interpretation.

·         You need a high level mistake and proof of it that you mistakenly relied on (ex. statement from attorney general)

Cheek v. U.S. – P trying to prove D knew law when he didn’t pay his taxes. P needs to show 1) duty exists; 2) D knew of duty and there was an obligation on his part to comply. D showed this by showing that he filed taxes once before and asked for exemptions he wouldn’t have asked for if he didn’t think his income couldn’t be taxed.

·         Specific intent (purposely; knowingly) – Any mistake that negates an intent element. D has to show mistaken belief. Jury doesn’t have to decide whether mistake was reasonable

·         General intent (recklessly; negligently) – Involves assessment of reasonableness (objective), D must have mistaken belief/understanding and it must be reasonable. If unreasonable (according to jury), no defense.