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Criminal Law
Wayne State University Law School
Findlater, Janet

Criminal Law Outline Janet Findlater Fall 2012
Wayne State University Law School
Dressler, Cases and Materials on Criminal Law, 5th Ed.

Setting the Stage for Criminal Law

·         Crime: anything that lawmakers say is a crime (public law)
o    Crime causes a social harm
o    The person convicted of a crime is punishes
·         The essence of punishment depends on the criminal conviction itself, rather than a specific hardship imposed as a result of the conviction
·         Classifications of Crimes
a.        Felony
·         CL: any serious crime that is occasioned at the CL—the forfeiture of lands and goods
·         MPC: anything punishable by death or imprisonment in a jail
b.       misdemeanor
·         CL: all except felony that is lesser crime for which the max penalty is less than a year
·         MPC: anything punishable by monetary fine, incarnation in a local jail or both
·         Proof of Guilty at Trial
o    Right to jury trial: D has a constitutional right to a trial by jury in all felony and many misdemeanor prosecutions
o    Burden of proof
§  The Due Process Clause of the US Constitution requires the prosecutor in a criminal trial to persuade the fact-finder/jury “beyond the reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged

Owens v. State
Quick Facts: Found drunk in car in parked driveway in running car. Convicted of DD, even though there was only circumstantial evidence that the car was actually driven on the highway.
Black Letter Rule: A conviction based upon circumstantial evidence alone may be sustained if the circumstances are inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.
·         Social Harm Rule: We don’t always wait, if need be we will intervene.

The Principle of Legality

·         ‘no crime without law, no punishment without law’
·         A person may not be punished unless her conduct was defined as criminal—today—in the United States by legislation, rather than the result of judicial crime creation—before she acted.
o    The prohibition of retroactive lawmaking constitutes the essence of the principal of legality
·         You need to have the opportunity to find out what conduct is criminal so that you can avoid engaging in it.
·         Probably the most important rule in American criminal law—some think it should override all others even though its exercise may result in dangerous or morally culpable persons escaping punishment.
Commonwealth v. Mochan
·         D was convicted by the trial court for a common law misdemeanor not codified expressly as a statutory offense for telephoning a woman several times/week and making lewd and obscene comments towards her.
·         Rule: When the conduct alleged is not prohibited expressly by criminal statute, a violation of the legality principal does not exist if a statutory provision permits punishment of common law offenses.
·         In general most jurisdictions have abolished common law crimes but we still look to the common law for definitions.
Keeler v. Superior Court
·         Keeler allegedly murdered an unborn but viable fetus by kicking his pregnant wife in her stomach.
o    Definition of murder: the unlawful killing of a human bring with malice and forethought
o    Human being: to be a human being, must be born.
o    Due Process Issue-Courts are prohibited from retroactively enlarging the scope of a criminal law.
·         Rule: There is a violation of the DPC when a court construes a criminal statute contrary to the legislative intent and applies its expanded definition of the statute retroactively to a person’s conduct.

The Values of Statutory Clarity [Legality] ·         Enforceable through DPC.
·         Criminal statute must provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what is prohibited.
·         Vagueness is bad because it gives law enforcement an opportunity to act in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.
·         Courts usually don’t want to rule a criminal statute as unconstitutional because they do not want to reward unreasonable misunderstandings of the law and hare aware of how hard it is to draft these statutes.
·         DPC is not violated unless law-abiding person would still have to guess as to the meaning of a statute after she or her attorney as researched into the meaning of the law.
·         Rule of leniency: ambiguity should go towards defendant but a lot of jurisdictions have abandoned that in favor of giving statutes a fair meaning w/r/t legislative intent.
o    MPC does not recognize this. Ambiguities should be resolved in a manner that furthers the general purpose of the code.
o    Only comes into play if there truly is a tie-two or more equally reasonable interpretations of a statute.
In Re Banks
·         D was charged with violating a Peeping Tom statute. Claimed it was unconstitutionally vague.
·         Rule: Prior judicial interpretation of the terms of a statute challenged for unconstitutional vagueness can destroy the challenge.
o    The statute is presumed constitutional and must be held so until it conflicts with a provision. Where it is clearàplain meaning. Where it is not clearàlegislative intent
o    NCSC uses precedent to define “peep secretly”: the wrongful spying into a room upon a female with the intent of violating the female’s legitimate expectation of privacy. Sufficient to place a person of ordinary intelligence on notice of what constitutes a crime. Sufficiently definite to give an individual fair notice [the law is] of the conduct prohibited.
o    In order to pass constitutional muster, a statute must inform the general public in the simplest possible terms of acts constituting a crime. Does not violate the DPC if it fairly alerts an individual as to what conduct is prohibited.
MPC 1.05(1)
·         No conduct constitutes an offense unless it is a crime or violation under this Code or another statute of the State.

Statutory Interpretation [Legality]
Muscarello v. United States
·         The defendant challenged the application of a federal firearms statute to his conduct, which involved carrying a firearm in his car, not on his person.
·         Rule: The word ‘carry’ in its ordinary sense includes carrying in a car, and neither the basic purpose nor the legislative history of 18 USC § 924(c)(1) supports the limitation of the scope of the word “carry” by applying an “on the person” limitation.

Actus Reus

·         The actus reus is the physical or external part of the crime
o    Consists of a voluntary act/omission of  legal duty, that causes social harm [3 things] §  Voluntary act and social harm are legal terms that require special attention

Voluntary Act [Actus Reus]
·         Usually not defined but courts treat it as in implicit requirement of the law
·         “act” is simply a bodily movement, muscular contraction
o    picked up and moved by someone elseàno act
o    act does not mean harm that results
o    raise arm voluntarilyàact
o    roll over while asleepàinvoluntary act
·         Voluntary
o    Narrow definition when used to determine whether the actus reus of an offense occurred.
o    I raised my arm vs. my arm came up
o    With a voluntary act a human being—a person—and not simply an organ of the human being causes the bodily action
o    When the state of unconsciousness is voluntarily induced through the use and consumption of alcohol or drugs then that state of unconsciousness does not attain the stature of a complete defense but may still mitigate.
·         Involuntary=reflex, seizure, spasm.
·         MPC
o    §1.13 General Definitions
§  (2) “Act” means a bodily movement whether voluntary/involuntary
§  (5) Conduct” means an action/omission and its accompanying state of mind or where relevant, a series of acts and omissions
§  (9) “Element of an Offense” means such conduct or such attendant circumstances or such a result of conduct
o    §2.01 Requirement of a Voluntary Act
§  D is may no be convicted of a crime unless his liability is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act OR omission to perform an act of which he is physically capable
§  2.01(2) The following are not voluntary acts
·         reflex or convulsion; bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep; conduct during hypnosis; bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual.
§  EXCEPTION: §2.01 applies to liability for ‘crimes’ like felonies.  It does not apply to violation, which is an offense for which the maximum penalty is a fine or civil penalty.
Martin v. State
·         Police officers arrest an intoxicated man at his home, take him onto a highway and arrest him for public drunkenness.
·         Rule: A defendant must perform the physical act for each element of a crime that has an actus reus component
o    You need a mind body link for a voluntary act.
State v. Utter
·         Drunk dad with an alleged conditioned response condition fatally stabs his son in the chest.
·         Rule: A voluntary act requires the consent of the actors will.  An “act” committed during unconsciousness is not an act and therefore one cannot be held criminally culpable for said act. However, voluntarily induced consciousness, such as by drugs or alcohol is not a complete defense.
o    An involuntary act is really no act at all. It is merely a physical event.

Omissions (Negative Acts)

·         Subject to a fe

§  Knowledge: knowledge that the social harm is virtually certain to occur: D know that he could cause X but it ‘s not the purpose of his actions.  Knowledge will be enough to=intent.
§  Both versions of intent involve subjective fault.  An actor’s fault is subjective if he possesses a wrongful state of mind—in this case, the conscious desire to cause the social harm, or the awareness that the harm will almost certainly result from his conduct.
§  Intent requires such an awareness: not enough that a reasonable person would’ve been aware [subjective standard]. What D actually believed is what matters.
o    The presumption is that the D intended the natural and probable consequences of his actions.
People v. Conley
·         D hit victim in the face with a wine bottle, which caused extensive injuries to the other boy’s mouth and teeth.
·         Rule: A person acts with intent if it is his conscious object to cause a social harm or he knows that such harm is almost certain to occur as a result of his conduct. Intent is found because D’s actions support intent (choice of weapon).
·         The charge was aggravated battery: battery+intentionally/knowingly causing great bodily harm or disability or disfigurement
o    To prove purpose: accomplish that result or engage in such conduct
o    To prove knowledge: prove he is consciously aware that such result is practically certain to be caused by his conduct
There are 2 types of intent
·         Specific: requires proof of specific motive—any additional mental element
o    Some MR specified (ie killing negligently); Purpose regarding AR (ie purposefully killing); Additional intent (ie killing with intent to terrorize OR receiving stolen goods).
o     Common law burglary: breaking and entering of the dwelling of another in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony therein”
·         General: just show that D desired to commit the act which served as the AR
o    No MR specified in definition (ie killing); Any blameworthy mental state; Elemental MR only (ie killing purposefully).
Transferred Intent
·         legal fiction of transferred intent
·         A intends to kill B but kills C and is prosecuted for intent to kill murder.
o    No need to transfer A’s intention to kill B to unintended victim C; A has the requisite intent without the doctrine.
§  Criminal homicide is the killing of a human being by another human being—intent to kill a human being, not a specific human being
o    Transferred intent does not apply to statutory offenses which require the defendant’s criminal intent to be directed towards actual victim
o    D shouldn’t avoid conviction for intent to kill homicide b/c he missed X, killed Y
o    Mens rea doesn’t travel with bullet; can get liability w/o doctrine (ie murder: need intent to kill, not intent to kill specific person); meant to result in proportional punishment, but it often can lead to D receiving a higher punishment (ie attempted murder).
Murder Definitions
·         Knowingly or With Knowledge
o    A person who knowingly causes a particular result or knowingly engages in specified conduct is commonly said to have intended the harmful result or conduct.  Sometimes a material fact—an attendant circumstance—is also a requires element of an offense.
§  A person has knowledge of a material fact if he is aware of the fact or correctly believes the fact exists. 
§  Most jurisdiction also permit a finding of knowledge of an attendant circumstance in a more controversial way—when the actor is guilty of so called willful blindness/deliberate ignorance.
·         Aware of a high probability of the existence of the fact in question  and
·         Takes deliberate action to avoid confirming the fact or purposely fails to investigate in order to avoid confirmation of the fact