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Criminal Law
Wayne State University Law School
Findlater, Janet

Criminal Law
Findlater
Fall 2012


Chapter 1 Introduction: Setting the Stage
v  Crime-anything that lawmakers say is a crime (public law).
a.      Crime causes  “social harm”
b.     The person convicted a crime is punished.
c.      Crimes are prosecuted by the district attorney.
²  The essence of punishment depend the criminal conviction itself, rather than in the specific hardship imposed as a result of the conviction.
v  Classification of Crimes: Felony & Misdemeanors
ü  Felony:
i.           CL: any serious crime that is occasioned at CL the forfeiture of lands and goods.
ii.           MPC: anything punishable by death or imprisonment in a jail.
ü  Misdemeanor;
Ø  CL: all except felony that is lesser crime for which less the max penalty is less than a year.
Ø  MPC: anything punishable by monetary fine, incarceration in a local jail, or both.
v  Proof of Guilt at Trial
ü  Right of Trial by Jury; D has a constitutional right to trial by jury in all felony and many misdemeanor prosecutions.
ü  Burden of Proof;
Ø  The Due Process Clauses of the US constitution require 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
Enforcing the presumption of Innocence
Owens v. State (14)
v  An intoxicated person, found asleep behind the wheel of a car parked in a driveway, with its motor running and lights on, is convicted of drunk driving, even though there was only circumstantial evidence that the car was driven on the highway.
v  Rule: A conviction based upon circumstantial evidence alone, may be sustained if the circumstances are inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.
v  Note: The burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt, not on the accused to prove innocence.
v  Elements of crime: driving, intoxicated, on a public road
v  Note: Curley v. United States- judge may not make directed verdict of guilt, must go to jury
Chapter 3 Modern Roles of Criminal Statues
A.     Principle of Legality
v  A person may not be convicted and punished unless her conduct was defined as criminal
ü  Criminal statue should be understandable to reasonable law-abiding persons.
ü  Criminal statues should be crafted so that they do not delegate basis policy matters to policeman, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis.
ü  Judicial interpretation of ambiguous statues should be biased in favor of the accused.
v  MPC 1.05–964
(1)    No conduct constitutes an offense unless it is a crime or violation under this Code or another statue of the state
1.       The Requirement of Previously Defined Conduct
Commonwealth v. Mochan (92)

v  The trial court convicted Mr. Mochan for a common law misdemeanor not codified expressly as a statutory offense for telephoning Mrs. Zivkovich several time per week and making lewd and obscene comments to her
v  Rule: when the conduct is not prohibited expressly by criminal statue, a violation of the legality principle does not exist if a statutory provision permits punishment of common law offenses.
ü  Held: affirmed his conviction b/c his words were very immoral and heard by others…
v  Dissent- judiciary is overstepping its bounds by deciding what could injure public morality, and should leave this to the legislature. (when the conduct is not prohibited expressly by criminal statue, a violation of the legality principle does not exist if a statutory provision permits punishment of common law offenses.)
v  Note: Most criminal conduct determined by statutes
Keeler v. Superior Court (95)
v  Mr. Keeler allegedly murdered an unborn but viable fetus by kicking his pregnant wife in the stomach.
v  Rule: This is a violation of the Due Process Clause when a court construes a criminal statue contrary to the legislative intent and applies its expanded definition of the statue retroactively to a person’s conduct.
v  Definition of Murder: the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.—MPC
ü  Is a viable fetus a human being? MPC—No, b/c human being is “born alive”
ü  Dissent: Killing of a viable fetus was punishable still…wants to use “viability” as applicable test at to whether or not child is a human being (note: later modified statute to say “human being or viable fetus”…didn't change definition of human being)
ü  Murder in CA- “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought”
ü  Murder under MPC- purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently causing death of human being (p.1012)—
ü  MI's penal code- 2nd degree murder = all other murder—> need to look at common law for definition of “murder”—still statutory- judges “fill in the blanks” though they did not “create” the crime”
ü  -Usually defines crimes and all elements of the offense—not all elements defined by statute- use case law

2.       The Value Of Statutory Clarity
In Re Banks (105)
v  Banks was charged with violating a Peeping Tom statue
v  Rule: Prior judicial interpretation of the terms of a statue challenged for unconstitutional vagueness can vitiate the challenge
v  The requirement of definiteness is an essential element of due process of law.
ü  The intent of the legislature controls the interpretation of a statue
ü  Where a statue is ambiguous or unclear in its meaning, resort must be had to judicial construction to ascertain the legislative will, and the court will interpret the language to give effect to the legislature’s intent.
ü  A criminal statue must be sufficiently definite to give notice of the required conduct to one who would avoid its penalties.
Ø  “Peeping Tom”—one who sneaks up to a window and peeps in for the purpose of spying on and invading the privacy of the inhabitants.
Ø  “To peep” means “to look cautiously or slyly”
Ø  “secretly”—spying upon another with the intention of invading her privacy
v  The statue is not so overbroad as to proscribe legitimate conduct. The statue is sufficiently narrowed by the requirement that the defendant act with wrongful intent, thereby omitting from its scope those persons who have a legitimate purpose upon another’s property, or those only inadvertently glance in the window of another.
B.      Statutory Interpretation
Muscarello v. United States (120)
v  The defendant challenged the application of a federal fireman statue to his conduct, which involved carrying a firearm in his car, not on his person.
v  The word “carry,” in its ordinary sense, includes carrying in a car, and neither the basic purpose nor the legislative history of 18 U.S.C. 924 (c)(1) supports circumscribing the scope of the word “

is in reality no act at all.
Ø  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.
v  It is the function and province of the jury to weigh evidence and determine credibility of witness and decide disputed questions of fact.
B.      Omissions (“Negative Act”)
1.       General Principles
v  General rule:
ü  Ordinarily, a person is not guilty of a crime for failing to act, even if such failure permits harm to occur to another, and even if the person could have acted at no risk to her personal safety. This is also the MPC position. MPC 2.01 (3)
ü  Exceptions to the general rule
Ø  Notwithstanding the general rule, a person has a legal duty to act in limited circumstance, if he is physically capable of doing so. MPC 2.01(1)
l  Statutory duty
l  Where one stands in a certain status relationship to another (parent. Spouse. Kid, master to servant)
l  Where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for another
l  Where one has voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid
People v. Beardsley (136)
v  Intoxicated make fails to assist his female friend who was in a stupor from drinking alcohol and ingesting morphine.
v  Rule: A person may be criminally liable if he fails to perform a legal duty and his omission causes harm
ü  Under some circumstances the omission of a duty owed by one individual to another, where such omission results in the death of the one to whom the duty is owing, will make the other chargeable with manslaughter.
ü  The duty neglected must be a legal duty, and not a mere moral obligation.
ü  It must be a duty imposed by law or by contract, and the omission to perform the duty must be the immediate and direct cause of death.
2.       Distinguish Acts from Omissions
v  CL
ü  Omission (w/d of benefits, returning X to status quo/baseline).  Barber v. Superior Court: D Dr. unhooks X’s life support = omission, not act (more like omitting further treatment).
Ø  Dist btn omission & affirmative act; no duty to act, Dr. had no duty to continue treatment once it has been confirmed ineffective.
ü  Act (causing harm, moving X below status quo/baseline)
Ø  Duty to act: same as General. 
v  MPC
ü  §1.13(2) “Act” means body mvt, whether voluntary of involuntary.  Omission = NO body mvt.  In MPC, Barber would = prima facie case for murder.
ü  §2.01(3) Liability for commission of offense may be based on omission unaccompanied by action UNLESS omission is expressly made sufficient by law defining offense OR duty to perform the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law