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Criminal Law
Wayne State University Law School
Dillof, Anthony M.

I.       Actus Reus: General Principles  
A.     Definition
1.      The actus reus of an offense is the physical or external component of a crime
B.     Two Elements—both must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt
1.      Voluntary act / omission when legal duty to act
2.      Social harm—not punished for conduct alone—rather punished for causing social harm
A.     General Rule
1.      Common law:
a.       a willed muscular contraction or bodily movement by the actor. An act is willed if the bodily movement was controlled by the mind of the actor.
b.      Voluntary Act Definition
i.        An act must be a willed movement or the omission of a possible and legally required performance.
ii.      State v. Utter
(1)   Act committed while unconscious is not an act at all—merely a physical occurrence for which no liability
(2)   When state of unconsciousness is voluntarily induced through use of drugs or alcohol then unconscious state is not a complete defense to liability.
c.       Voluntary Act Requirement—Martin v. State
i.        Δ convicted for being drunk in public after police arrested him in his home and took him into the street where he began yelling. Court reversed b/c voluntariness is presumed to be required even where the term is not included in the statute.
ii.      However, Δ could have been convicted on the grounds that while being taken into public was not voluntary—screaming and yelling once he was in public was.
2.      MPC § 2.01(1)
a.       Voluntary Act Definition
i.        § 1.13(2) defines “act” as a bodily movement whether voluntary or involuntary
ii.      § 2.01(2)(d)—any bodily movement that is not the product of the effort or determination of the actor; either conscious or habitual is involuntary.
iii.    Voluntary Act = § 1.13 + opposite of § 2.01(2)(d)
(1)    A voluntary act is a conscious or habitual bodily movement that is the product of either the effort or determination of the actor.
b.      Voluntary Act Requirement
i.        Establishes the voluntary act requirement as a rule. States that a person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act.
B.     Important point: –Imbedded Involuntariness—MPC § 2.01(1)
1.      To be guilty of an offense, it is sufficient that the person’s conduct included a voluntary act. It is not necessary that all aspects of Δ’s conduct be voluntary
a.       Examples:
i.        Martin v. State–Didn’t voluntarily into public but voluntarily acted drunk once there.
ii.      People v. Decina—Δ knew he had medical condition causing seizures drove w/o meds killed 4 children. Charged with reckless or negligent operation of vehicle. Allowed b/c choosing not to take meds and drive = voluntary act.
C.     Rationale:
1.      Utilitarian: a person who acts involuntarily cannot be deterred. Therefore useless to punish the involuntary Δ b/c causes pain w/o producing benefit.
2.      Retributivist: blame and punishment presuppose a free will; Δ does not deserve punishment unless she chooses to put bad thought into action.
III.           Omissions—common law only  
A.     General Rule:
1.      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 act at no risk to personal safety.
a.       Example
i.        Beardsley
(1)   Δ had no duty to aid his mistress after watching her take poison.
(2)   However, no duty to act was based on lack of special relationship between Δ and deceased.
(i)     If a person who sustains a special relationship such as parent /child or husband /wife knows that the other is peril of life and willfully or negligently fails to make reasonable and proper efforts to rescue him when doing so would not place the person in danger is guilty of at manslaughter.
b.      Rationale for common law  allowing people to callously permit harm:
i.        Difficult to determine mental state of Δ who fails to act
ii.      Difficult line-drawing problems arise in omission cases—Kitty Genovese—many witnesses who to prosecute?
iii.    Promoting individual liberty—laws that prohibit rather than compel conduct allow more person freedom. Not being able to do X vs. being able to do only X
B.     Exceptions to General Rule
1.      Statutory duty
a.       Certain professions duty to report suspected child abuse.
2.      Special relationship / status
a.       Parent/child, spouse-to-spouse, other interdependent relationship
b.      Reason for no liability in Beardsley—no special relationship between man and his mistress
3.      Contract
a.       An express agreement to come to the aid of another, or such an agreement implied in law
b.      Example:
i.        Babysitter-child
4.      Voluntary Assumption
a.       One who voluntarily assumes the care of another must continue to assist if subsequent omission would place the victim in a worse position that if the person had not assumed care at all.
i.        Example: cannot tell other would-be aiders to leave b/c you will save drowning child then decide not to get in b/c water is too cold.
5.      Risk-creation
a.       If Δ created the risk of harm to another must act to prevent ensuing harm
C.     Medical Omissions
1.      Barber v. Superior Court—causing harm vs. withholding a benefit
a.       Life-support case; court found dr. did not have a duty to continue to provide medical care. Viewed life-support system as automated form of manual injections. Therefore disconnecting the system was not an act but an omission—refusing to continue to supply injections. Therefore dr. could only be liable for omission if he had legal duty to act.
b.      Resolving medical omission cases:
i.        Removing life support is characterized as an omission b/c it withholds a benefit relative to a certain baseline rather than inflicts harm.
ii.      Withholding a benefit is always an omission
iii.    Rule for omission = no criminal liability unless there is a legal duty to act.
IV.           Social Harm
A.     Definition
1.      Destruction of, injury to, or endangerment of, some socially valuable interest
B.     Social Harm Elements of an Offense
1.      Common Law
a.      Result Elements:   prohibit specific results—death of another person
b.      Conduct Elements:   prohibit specific conduct—drunk driving
c.       Attendant Circumstances:  A fact that exists at the time of the actor’s conduct, or at the time of a particular result and which is required to be proven in the definition of the offense.
2.      Model Penal Code § 1.13(9)
a.       Element of An Offense Means:
i.        such conduct or
ii.      such attendant circumstances or
iii.    such a result of conduct as is
(A)  included in the description of the forbidden conduct in the definition of the offense; or
(B)  establishes the required kind of culpability; or
(C)  negatives an excuse or justification for such conduct; or
(D)  negatives a defense under the statute of limitations; or establishes jurisdiction or venue
I.       Mens Rea: General Principles
A.     Meaning of Mens Ra
1.      Broad / Culpability Meaning
a.      Δ committed offense with a vicious will, evil, or morally blameworthy or culpable state of mind.
2.      Narrow / Elemental Meaning
a.      Mens rea exists only if Δ acted with the particular mental state expressly required by the definition of the offense.
3.      Regina v. Cunningham
a.      Illustrates the movement from the broad to narrow sense of mens rea.
b.      Malice does not mean evil or wicked intent, but rather intentional or reckless as to whether harm resulted or not.
B.     Rationale of the Mens Rea Requirement
1.      Utilitarian: Δ who commits crime w/o the mens rea is not dangerous and cannot be deterred
2.      Retributivist: just deserts—Δ who acts in a morally innocent manner—i.e. accidently—does not deserve punishment b/c/ did not choose to act unlawfully.
II.    Common Law
A.     Intent—Intentionally
1.      Definition: a person commits an offense intentionally if:
a.      Δ had conscious objective / purpose / desire to cause the result; or
b.      Δ knew that her conduct was virtually certain to cause the result
2.      People v. Conley
a.      Includes intends natural and probable consequences doctrine which was held unconstitutional but as a practical matter still exists.
b.      Battery w/ intent to cause GBH is a specific intent crime. Therefore state must prove not only that Δ intended to commit battery but also that Δ intended to commit GBH.
c.       Common law result crimes intent includes both results the Δ desires to happen but also those Δ knows are virtually certain to occur.
3.      Transferred Intent
a.      When a Δ intends to cause harm to one person but accidently causes the same harm to another person.
b.      Common in murder cases where Δ kills the wrong victim—justification that social harm (1 death) is as bad as if Δ had succeed and therefore Δ is just as blameworthy.
c.       Criticism:
a.      T.I. is a legal fiction used to reach what is regarded as a just result. Mischievous fiction b/c/ based on assumption that in its absence the Δ would escape liability for murder. However, this is based on an assumption that mens rea exists in the Δ only with respect to the victim and not with respect to the harm/crime.
b.      Law requires unlawful intent to kill a person not unlawful intent to kill Person A.
d.      Potential Problems / Mischief

ious objective / desire to cause the result / engage in conduct
C.    Knowingly
1.      Results
a.      Δ knowingly causes result if she is aware that the result is practically certain to occur from her conduct
2.      Attendant Circumstances:
a.      Δ  has knowledge of an attendant circumstance if:
a.      He is aware that the circumstance exists; or
b.      Aware of a high probability of its existence
c.       Unless he actually believes it does not exist.
b.      MPC Willful Blindness § 2.02(7)
a.      Δ is aware of the probable existence of a fact but does not satisfy himself that it does not exist.
b.      Debate over whether such cases = R or K
i.        Being WB is acting knowingly when issue / thing being avoided = a matter of existing fact but not when alleged contrived ignorance concerns results of the Δ’s conduct, which is necessarily a matter of the future at the time of acting.
ii.      Inference of K of an existing fact is usually drawn from notice of substantial probability of its existence, unless the Δ establishes an honest, contrary belief.
c.       State v. Nations—MPC jurisdiction but doesn’t follow MPC in this case
i.        Does not recognize expanded definition of knowingly to accommodate willful blindness.
ii.      State must prove Δ had actual knowledge that a girl dancing in her disco for tips was a minor.  
iii.    In court’s opinion, the MPC standard would allow for liability based on recklessness.
D.     Recklessly
1.      Definition:
a.       Δ consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct.
b.      One acts recklessly when the risk-taking involves a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the Δ’s situation.
E.     Negligently
1.      Definition:
a.       A Δ acts negligently when he should have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
b.      Substantial and unjustifiable risk = gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would observe in Δ’s situation
c.       Difference from recklessness = reckless Δ consciously aware of the risk but proceeds anyway, negligence Δ is not aware of the risk but should have been¸
F.      Standard for Evaluating Conduct:
a.       Same as common law: Adopts common law B< P x L method. G.    Statutory Construction—Interpretive Rules 1.      Default Position a.      Some mens rea terms must apply to each element of the offense – except for violations (§ 2.05) 2.      If statute is silent regarding required M/R a.       Element is established if Δ acts P/K/R with respect thereto. –any mental state but negligence. § 2.02(3) 3.      When just one M/R term is mentioned a.      The mentioned m/r term applies to every material element of the offense unless a contrary legislative intent plainly appears MPC Transferred Intent: When result in criminal case differs from what Δ intended, risked or contemplated need to consider § 2.03(2) (a) and § 2.03(3) (a). ·         § 2.03(2)(a) when P or K causing a result is an element of the offense the element is not established if the actual result is not within the purpose or the contemplation of the actor unless the actual result differs from that designed or contemplated, as the case may be only in respect that a different person or different property is injured or affected or that the injury or harm designed or contemplated would have been more serious or extensive than that caused ·         § 2.03(3)(a). when R or N causing a result is an element of the offense the element is not established if the actual result is not within the risk of which the actor was aware or, in the case of N, of which he should have been aware unless o   The actual result differs only in respect to person / thing injured and caused equal or less harm