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

Elements of an criminal offenses

Mens rea – intent
Actus reus – bad action
Attendant circumstances – condition that must be present, in conjunction with the prohibited conduct or result, in order to constitute a crime.
Crimes of result – killing
Crimes of conduct – speeding (where you don’t need a result to have a crime).

A.) Common Law Requirement—“Year and a Day” Rule: The death of the victim must occur within one year and one day from the infliction of the injury or wound. If it does not occur within this period of time, there can be no prosecution for homicide, even if it can be shown that “but for” the ∆’s actions, the victim would not have dies as and when he did. A number of states have abolished this rule.

B.) “Proximate” Causation: Problems of proximate causation arise only when the victim’s death occurs because of the ∆’s acts, but in a manner not intended or anticipated by the ∆. The question in such cases is whether the difference in the way death was intended or anticipated and the way in which it actually occurred breaks the chain of “proximate cause” causation.
i.) Burden of Proof: The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that a ∆ is the proximate causes of a prohibited result, in order to impose criminal responsibility upon that ∆. Kibbe v. Henderson.
ii.) All “Natural and Probable” Result Are Proximately Caused: The general rule is that ∆ is responsible for all results that occur as a “natural and probable: consequence of his conduct, even if he did not anticipate the precise manner in which they would occur. All such results are “proximately caused” by the ∆’s act. This chain of proximate causation is broken only by the intervention of a “superceding factor.”
2.) Rules of Causation
A.) Hastening Inevitable Result: An act that hastens an inevitable result is nevertheless a legal cause of the result. i.e. State v. Forrest
B.) Simultaneous Acts: Simultaneous acts by two or more persons may be considered independently sufficient causes of a single result.
C.) Preexisting Condition: A victim’s preexisting condition that makes him more susceptible to death does not break the chain of causation. The ∆ “takes the victim as he finds them.” This is similar to the “Thin Skull” Rule in Torts
3.) Intervening Acts: As a general rule, an intervening act will shield the ∆ from liability if the act is a mere coincidence or is outside the foreseeable sphere of risk created by the ∆’s act. The following constitute intervening acts.
A.) Acts of Nature: A is driving negligently. To avoid A’s swerving car, B takes an unaccustomed route home. B’s car is struck by lightning, and B dies. A cannot be found guilty of manslaughter because the fact that B was struck by lighting was a mere coincidence.
B.) Act by Third Party: A, intending to kill B, merely wounds him. B receives negligent medical treatment at a nearby hospital and as a result B dies. A can still be held liable for the death of B because hospital negligence is a foreseeable risk. The only way A can escape liability in this case is if the hospital provides grossly negligent care or intentionally mistreats B.
Acts by the Victim: Assume the initial facts from the example above, but in this case, B refuses medical treatment for religious reasons and dies. In most jurisdictions, because A’s act directly created the risk of death and because the refusal or medical care can be found to be foreseeable, A can still be found liable. This rule may even apply if the victim acts affirmatively to harm himself; i.e., If the victim commits suicide because he is in so much pain, the attacker can still be held liable for the death.

§1.13(9) – Elements of an offense
§ Conduct (include mens rea)
§ Attendant circumstances
§ Result of conduct (corpus delecti)


§ Omissions – breach of duty to act exists when:
1. Status relationship exists
2. Contractual obligations
3. Prevented others from aiding
4. Created the risk of harm or peril

Act is something that causes harm
§ Omission is something that permits or allows a harm to occur.
§ Possession: Criminal law penalizes the possession if the ∆ has control of an item for a long enough period to have had an opportunity to terminate possession. The ∆ must be aware of his possession of the object but need not be aware of its illegality

§ 2.01(1)
§ No person may be convicted of a crime in the absence of conduct that “includes a voluntary act or the omission to perform an act of which he is physically capable.
§ Act is defined as a bodily movement whether voluntary or involuntary.

Doesn’t define voluntary but tells you what is not voluntary § 2.01(2)

Reflex or convulsion
A bodily movement during unconsciousness of sleep
Conduct during hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion.
A bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual.

§1.13(4) – failure to act = no bodily movement.
§2.01(3) – Duty to act must be imposed by law.
Must be the proximate cause of death