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Criminal Law
Wayne State University Law School
Cook, Blanche Bong

Criminal Law – Professor Cook

Winter 2016

Chapter 1: Basic Principles of the Criminal Law

The Four Basic Elements of a Crime

Actus Reus (bad act)

A willed voluntary act, not an epileptic seizure.

Mens Rea (mental state)
Concurrence (the bad act and mental state must be present at the same time and the D’s guilty mind must have compelled his voluntary act)

Theories of Punishment

Deterrence – Deter people from committing the offense
Rehabilitation – Reintegration of a criminal into society
Incapacitation – Remove from society to prevent criminal activity
Retribution – Proportionate punishment

Jury Nullification

Occurs in a trial when a jury acquits a defendant, even though the members of the jury believe the defendant to be guilty of the charges.
This may occur when members of the jury disagree with the law the defendant has been charged with breaking, or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case

Chapter 3: The Actus Reus Requirement

The Voluntary Act Requirement

In general, a person cannot be convicted of a crime unless he or she commits a voluntary act that cases social harm. A volitional act is a movement of the body willed by the actor.
Voluntary Act or omission + social harm = actus reus of crime

State v. Decina – Man had seizure while driving and kills four young girls walking home from school.

Rule – One acts recklessly when driving a motor vehicle with knowledge of susceptibility of seizures.
Held – People need the required mental state to commit a voluntary act. Here, Decina was unconscious and therefore did not voluntarily commit the act.

Martin v. State – Actus Reus, (Non) Voluntary Acts – D was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct on a public highway. However, cops took the D onto the public highway and P did not voluntarily appear.

Rule – One must voluntarily act to satisfy actus reus
Held – The defendant did not appear voluntarily, he was involuntarily and forcefully carried to the place he did the criminal act.

Duty to Act

Ordinarily there is no punishment for failure to act. However at duty to act arises in these situations:

Special relationship between the defendant and victim. – Husband/wife, parent/child
Duty required by statute – Paying taxes
Contractual requirement to act – Caring for Elderly
Creation of a risk of harm to another. D creates the risk. D injured the person, thus, responsible for care for injury
When the defendant who does not have a duty to act, voluntarily assumes care of a person in need of help, if you stop after you voluntarily acted then you may have made the situation worse.

People v. Beardsley – D and mistress were drinking inside his home. Mistress began taking morphine and the D tried to stop her by throwing the box out of her hand and crushing the pills. D was too drunk to care for her.

Rule – D did not have a duty to act here; no duty can be created from a moral obligation.
Held – D had no duty to care for Burns.

Commonwealth v. Howard – Child died from physical abuse by mother’s boyfriend.

Rule – Mother’s failure to protect the child was a direct cause of child’s death and that such failure was reckless or grossly negligent under the circumstance.
Held – Guilty. Mother is aware of what is happening and created risk by allowing her boyfriend near her child.

Commonwealth v. Pestinkas – Δs agreed orally to care for Kly in their home. They moved him to a porch of a building with no running refrigerator, sink, bathroom, telephone or insulation. Dead for 39 hours before found.

Rule – To be found guilty of crime: actus reus + mens rea + causation
Held – Appellants had a contractual responsibility for providing care for Kly would impose on them a legal duty to act to preserve Kly’s life. They maliciously withheld food and medicine and thereby caused Kly’s death = murder

Chapter 4: The Mens Rea Requirement

Mental state of the actor at the time he committed the actus reus.

Person acts with requisite mens rea if he committed actus rea with a morally blameworthy state of mind.
With the particularly wrongful state of mind set out in the definition of the offense.

Types of Intent:

Specific: The conscious (deliberate) purpose to commit an illegal act and/or knowledge that conduct will cause a particular harm or knowledge of a attendant circumstance (ex. use, possess, transports)

3 Types of Specific intent Crimes:

A crime that requires intention to commit some act over and beyond the actus reus of the offense.
The crime by definition requires proof of some special motive
If the crime requires by definition knowledge of some factual circumstance.

General: A blameworthy state of mind in which the person intends to engage in the act of the offense, but not necessarily to obtain a particular result (mental element not specific in nature, the only issue is whether D intended to do prescribed act)

Malice: intent to commit the act or extreme recklessness in engaging in the conduct that constitutes the offense/ causes the harm- when obvious risk of harm would occur (Ex. 2nd degree murder)

MPC §2.02 Types of Intent

A person is not guilty of the offense unless he acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently with the respect to each material element of the offense
Kinds of culpability

Purposely (Specific intent)- if element involves nature of his conduct or results thereof, it’s his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result

He is aware of existence of attendant circumstances (if any exist) or believes or hopes they exist.

Knowingly (Specific intent)- if element involves results of his conduct, he’s aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result and knows AC exist. He is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause result. (Ex. Bomb on plane killed A but knowingly killed B)

Recklessly (General intent)- consciously disregards substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. Risk must be of such a nature and degree that considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct and circumstances known to him, its disregard includes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct a law abiding person would observe in the actors situation.
Negligently (General intent)- Should be aware of substantial and unjustifiable risk, and failure to perceive risk involves gross deviation from standard of care that reasonable person wou

ted of murder when she did not intend to kill the person actually killed. In a typical transferred intent case, the D has intent to kill A, shoots at A, but misses and instead shoots and kills B.
Held – Defendant shot at one person with an intent to kill, missed him and killed a bystander, the may be held accountable for a crime of the same seriousness as the one they would have committed if they hit their intended target.

People v. Atkins – D was intoxicated and trying to burn weed, fire blows over to jug of gasoline and burns neighbor’s house. Defendant wants specific intent so that he can argue voluntary intoxication!! Issue – Whether evidence of voluntary intoxication is admissible for specific intent or general intent is required?

Specific v. General Intent Rule – Specific intent = Defendant’s intent to do a further act or some additional consequence. General intent = Whether the D intended to do the proscribed act, without reference to do anything else,
Case Rule – In general, voluntary intoxication is not a defense. However, voluntary intoxication is admissible if one is charged with a specific intent crime, to negate the specific intent required for commission of the crime.
Held – The intent requirement for arson fits within the definition of general intent, the description of the proscribed act fails to refer to intent to do a further act or achieve a future consequence.
Model Penal Code does not distinguish general and specific intent à MPC focus on purposely, knowing, recklessly, and negligently.

Strict Liability

Mens rea is not required for strict liability. Ex. Statutory rape.
Factors the court might consider to say a crime is a strict liability crime that requires no mens rea.

No mens rea specified in statute
Health, safety and welfare
Risk of Injury
D’s in a position to prevent harm
Light penalties
Little stigma
Newly created Crime.

Morissete v. US – Man collected bomb casings. US govt sued for stealing government property. Morrisette thought it was abandoned. Think: Trial Court – Intent to take the property v. Intent to steal the property. Appellate Court: If D took government property, without intended to do so, he would be liable.

Held – SC Court says the D must have intended to steal the casings in order for it to be an offense.

Commonwealth v. Barone – Barone stopped at stop signed and then proceeding through intersection. Motorist sped through, she hit him and he died.

Rule – Any person who unintentionally causes death while driving is guilty of homicide by vehicle – Ct. ignored this rule! Held – She acted reasonably and prudently, she cannot be held strictly liable.