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


Statutory Interpretation

US v Foster

In the back of Mr. Fosters truck police found a loaded pistol and drugs. Law was on the books that ‘carry a gun’ with drugs = bad crime.
2 interpratations of ‘carry a gun’
you are transporting it
you are ‘packing heat’
The court accepted the ‘packing heat’ interpratation.

How did the court determine the meaning of the work ‘carry’?
caselaw- found competing definitions
looked at blacks law dictionary – many competing definitions. Defined as broad and narrow definition of carry.
Looked at different words in the same statute for context. ‘use’ = active employment. To use a gun = active employment of it. This discresited the broad view of carry that = any transportation. If you use the broad version, the word ‘use’ becomes irrelavent, because if you use a gun you must have transported it. Congress d/n put unnecessary words in statutes, so we must assume that the word ‘use’ was there to further define the term carry to = the narrow version of the word carry.
Purpose of Statute: Was to stop people from killing the police – you need to pack heat to endanger the police – you d/n risk shooting them by simply transporting the weapon.
Looked to the broader statute – If congress sought to prevent the drug dealers transport of the gun, they would have used the word ‘transport’ – a word that they used in similar statutes to protect against the transportation of a gun. They would have used the word transport if that’s what they intended to prevent.
Looked to rule of lenity where you defendant should get the benefit of the doubt if It is a tie.
Looked at legislative history of the bill. The sponsor of the bill and the changes to the bill in committee – there was none.



a reflex or convulsion
a bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep
conduct under hypnosis
a bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual.

(3) Omission ¹ liability Unless:  

the omission is expressly made sufficient by the law defining the offense OR
a duty to perform the omitted act is otherwise imposed by law.

(4) Posession is an act, within the meaning of this section if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate his possession. 

CL: There are times when omission is not cool:

When a statute imposes a requirement to act
status relationship to the victim – legally recognized relationships (spouse, teacher, employer).
contractual duty to care
voluntary assume care and stop others from helping
when defendant creates risk to the victim – if you hit someone with a car and injure someone and don’t call for help.

On appeal, the court held that he cannot be charged with murder. The key finding is that the life support was necessary to keep him alive. Death in CA = brain death…he was not brain dead. He could be murdered, but there was no point to continuing his treatment. Pulling food and the hydration = an omission to feed and hydrate him further. It is not an act because he is not taking anything away from him, he is simply omitting giving him more food in the future. 

This finding is crucial because if it was an act to pull the tubes, it would be a voluntary act that lead to death and would be murder. But the court held that it is an omission, and if its an omission, no Liability.


People v Conley
Kids are partying and there is a fight. Conley is charged with aggrevated battery. Statute claims that the actus reus = bodily harm. Mens rea = intentionally and knowingly.
In Illinois intentionally = purposely; knowingly = if I hit you with the bottle it is practically sure that it will result in bodily harm.

Defendant either wanted to = injury or was aware that bodily harm was a probable result.

You can infer his intent from his actions. Look at the circumstances and the actions

Model Penal Code
4 types of Mens Rea

Knowingly 2.02 7- high probability of the existance
Recklessly-consciously disreguard a substantial risk
Negligently- it must involve a gross deviation from the standard of care. (criminal negligence). Standard of care is higher here than in a tort.

General Intent: Mental state required (necessary to do the) for the actus reus

Specific Intent: Mental state required by the general intent AND mental state beyond that required to do the actus reus.

State v Nations

A 16 year old girl was dancing for $ on stage. She was under age, the police came and questioned her age. Girl claimed she presented an ID that she was of legal age. Bar was charged with child endangerment.  

The actus reus is to encourage a child to participate ina certain kind of conduct.

Mens Rea = knowingy. Court held that you must know that the kid is under 17 and
Have them do something that is prohibited (strip for cash).
You must encourage the act AND know that she is under 16 = SPECIFIC INTENT

You must be aware of the attendant circumstance- A fact that statute requires to be true for liability (she must be under 17 is the attendant circumstance. 
Result- a fact that becomes true because of the actus reus.  
The attendant circumstance must be true at the time of the actur reus. Facts that have to be true to be liable. 

Common Law Terms

Intentionally – same as purposefully and knowingly

When the statute does not say the mens rea (specific intent), the MPC provides that MPC 2.02 (3) the purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly provisions apply. Ie You must be at least reckless. Common law says the same thing.


Garnett was a retarded and was introduced to a 13 year old friend and knocked her up. 

The actus reus of 2nd degree rape = engage in sex w/ another person under 14 and over 4 years younger than him

Attendant circumstances = she =under 14, and he=4 or more years older than the …. They are met

Mens rea – not contained in the satute, so under the MPC we would have to require that he knew at least recklessly that she was under 14. reckless is the default liability under the MPC. MPC = an exception, does not apply to offenses that are violation. (as opposed to a crime). Viiolation = less than a crime. You don’t need a mens rea here. 2

Majority claims that there is no mens rea required (strict liability) You are liable even if you are not negligent….youre simply screwed if you commit the actus reus.

He does not have to have the mental state to understand the attendant circumstances.

The court looked to the legislative history and deduced that there was no mens rea requirement. Legislative intent was always the strict liability. They rejected the need for a mens rea here. Also the purpose of the law was to prevent the exploitation of children. Consent is no defense. 

State v Nations

A 16 year old girl was

use he was a guard at a federal prison (his excuse). Law exempts prison guards. Murrero was not exempt because he was a federal prison guards. The exemption only applied to state guards. 

Lost his case- his mistake was not a defense. 

The exceptions to the rule:

Reliance on and official statement of law. 
when your conduct is based on an official person who has the authority to express the law. 
mistake negates the mens rea or the law provides that you have to know the law as part of the mens rea. ONLY IF THE STATUTE REQUIRESW LEGAL KNOWLEDGE.
People must be informed of the law (it must be published)
Due process- LA had an odinance that convicted felons must register with the police. She was arrested and charged with a felony for not registering. Court told that there was no notice. The law in Lambert criminalized an omission – not registering. Its not enough that its an omission. She didn’t do something that was otherwise legal. It criminalized an omission that she had no idea she had to do.   The person would not expect to find a duty = UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

MPC 2.04(3)-(4) P. 993



You must be a but for or substantial factor

MPC 2.03 (p. 992)


LaFave and Scott Case Footnote 6, p.203***

There are other tests that you must apply in addition to the lafave scott test:

intended consequences doctrine – defendant gets the result they want even if there is an intervening act. Trump card for the prosecution
Apparent safety – victim reaches the point of apparent safety and then gets harmed by an intervening act, then there is no liability. Trump card for the defense.
Free, deliberate, and informed human intervention: the intervening act is an act of free will…………Trump for the defendant….ex. I do a bad a ct then another comes along and freely causes the harm, then I am not liable


Intentional (purp and know)                           Unintentional(reck or neg)

1st Degree          Intent and Premed and Delib

2nd Degree          Intentinal                                                                   Reckless as to high
risk of death

Manslaughter     (voluntary) intent and provocation                           Reckless or neg(cl)
Heat of passion, no time to cool (comm. Law)         reckless (mpc)
MPC= different (extreme emot. Disturb.)                        (involuntary)

Neg. Homocide                                                                                    negligent (mpc)