Select Page

Criminal Law
Wayne State University Law School
Morrison, Adele M.

Criminal Law Outline
1.)     General Deterrence – making an example of them so others don’t follow
2.)     Specific Deterrence – will obey the law because of the punishment
3.)     Rehabilitation – acquisition of attitudes, values, habits and skills by which an enlightened criminal comes to value himself as a member of society in which he can function productively and lawfully
4.)     Incapacitation – taking criminals from the streets and confining them (at the very least he is removed from society where he is disabled form committing further crimes)
5.)     Retribution – punishment fits the crime
a.       Assaultive (eye for an eye)
b.       Protective
c.        Victim vindication

Presumption of Innocence and Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Prosecution bears the burden of proof
Standard of proof – level of certainty the fact-finder must reach (beyond a reasonable doubt)
Burden of production – prosecution’s initial job to produce evidence in support of a claim
Persuasion – ultimate responsibility of proving the offense was committed or showing the case is there through evidence
Prima facie (case-in-chief defense) – create some reasonable doubt about some element of the crime
Such a doubt that would cause a reasonable person to hesitate or pause
Affirmative defense – defendant admits guilt as to the charged offense, but claims he or she nevertheless should be acquitted of that offense either because she was justified in acting the way she did or because she should be excused
Directed Verdict – defense asks for judge, after prosecution’s case, to dismiss the case for lack of evidence
Standards of Review:
Defendant may move for a “directed verdict” of acquittal, motion to dismiss, because there is not enough evidence
Appeal to decide whether the prosecution has introduced sufficient evidence such that a rational jury could decide that prosecution has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt

Ÿ Jury nullification – the act of returning a verdict contrary to the law
Ÿ If the jury acquits the defendant even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt, the judge is not permitted to punish the jury nor can the judge overturn the jury’s not guilty verdict
Ÿ If a jury acquits the defendant, the verdict is final (cannot overrule or appeal)
Ÿ However, if a jury convicts a person guilty in wake of overwhelming evidence, the case can go to appellate court
Ÿ Jury has a power to nullify (it is not a right)


14th Amendment – Void for Vagueness Doctrine
Due Process Clause – imposes upon legislatures the duty to draft statutes that are clearly understandable
Provides fair notice to citizens of what conduct is prohibited
Limits police discretion to arrest and jury discretion to imprison people they don’t like
Void for vagueness – it fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute
It encourages arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions
Statute is so vague that ordinary people must guess at its meaning
Vagueness may invalidate a criminal law because:
It may fail to provide that kind of notice that will enable ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits
It may authorize or even encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement

8th Amendment – Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Principle of Proportionality
Punishments that are out of proportion to the crime violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause
Does the punishment fit the crime? à punishment should be proportioned to the offense
Punishment is justified under one or more of the three principle rationales: rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution
Capital punishment must “be limited to those offenders who commit ‘a narrow category of the most serious crimes’ and whose extreme culpability makes them ‘the most deserving of execution’”
Problem is it is difficult to identify standards that would guide the decisionmaker so the penalty is reserved for the most severe cases and yet not imposed in an arbitrary way
Capital punishment is excessive when it is grossly out of proportion to the crime or it does not fulfill the two distinct social purposes served by the death penalty:
Reflects society’s and the victim’s interests in seeing that the offender is repaid for the hurt he caused
Does the punishment balance the wrong done to the victim?
Also there is a problem of unreliable, induced, and even imagined testimony which can lead to a special risk of wrongful execution
Children are highly susceptible to suggestive questioning techniques like repetition, guided imagery, and selective reinforcement
May be subject to fabrication or exaggeration
Deterrence of capital crimes
If the death penalty adds to the risk of non-reporting it diminishes the penalty’s objectives
In rape cases, one of the most commonly cited reasons for nondisclosure is fear of negative consequences for the perpetrator
In addition, by making the punishment for child rape and murder equivalent, a state that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim (gives victim less protection as she is often the sole witness to the crime)
California’s “Three Strikes” Law
Goal is to deter and incapacitate repeat offenders who threaten the public safety
Law was designed to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses
Individuals who have repeatedl

lled by the actor
A human being and not simply an organ of the human being, causes the bodily action
Habitual acts are generally considered volitional even if the actor is unaware of what she is doing as she is doing it
Convulsion, seizure, movement during sleep

Acting vs. Failing to Act
Failure to act is usually not actionable – only if the defendant has a legal duty to act and was physically capable of acting
The omission must also cause the social harm
Courts have recognized 5 situations which individuals have the legal duty to act
1.)     Special relationship
o    Husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants
2.)     Contract which requires him either explicitly or implicitly to act in a particular way
o    i.e. a contractual duty to provide care to an elderly individual
3.)     Statutory duty to act
o    Duty to pay federal taxes found in the Internal Revenue Code
4.)     Creates the risk of harm
o    Omission to perform the duty must be the immediate and direct cause of death
5.)     Voluntarily assumes care
·         Good Samaritan Law – imposing a statutory duty to rescue or at least call for help when one knows that another individual is in need of assistance (moral obligation to help)
o    States that make it criminal not to offer aid also safeguard the person offering the aid through general liability protections
o    Person is not expected to render aid that would endanger oneself or cause a person to neglect a duty to others
·         “No Duty to Rescue” Rule – unless the situation involves withholding evidence of a crime or helping to cover one up, it is not illegal, in most states, to witness a crime or accident and then fail to step in to prevent it or fail to report it to authorities
·         Status crimes – a state law which imprisons a person thus afflicted as a criminal, even though he has never touched a narcotic drug within the State or been guilty of any irregular behavior there, inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 14th Amendment (re: Cal. Statute making it criminal offense to be addicted to the use of narcotics)
o    Can only punish acts, not status
o    Use of drugs can be punished, but to punish someone for being an addict is a status issue (like a common cold)