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

Basic Principles of the Criminal Law

·         Introduction
o   Concerns the legal limits on how people identified as possible or actual criminals may be treated by law enforcement personnel, by prosecuting attorneys, by the judiciary, and by the prison systems
o   Substantive criminal law
§ How do various jurisdictions define their criminal offenses?
§ What are the basic elements common to every crime in the Anglo-American tradition?
§ What does the prosecution have to prove in order for the fact-finder to find a person guilty?
§ What are the elements of particular crimes, like murder, rape or burglary?
§ What distinguishes first degree from second degree murder?
§ An important public law course
§ Public law governs actions between the state and the individual and private law governs the relationship between two individuals
§ Grounding the study of criminal law as public law
§ Criminal law is an important public law
·         Doctrines intertwined with constitution
·         Is statutory law – raises issues of statutory interpretation and relationship between legislature, court, and people
·         Is largely expressive and symbolic – seeks to reflect American cultural norms
o   Is a mirror in which to examine the values of moral issues such
§ We are learning what the law is, how it got that way, where its going, and its impact
·         difference between criminal law and criminal procedure
o   criminal procedure – the interaction of how things are implemented.
o   Substantive criminal law – grounding forces of the law – the doctrine of the law

o   Is inextricably intertwined with issues of morality
o   Often taught as a branch of moral philosophy
o   Reflects popular morality but law is also partly autonomous from morality
o   Both the study of what is and what ought to be
·         The aims of criminal law
o   The method of criminal law
§ The method operates by means of a series of directions, or commands, formulated in general terms, telling people what they must or must not do
§ Commands are taken as valid and binding upon all those who fall within their terms when the time comes for complying with them
§ The commands are subject to one or more sanctions for disobedience which the community is prepared to enforce
·         1st 3 characteristics of method of criminal law
o   series of commands what you must or must not do
o   the commands are binding – enforceable and must comply with them – citizens in jurisdiction must comply – valid and binding even if your not aware of the law or specifically said (written down)
§ if there is not a particular statute written down, they are still valid – they speak for the community – the jurisdiction themselves
o   there are sanctions for non-compliance – disobey and you are going to get in trouble – and the community is prepared to enforce them
·         Aren’t these a part of civil law as well
o   If disobey there is still a sanction
o   Whats the difference
§ In criminal there is condemnation by the community
§ Branded as a criminal
§ Morel condemnation that accompanies this criminal conduct
o   But there is a moral condemnation by the community in civil suits too – large sanctions
o   Difference in accountability – civil suit you pay back to a party but in prison you pay a debt to society
o   State/community has made a determination of what is sanctionable and has determined that we are going to enforce this – maintains social contract and order –
§ In civil law, the defendant is to repay the individual, not the community
o   State benefits in criminal – individual benefits in civil
·         What if the law isn’t just?
o   Community can re-elect representatives to change the law
o   Referendums – legislative way of rewriting the law
o   Jury nullification – when jurors feel something is completely unjust and they feel isn’t right with society and choose to acquit.
·         Who makes up the community determination on the sanction?
o   Is a particular behavior that we want to suppress so who write the sanction and how?
o   This is what the law is and this is how it got that way but should it be there?
§ This is what we are thinking about

·         Sources of criminal law
o   There are certain basic principles of crim law which are sufficiently common to most jurisdictions to enable generalizations about the basic elements of most crimes and the basic elements of most defenses
o   Some jurisdictions under CL
o   Others have updated and reformed their criminal codes influenced by the MPC
·         MPC 1.02 p.985
o   Is there a note of moral condemnation in MPC?
o   There really is no sort of morality behind it
o   Come to a sort of agreement but moral condemnation is less evident
o   So disagreements between MPC and the states that have not adopted it
·         There is no nationwide criminal code
o   All the penal laws in every jurisdiction are subject to the constitution
o   Reading and interpretation of each jurisdictions penal code are subject to the judges – common law jurisdiction
·         Common Law v Model Penal Code
o   Common law – judges play more important role
§ Judge made law
§ Interpret the meaning of the law and create new rules based on it by creating case law – construction of the law through the common law
o   MPC – statutes are more important
§ Importance placed on the specific language of the statute
§ Legislative law
o   Balance of power between judges and leg

  giving the defendant what he deserves

·         People v Suitte
o   NY State Supreme court
o   Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon in the 4th degree
o   Sentence was 30 days imprisonment and 3 years probation
o   Sentence has been stayed pending this appeal
o   Guilty plea was a bargained one
o   Jail sentence is the focus of the appeal
o   Principle idea of statute is general deterrence
o   Judgment affirmed – trial courts have discretion to apply proper punishment within the statute and this sentence served for the policy of general deterrence to all first time offenders
o   Dissenting opinion by Justice O’Conner
§ Demands a reduction to probation
§ Incarceration is not the best deterrent
·         Purpose for punishment
o   Utilitarianism
§ Action that provides the best good for society is morally right
§ Best good for best amount of people – that which provides the total good
§ It’s the result of the action that’s morally right or wrong
§ Point of punishment is for larger good
§ Look forward to a desired outcome that will service the greater good
§ Taking away liberties of one will create a greater good – safety for society
o   Retributivism
§ Punishment should be calibrated to the crime
§ Actions themselves are morally good or bad
§ Its not the result but the act – inherently bad within itself
§ Looks back to find out what the action is and find a punishment for the action

·         Haven or Hell? Inside Lorton..
o   The citizen urges that punishment serve as incapacitation, retribution, general deterrence, specific deterrence, and rehabilitation
§ Incapacitation –
·         rendering harmless to society a person otherwise inclined to crime
§ Retribution –
·         the intentional infliction of pain and suffering on a criminal to the extent he deserves it because he has willingly committed a crime
§ General deterrence –
·         the pressure that the example of one criminal’s pain and suffering exerts on potential criminals to forgo their contemplated crimes
§ Specific deterrence –
·         the pressure that unpleasant memories of incarceration exert on a release convict, which cause him to obey the law