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Criminal Law
West Virginia University School of Law
Ashdown, Gerald G.

CRIMINAL LAW

Professor Ashdown
Fall 2005

I. Overview of Criminal Procedure [pg. 2-15]

– All crimes have several basic common elements:
1. A voluntary act (actus reus)
2. a culpable intent (mens rea)
3. “Concurrence” between the mens rea and the Actus reus
4. Causation of the harm

II. Essential Concepts of Criminality [pg. 16-159]

a. The Prohibited Conduct – “Actus Reus”
– Significance: the Δ must have committed a voluntary act.
– Common Situation:
1. Δ had not committed physical acts, but has ‘guilty’ thoughts, words, states of possession or status
2. Δ does an involuntary act
3. Δ has an omission, or failure to act.
– Thoughts, words, possession and status: Mere thoughts are never punishable as crimes.
1. Possession as criminal act: However, mere possession of an object may sometimes constitute any crime; however, it must be a conscious possession, or knowledge of possession.
– The Act must be Voluntary: an act cannot satisfy the actus reus requirement unless it is voluntary.
1. A reflex of convulsion does not give rise to criminal liability.
2. Unconsciousness: An act performed during an unconscious state is not criminally punishable, unless Δ knew of past experiences of unconsciousness, e.g. seizures.
3. Hypnosis: Courts are split over Hypnosis; the MPC treats Hypnosis as being involuntary.
4. Self-induced state: In all cases involving allegedly involuntary acts, Δ’s earlier voluntary act may deprive Δ of the ‘involuntary defense.’ e.g. cult member is guilty.
– Omissions: The actus reus requirement means that in most situations, there is no criminal liability for an omission to act; this is distinguished from an affirmative act. e.g. a person is not required to save someone in peril.
1. Existence of a legal duty: There are special situations where the courts deem Δ to have a special legal duty to act. This is when Δ’s omission may be punished under a statute.
a. Special relationship: Where the Δ and Victim (ν) have a special relationship, i.e. blood relationship, Δ wi

.’ There are also a few crimes defined so as to require no mens rea at all, the so called ‘strict liability’ crimes.
– General vs. Specific Intent: Court traditionally classify the mens rea requirements into three groups (1) General Intent; (2) Specific intent; and (3) recklessness or negligence. (Strict Liability crimes form a fourth category, as to which there is no culpable mental state required at all.)
1. General Intent: A crime requiring merely general intent is a crime for which it must merely be shown that Δ desired to commit the act which served as the actus reus.
a. Battery is usually a general intent crime.
Specific Intent: Where a crime requires ‘specific intent’ or ‘special intent,’ this means that Δ, in addition to desiring to bring about the actus reus, must have desired to do something further.