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

Criminal Law Outline—Ashdown

Why do we have criminal sanctions?

Retribution, punishment, revenge
Deterrence, prevention (Probability of getting caught *gravity of crime>benefit, then you have deterrence).
Incapacity (capitol punishment is an example)

Chapter 2—Essential Concepts of Criminality

Prohibited Conduct—Actus Reus

Voluntary Act

A criminal act has 2 components 1)Act, 2)Mental state
Definition of actàThe acts act is one that is voluntary. This excludes reflexive, unconscious, or otherwise involuntary acts.
MPC § 1.13(2) act means a bodily movement whether voluntary or involuntary, exceptions defendant under duress.
Reasons for the requirement of the ACT: a person’s thoughts are not proof of intent without outward actions

State v. Hinkle—car operated by defendant crossed center line and crashed into another car, killing the passenger of the other car.

One with the undiagnosed brain disorder who suffers unconsciousness once is not responsible for their actions during the episode (however, if they suffered them previously, they can be held responsible)
Difference b/w insanity of defense and unconsciousness is burden of proof: Insanity—defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence. Unconsciousness—state must disprove; if one is unconscious he cannot commit an act voluntarily.
If you are insane, you go to the mental hospital and if you are unconscious you are acquitted.

The act of possession

State v. Fox (Marajuana case)àbrothers growing marijuana with intent to distribute.

–a presence
–incriminating statements of behavior.


A crime when the person not acting has a duty to act and when the person in need of assistance cannot help themselves.

State v. Miranda

There are four widely recognized situations in which the failure to act my constitute breach of legal duty:

Where one stands in a certain relationship to another
Where one has assumed a contractual duty.
When a statute imposes a duty to help another.
Where one voluntarily has assumed the care of another.
In addition of parents other that have established familial relationships creating a duty to protect children (i.e. live-in boyfriend)

Failure to act can be criminal (action can be overt or covert.

You are not liable to act based on morality.

Mental State—“Mens Rea”

Specific and General Intent

Mental state necessary for criminal conviction.
You cannot attempt to do something unless you intend to do it.

General v. Specific Intent

General Intent—

Intent to do the act that you knew or should have known would cause harm.

Specific Intent—

Intent to cause the harm (usually refers to a specific state of mind necessary to establish an element of the offense)

State v. Trinkle (shot through door of bar)

Attempted murder is a specific intent crime.

State v. Rocker (nude sunbathing case)