Select Page

Criminal Law
West Virginia University School of Law
Rizer, Arthur

 
Criminal Law Outline – Fall of  2013
Professor Rizer

General Knowledge:

1.      Criminal law is the proper concern of all lawyers
a.      Prosecutors: protecting the community from danger
b.      Defense: Liberty’s last champion
2.      The lawyer is the most powerful person in the court room…they bring the charges or defenses that they judge must either follow or dismiss

State v. Hinkle (voluntary act): Page 15
·        Defendant didn’t meet the definition of insanity
o   Defendant was unconscious when he hit the victim…unconsciousness removed the voluntary act component of the crime
·        RULE: Unconsciousness removes the voluntary act requirement rather than negating the mental component of crimes (as in insanity)…and once raised, the burden of proof is on the State to prove that the act was voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt

·        General Rule:  A person is not ordinarily guilty unless his conduct includes a voluntary act
o   Common Law: An act is “willed” if bodily movement was controlled by the mind of the actor.
o   Constitutional Law: The Supreme Court has never expressly held that punishment of an involuntary actor is unconstitutional…however, it has invalidated statutes that criminalize a “status” or “condition” such as drunkenness
o   Examples: Reflexive actions such as spasms, epileptic seizures, and bodily movements while the actor is unconscious or asleep.

·        Rationale:
o   Utilitarian: A person who acts involuntarily cannot be deterred. Therefore, it is useless to punish the involuntary actor. It results in pain without the benefit of crime reduction.
o   Retribution: A person does not deserve to be punished unless she choose to put her bad thoughts into action.

State v. Fox (the act of possession): Page 21
·        Joint possession is possible
·        intent to distribute: amount in possession was far too large for personal use….trier of fact allowed to infer intent to distribute
·        Issue(s): Was there a sufficient connection between the defendants and the drugs to prove constructive possession?

·        Rules: Conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute requires two elements: (1) that defendant knowingly and intentionally possessed a controlled substance and (2) defendant intended to distribute the substance to another
-State v. Carlson: actual possession is not required…conviction may also be based on constructive possession which exists: “where the contraband is subject to defendant’s dominion and control”
– Among the circumstances must be facts, which permit the inference that the accused intended to use the drugs as his or her own.

·        Clive Fox: mere knowledge is not the equivalent of constructive possession….Clive appears to simply be a bystander based upon the evidence…no evidence to suggest that he grew or participated in the distribution…only evidence is that he sometimes occupied the premises…constructive possession also required:
o   Incriminating statements
o   Presence of drugs in a specific area over which accused had control
o   Drug paraphernalia among the accused’s personal effects

State v. Miranda (Inaction): Page 26
·        Issue(s):  Does a person who is not the biological parent of a child, but who establishes a familial relationship with a woman and her infant child have a legal duty to protect the child from abuse and would a breach of that duty expose the person to criminal liability pursuant to General Statutes 53a -59a?

Defendant had established a family-like relationship with the mother and children…and that he considered himself the victim’s stepfather….he had a common law duty to protect the victim from her mother’s abuse….convicted of failure to act


·        Rules: The failure to act may constitute a breach of legal duty:
o   (1) where one stands in a certain relationship to another
o   (2) where a statute imposes a duty
o   (3) where one has assumed a contractual duty
o   (4) where one voluntarily has assumed the care of another
·        Bad Samaritan Laws: By statute, you have a duty to act if you can help and you won’t be harmed yourself…
·        Application/Analysis: It is appropriate to recognize an affirmative duty to act and to impose criminal liability for the failure to act pursuant to that duty…
·         
Likely will be a “very high” question on the final



Chapter 2A: The Essential Concepts of Criminality

I. ACTUS REUS: OVERVIEW
A. Definition
The “actus reus” of an offense is the physical, or external, component of a crime what society does not want to occur.

B. Two Elements (Voluntary act and social harm)
The actus reus of a crime consists of two components, both of which must be proved by the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt.

1. Voluntary Act or Legal Omission
Generally speaking, there can be no crime in the absence of conduct. But, only a certain type of conduct qualifies, namely, conduct that includes a voluntary act. In rare circumstances, a person may be prosecuted because of what he or she did not do—an absence of conduct. An “omission” substitutes for a voluntary act when the defendant has a legal duty to act.

2. Social Harm
People are not punished for conduct (or omissions), but rather for
conduct (or omissions) that result in “social harm.”

Rizer Actus Reus PP Slide:
Basics
•         All criminal offenses contain one or more act requirements, that will be typically set out in a statute.
•         Thought Crimes

ho fails to act.

C. Exceptions to the General Rule –Notwithstanding the general rule, a person has a legal duty to act in limited circumstances, if he is physically capable of doing so.

1.      Crimes of Omission: Statutory Duty – Some sta–utes expressly require a person to perform specified acts. Failure to perform those acts, by definition, constitutes an offense. Such an offense may be characterized as a “crime of omission.”

2. Crimes of Commission –The crim–al law sometimes permits prosecution for a crime of commission (an offense that, by definition, appears to require proof of conduct, rather than an omission), although the basis of the prosecution is an
omission. Thus, we have a case of what might be characterized as commission-by-omission. SEE ABOVE

a. Duty by Status – A person–has a common law duty to protect another with whom he has a special status relationship, typically, one based on dependency or interdependency, such as parent-to-child, spouse-to-spouse, and master-to-servant.

b. Duty by Contract — A perso–may have an express contract to come to the aid of another, or such a contract may be implied-in-law.

c. Duty by Voluntary Assumption – One who –oluntarily assumes the care of another must continue to assist if a subsequent omission would place the victim in a worse position than if the good samaritan XXXamaritanssumed care at all.

d. Duty by Risk Creation — One who–reates a risk of harm to another must thereafter act to prevent ensuing harm.

IV. SOCIAL HARM
A. Definition
“Social harm” may be defined as the destruction of, injury to, or endangerment of, some socially valuable interest.

B. Identifying the Social Harm
You can determine the “social harm” of an offense by looking at the definition of the crime and identifying the elements of it that describe the external conduct that constitutes the crime.

C. Breaking Down the Social Harm Into Categories
It is sometimes essential for a lawyer (especially in jurisdictions that follow the Model Penal Code) to be able to look at the definition of a crime, more specifically the actus reus portion, and divide up the “social harm” elements into one or more of the following three categories.