Select Page

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.

Possession is an act if you know you possess it.
The state had to show dominion and control of the narcotics.
To prove the act, must prove constructive possession
–ownership and occupancy
–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 sta

buse case

Issue in this case is civil negligence vs. criminal negligence.
A higher standard than criminal negligence should be applied when a crime is punishable as a felony.
Civil negligence is too broad and criminalizes conduct that is morally contemptible.
The is an objective standard for negligenceand a subjective standard for recklessness.

Strict Liability and Lack of Criminal Intent as a Defense

Commonwealth v. Olshefski (truck weight case)

No mental state written into the statute…strict liability…not mental state needed to violate.
Strict liability is used regulate behavior, not for moral purposes.
Courts feel strict liability must be balances against personal liberty of defendant and public benefit.

2 types of crimes:
·         Common law crimes (mala in see)—“bad in themselves”
—mental element
–physical element.
·         Crimes by statute (mala prohibita)
a)      commission of the crime in violation of the statute.
b)      No mental element necessary when legislature has the power to punish an act as a crime.