Criminal Law

Criminal Law

[Author removed at request of original publisher]

University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015. This edition adapted from a work originally produced in 2010 by a publisher who has requested that it not receive attribution.

Minneapolis, MN

Criminal Law

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Publishers

Publisher Information

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M Libraries Publishing logoCriminal Law is adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2012 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative.

This adaptation has reformatted the original text, and replaced some images and figures to make the resulting whole more shareable. This adaptation has not significantly altered or updated the original 2012 text. This work is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

About the Author

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Criminal Law is adapted from a work produced by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative. Though the publisher has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, this adapted edition reproduces all original text and sections of the book, except for publisher and author name attribution.

Unnamed Author received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of California at Davis in 1985 and her juris doctorate degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco in 1990. Unnamed Author has taught at the community college, four-year, and graduate levels since 1992. Currently, she is a tenured faculty member in Administration of Justice at Hartnell College, a California community college. She is also an attorney and licensed member of the California State Bar. Unnamed Author teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedures, Criminal Evidence, Constitutional Law, and Legal Environment of Business.

Throughout her teaching career, Unnamed Author has embraced innovation, which led her to develop the only online Degree and Certificate program at Hartnell College, as well as the only accelerated (three-semester) online degree program in Administration of Justice. Her dedication to students helped her win both campus-wide and external awards, including the Ercia Harden Teaching Excellence Award in 2006. Unnamed Author continues to pursue her commitment to student success and hopes to inspire many more students to pursue a career in law, criminal justice, or paralegal.

Acknowledgments

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The author would like to thank the following colleagues who reviewed the text and provided valuable insight for improvement:

Also, thank you to Vanessa Gennarelli for your guidance, to Denise Powell for your patience, and to Michael Boezi for inspiring the confidence and encouragement to complete this project.

Dedication

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I would like to dedicate Criminal Law to my family, both immediate (Scott, Melissa, Tara, and Trent) and extended. Thank you for your unwavering support.

Preface

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Welcome to Criminal Law, your guide to a fascinating yet challenging topic. This engaging and interactive textbook will enhance your ability to be successful in academics or a career in criminal justice.

Content

Criminal Law begins with the foundations of law and the legal system and then extensively explores criminal laws and defenses using general state principles, federal law, the Constitution, and the Model Penal Code as guidelines. Although it is neither possible nor desirable to discuss every criminal law, this textbook provides a basic yet thorough overview of the American criminal justice system. After completing Criminal Law, you will be familiar with the nature and sources of law, the court system, the adversarial process, the most prominent crimes, and accompanying criminal defenses.

Approach

Criminal Law uses a two-step process to augment learning, called the applied approach. First, after building a strong foundation from scratch, Criminal Law introduces you to crimes and defenses that have been broken down into separate components. It is so much easier to memorize and comprehend the subject matter when it is simplified this way. However, becoming proficient in the law takes more than just memorization. You must be trained to take the laws you have studied and apply them to various fact patterns. Most students are expected to do this automatically, but application must be seen, experienced, and practiced before it comes naturally. Thus the second step of the applied approach is reviewing examples of the application of law to facts after dissecting and analyzing each legal concept. Some of the examples come from cases, and some are purely fictional. All the examples are memorable, even quirky, so they will stick in your mind and be available when you need them the most (like during an exam). After a few chapters, you will notice that you no longer obsess over an explanation that doesn’t completely make sense the first time you read it—you will just skip to the example. The examples clarify the principles for you, lightening the workload significantly.

Features

Let’s face it, legal textbooks can be dry. This is unfortunate because law, especially criminal law, is an intrinsically compelling topic. To hold your attention and keep you alert, Criminal Law employs a variety of instructional techniques that should engage you from start to finish.

First, chapters contain embedded videos, ethical scenarios, charts, diagrams, and tables to demonstrate the legal concepts and examples provided. These enhancements break up the text and also appeal to various learning styles.

In addition, instead of wasting valuable textbook space by reprinting edited cases, Criminal Law links to cases online. You can read more cases that way, and cases are like examples—they demonstrate the application of law to facts. Also, you can read the entire case exactly the way the judge wrote it, instead of an edited version that has been shrunk to fit into a limited amount of pages.

Have you ever tried to check your answers to review questions in a textbook, only to find that the correct answers are nowhere in sight? Criminal Law gives you the answer to every question at the end of each chapter. Go ahead and check the answers first. Contrary to popular belief, this actually improves—and does not detract from—learning.

In addition, Criminal Law includes hundreds of footnotes that link to online cases and statutes; supplementary links to articles, websites, and statistics online; and plenty of reference material for a term paper or other research project. In short, Criminal Law should contain everything you need to successfully complete your course. It is also a valuable guide to which you can refer throughout your criminal justice career.

Goals

Although academic success is important, I wrote Criminal Law to increase your awareness as you read the newspaper (or read the news online), watch television, or discuss legal situations with friends and colleagues. Law is an integral part of life, yet most people lack the most fundamental understanding of legal concepts. My sincere hope is that once you have finished reading Criminal Law, you will become your own most trusted legal authority.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Criminal Law

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Boulder City Dodge Charger police car

Elementary notions of fairness enshrined in our constitutional jurisprudence dictate that a person receive fair notice not only of the conduct that will subject him to punishment but also of the severity of the penalty that a State may impose.

   —BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, cited in Section 1 “Damages”

1.1 Introduction

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Learning Objective

  1. Define a crime.

This textbook introduces you to our legal system in the United States, the basic elements of a crime, the specific elements of commonly encountered crimes, and most criminal defenses. Criminal law always involves the government and government action, so you will also review the pertinent sections of the United States Constitution and its principles as they apply to criminal law. By the end of the book, you will be comfortable with the legal framework that governs the careers of criminal justice professionals.

Definition of a Crime

Let’s begin at the beginning by defining a crime. The most basic definition of a crime is “an act committed in violation of a law prohibiting it, or omitted in violation of a law ordering it” (Yourdictionary.com, 2010). You learn about criminal act and omission to act in Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime”. For now, it is important to understand that criminal act, omission to act, and criminal intent are elements or parts of every crime. Illegality is also an element of every crime. Generally, the government must enact a criminal law specifying a crime and its elements before it can punish an individual for criminal behavior. Criminal laws are the primary focus of this book. As you slowly start to build your knowledge and understanding of criminal law, you will notice some unique characteristics of the United States’ legal system.

Laws differ significantly from state to state. Throughout the United States, each state and the federal government criminalize different behaviors. Although this plethora of laws makes American legal studies more complicated for teachers and students, the size, cultural makeup, and geographic variety of our country demand this type of legal system.

Laws in a democratic society, unlike laws of nature, are created by people and are founded in religious, cultural, and historical value systems. People from varying backgrounds live in different regions of this country. Thus you will see that different people enact distinct laws that best suit their needs. This book is intended for use in all states. However, the bulk of any criminal law overview is an examination of different crimes and their elements. To be accurate and representative, this book focuses on general principles that many states follow and provides frequent references to specific state laws for illustrative purposes. Always check the most current version of your state’s law because it may vary from the law presented in this book.

Laws are not static. As society changes, so do the laws that govern behavior. Evolving value systems naturally lead to new laws and regulations supporting modern beliefs. Although a certain stability is essential to the enforcement of rules, occasionally the rules must change.

Try to maintain an open mind when reviewing the different and often contradictory laws set forth in this book. Law is not exact, like science or math. Also try to become comfortable with the gray area, rather than viewing situations as black or white.

Key Takeaway

  • A crime is an act committed in violation of a law prohibiting it or omitted in violation of a law ordering it. In general, the criminal law must be enacted before the crime is committed.

Exercise

Answer the following question. Check your answer using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Read Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243 (2006). Did the US Supreme Court preserve Oregon’s right to legalize physician-assisted suicide? The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/04-623.ZS.html.

References

Yourdictionary.com, “Definition of Crime,” accessed August 15, 2010, http://www.yourdictionary.com/crime.

1.2 Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure

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Learning Objective

  1. Compare criminal law and criminal procedure.

This book focuses on criminal law, but it occasionally touches on issues of criminal procedure, so it is important to differentiate between the two.

Criminal law generally defines the rights and obligations of individuals in society. Some common issues in criminal law are the elements of specific crimes and the elements of various criminal defenses. Criminal procedure generally concerns the enforcement of individuals’ rights during the criminal process. Examples of procedural issues are individuals’ rights during law enforcement investigation, arrest, filing of charges, trial, and appeal.

Example of Criminal Law Issues

Clara and Linda go on a shopping spree. Linda insists that they browse an expensive department store. Moments after they enter the lingerie department, Linda surreptitiously places a bra in her purse. Clara watches, horrified, but does not say anything, even though a security guard is standing nearby. This example illustrates two issues of criminal law: (1) Which crime did Linda commit when she shoplifted the bra? (2) Did Clara commit a crime when she failed to alert the security guard to Linda’s shoplifting? You learn the answer to issue (1) in Chapter 11 “Crimes against Property” and issue (2) in Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime” and Chapter 7 “Parties to Crime”.

Example of Criminal Procedure Issues

Review the example in Section 1.2.1 “Example of Criminal Law Issues”. Assume that Linda and Clara attempt to leave the store and an alarm is activated. Linda begins sprinting down the street. Colin, a police officer, just happens to be driving by with the window of his patrol car open. He hears the store alarm, sees Linda running, and begins shooting at Linda from the car. Linda is shot in the leg and collapses. Linda is treated at the hospital for her injury, and when she is released, Colin arrests her and transports her to the police station. He brings her to an isolated room and leaves her there alone. Twelve hours later, he reenters the room and begins questioning Linda. Linda immediately requests an attorney. Colin ignores this request and continues to question Linda about the reason the department store alarm went off. Whether Colin properly arrested and interrogated Linda are criminal procedure issues beyond the scope of this book. However, this example does illustrate one criminal law issue: did Colin commit a crime when he shot Linda in the leg? You learn the answer to this question in Chapter 5 “Criminal Defenses, Part 1”.

Figure 1.1 Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure

image

Key Takeaway

  • Criminal law generally defines the rights and obligations of individuals in society. Criminal procedure generally concerns the enforcement of individuals’ rights during the criminal process.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Paul, a law enforcement officer, arrests Barney for creating a disturbance at a subway station. While Barney is handcuffed facedown on the ground, Paul shoots and kills him. Paul claims that he accidentally grabbed his gun instead of his Taser. Is this an issue of criminal law or criminal procedure?
  2. Read Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980). In Payton, the US Supreme Court held a New York statute unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. Did the Payton ruling focus on criminal law or criminal procedure? The case is available at this link: http://supreme.justia.com/us/445/573.

1.3 The Difference between Civil and Criminal Law

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Learning Objectives

  1. Compare civil and criminal law.
  2. Ascertain the primary differences between civil litigation and a criminal prosecution.

Law can be classified in a variety of ways. One of the most general classifications divides law into civil and criminal. A basic definition of civil law is “the body of law having to do with the private rights of individuals” (Yourdictionary.com, 2010). As this definition indicates, civil law is between individuals, not the government. Criminal law involves regulations enacted and enforced by government action, while civil law provides a remedy for individuals who need to enforce private rights against other individuals. Some examples of civil law are family law, wills and trusts, and contract law. If individuals need to resolve a civil dispute, this is called civil litigation, or a civil lawsuit. When the type of civil litigation involves an injury, the injury action is called a tort.

Characteristics of Civil Litigation

It is important to distinguish between civil litigation and criminal prosecution. Civil and criminal cases share the same courts, but they have very different goals, purposes, and results. Sometimes, one set of facts gives way to a civil lawsuit and a criminal prosecution. This does not violate double jeopardy and is actually quite common.

Parties in Civil Litigation

In civil litigation, an injured party sues to receive a court-ordered remedy, such as money, property, or some sort of performance. Anyone who is injured—an individual, corporation, or other business entity—can sue civilly. In a civil litigation matter, the injured party that is suing is called the plaintiff. A plaintiff must hire and pay for an attorney or represent himself or herself. Hiring an attorney is one of the many costs of litigation and should be carefully contemplated before jumping into a lawsuit.

The alleged wrongdoer and the person or entity being sued are called the defendant. While the term plaintiff is always associated with civil litigation, the wrongdoer is called a defendant in both civil litigation and a criminal prosecution, so this can be confusing. The defendant can be any person or thing that has caused harm, including an individual, corporation, or other business entity. A defendant in a civil litigation matter must hire and pay for an attorney even if that defendant did nothing wrong. The right to a free attorney does not apply in civil litigation, so a defendant who cannot afford an attorney must represent himself or herself.

Goal of Civil Litigation

The goal of civil litigation is to compensate the plaintiff for any injuries and to put the plaintiff back in the position that person held before the injury occurred. This goal produces interesting results. It occasionally creates liability or an obligation to pay when there is no fault on behalf of the defendant. The goal is to make the plaintiff whole, not to punish, so fault is not really an issue. If the defendant has the resources to pay, sometimes the law requires the defendant to pay so that society does not bear the cost of the plaintiff’s injury.

A defendant may be liable without fault in two situations. First, the law that the defendant violated may not require fault. Usually, this is referred to as strict liability. Strict liability torts do not require fault because they do not include an intent component. Strict liability and other intent issues are discussed in detail in Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime”. Another situation where the defendant may be liable without fault is if the defendant did not actually commit any act but is associated with the acting defendant through a special relationship. The policy of holding a separate entity or individual liable for the defendant’s action is called vicarious liability. An example of vicarious liability is employer-employee liability, also referred to as respondeat superior. If an employee injures a plaintiff while on the job, the employer may be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, whether or not the employer is at fault. Clearly, between the employer and the employee, the employer generally has the better ability to pay.

Example of Respondeat Superior

Chris begins the first day at his new job as a cashier at a local McDonald’s restaurant. Chris attempts to multitask and pour hot coffee while simultaneously handing out change. He loses his grip on the coffee pot and spills steaming-hot coffee on his customer Geoff’s hand. In this case, Geoff can sue McDonald’s and Chris if he sustains injuries. McDonald’s is not technically at fault, but it may be liable for Geoff’s injuries under a theory of respondeat superior.

Harm Requirement

The goal of civil litigation is to compensate the plaintiff for injuries, so the plaintiff must be a bona fide victim that can prove harm. If there is no evidence of harm, the plaintiff has no basis for the civil litigation matter. An example would be when a defendant rear-ends a plaintiff in an automobile accident without causing damage to the vehicle (property damage) or physical injury. Even if the defendant is at fault for the automobile accident, the plaintiff cannot sue because the plaintiff does not need compensation for any injuries or losses.

Damages

Often the plaintiff sues the defendant for money rather than a different, performance-oriented remedy. In a civil litigation matter, any money the court awards to the plaintiff is called damages. Several kinds of damages may be appropriate. The plaintiff can sue for compensatory damages, which compensate for injuries, costs, which repay the lawsuit expenses, and in some cases, punitive damages. Punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are not designed to compensate the plaintiff but instead focus on punishing the defendant for causing the injury (BMW of North America, Inc., 1996).

Characteristics of a Criminal Prosecution

A criminal prosecution takes place after a defendant violates a federal or state criminal statute, or in some jurisdictions, after a defendant commits a common-law crime. Statutes and common-law crimes are discussed in Section 1.6 “Sources of Law”.

Parties in a Criminal Prosecution

The government institutes the criminal prosecution, rather than an individual plaintiff. If the defendant commits a federal crime, the United States of America pursues the criminal prosecution. If the defendant commits a state crime, the state government, often called the People of the State pursues the criminal prosecution. As in a civil lawsuit, the alleged wrongdoer is called the defendant and can be an individual, corporation, or other business entity.

The attorney who represents the government controls the criminal prosecution. In a federal criminal prosecution, this is the United States Attorney (United States Department of Justice, 2010). In a state criminal prosecution, this is generally a state prosecutor or a district attorney (Galaxy.com, 2010). A state prosecutor works for the state but is typically an elected official who represents the county where the defendant allegedly committed the crime.

Applicability of the Constitution in a Criminal Prosecution

The defendant in a criminal prosecution can be represented by a private attorney or a free attorney paid for by the state or federal government if he or she is unable to afford attorney’s fees and facing incarceration (Alabama v. Shelton, 2001). Attorneys provided by the government are called public defenders (18 U.S.C., 2010). This is a significant difference from a civil litigation matter, where both the plaintiff and the defendant must hire and pay for their own private attorneys. The court appoints a free attorney to represent the defendant in a criminal prosecution because the Constitution is in effect in any criminal proceeding. The Constitution provides for the assistance of counsel in the Sixth Amendment, so every criminal defendant facing incarceration has the right to legal representation, regardless of wealth.

The presence of the Constitution at every phase of a criminal prosecution changes the proceedings significantly from the civil lawsuit. The criminal defendant receives many constitutional protections, including the right to remain silent, the right to due process of law, the freedom from double jeopardy, and the right to a jury trial, among others.

Goal of a Criminal Prosecution

Another substantial difference between civil litigation and criminal prosecution is the goal. Recall that the goal of civil litigation is to compensate the plaintiff for injuries. In contrast, the goal of a criminal prosecution is to punish the defendant.

One consequence of the goal of punishment in a criminal prosecution is that fault is almost always an element in any criminal proceeding. This is unlike civil litigation, where the ability to pay is a priority consideration. Clearly, it is unfair to punish a defendant who did nothing wrong. This makes criminal law justice oriented and very satisfying for most students.

Injury and a victim are not necessary components of a criminal prosecution because punishment is the objective, and there is no plaintiff. Thus behavior can be criminal even if it is essentially harmless. Society does not condone or pardon conduct simply because it fails to produce a tangible loss.

Examples of Victimless and Harmless Crimes

Steven is angry because his friend Bob broke his skateboard. Steven gets his gun, which has a silencer on it, and puts it in the glove compartment of his car. He then begins driving to Bob’s house. While Steven is driving, he exceeds the speed limit on three different occasions. Steven arrives at Bob’s house and then he hides in the bushes by the mailbox and waits. After an hour, Bob opens the front door and walks to the mailbox. Bob gets his mail, turns around, and begins walking back to the house. Steven shoots at Bob three different times but misses, and the bullets end up landing in the dirt. Bob does not notice the shots because of the silencer.

In this example, Steven has committed several crimes: (1) If Steven does not have a special permit to carry a concealed weapon, putting the gun in his glove compartment is probably a crime in most states. (2) If Steven does not have a special permit to own a silencer for his gun, this is probably a crime in most states. (3) If Steven does not put the gun in a locked container when he transports it, this is probably a crime in most states. (4) Steven committed a crime each time he exceeded the speed limit. (5) Each time Steven shot at Bob and missed, he probably committed the crime of attempted murder or assault with a deadly weapon in most states. Notice that none of the crimes Steven committed caused any discernible harm. However, common sense dictates that Steven should be punished so he does not commit a criminal act in the future that may result in harm.

Table 1.1 Comparison of Criminal Prosecution and Civil Litigation

Feature Criminal Prosecution Civil Litigation
Victim No Yes. This is the plaintiff.
Harm No Yes. This is the basis for damages.
Initiator of lawsuit Federal or state government Plaintiff
Attorney for the initiator US Attorney or state prosecutor Private attorney
Attorney for the defendant Private attorney or public defender Private attorney
Constitutional protections Yes No

Figure 1.2 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Law and Ethics: The O. J. Simpson Case

Two Different Trials—Two Different Results

O. J. Simpson was prosecuted criminally and sued civilly for the murder and wrongful death of victims Ron Goldman and his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. In the criminal prosecution, which came first, the US Constitution provided O. J. Simpson with the right to a fair trial (due process) and the right to remain silent (privilege against self-incrimination). Thus the burden of proof was beyond a reasonable doubt, and O. J. Simpson did not have to testify. O. J. Simpson was acquitted, or found not guilty, in the criminal trial (Linder, D., 2010).

In the subsequent civil lawsuit, the burden of proof was preponderance of evidence, which is 51–49 percent, and O. J. Simpson was forced to testify. O. J. Simpson was found liable in the civil lawsuit. The jury awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages to Fred Goldman (Ron Goldman’s father) and his ex-wife Sharon Rufo. A few days later, the jury awarded punitive damages of $25 million to be shared between Nicole Brown Simpson’s children and Fred Goldman (Jones, T. L., 2010).

  1. Do you think it is ethical to give criminal defendants more legal protection than civil defendants? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think the criminal trial of O. J. Simpson took place before the civil trial? Check your answers to both questions using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

Johnny Cochran Video

Johnny Cochran: If the Gloves Don’t Fit…

This video presents defense attorney Johnny Cochran’s closing argument in the O. J. Simpson criminal prosecution:

Key Takeaways

  • Civil law regulates the private rights of individuals. Criminal law regulates individuals’ conduct to protect the public.
  • Civil litigation is a legal action between individuals to resolve a civil dispute. Criminal prosecution is when the government prosecutes a defendant to punish illegal conduct.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Jerry, a law enforcement officer, pulls Juanita over for speeding. When Jerry begins writing Juanita’s traffic ticket, she starts to berate him and accuse him of racial profiling. Jerry surreptitiously reaches into his pocket and activates a tape recorder. Juanita later calls the highway patrol where Jerry works and files a false complaint against Jerry. Jerry sues Juanita for $500 in small claims court for filing the false report. He uses the tape recording as evidence. Is this a civil litigation matter or a criminal prosecution?
  2. Read Johnson v. Pearce, 148 N.C.App. 199 (2001). In this case, the plaintiff sued the defendant for criminal conversation. Is this a civil litigation matter or a criminal prosecution? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10159013992593966605&q= Johnson+v.+Pearce&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.

References

Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654 (2002), accessed August 16, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-1214.ZO.html.

BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), accessed February 13, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/94-896.ZO.html.

Galaxy.com website, “United States’ Prosecuting Attorneys,” accessed February 15, 2010, http://www.galaxy.com/dir968533/United_States.htm.

Jones, T. L., “Justice for the Dead,” TruTV website, accessed August 18, 2010, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/famous/simpson/dead_16.html.

Linder, D., “The Trial of Orenthal James Simpson,” UMKC website, accessed August 18, 2010, http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/Simpson/Simpsonaccount.htm.

United States Department of Justice, “United States Attorneys,” accessed February 15, 2010, http://www.justice.gov/usao.

Yourdictionary.com, “Definition of Civil Law,” accessed August 16, 2010, http://www.yourdictionary.com/civil-law.

18 U.S.C. § 3006A, accessed February 15, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/3006A.html.

1.4 Classification of Crimes

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Learning Objectives

  1. Ascertain the basis for grading.
  2. Compare malum in se and malum prohibitum crimes.
  3. Compare the punishment options for felonies, misdemeanors, felony-misdemeanors, and infractions.
  4. Compare jail and prison.

Crimes can be classified in many ways. Crimes also can be grouped by subject matter. For example, a crime like assault, battery, or rape tends to injure another person’s body, so it can be classified as a “crime against the person.” If a crime tends to injure a person by depriving him or her of property or by damaging property, it can be classified as a “crime against property.” These classifications are basically for convenience and are not imperative to the study of criminal law.

More important and substantive is the classification of crimes according to the severity of punishment. This is called grading. Crimes are generally graded into four categories: felonies, misdemeanors, felony-misdemeanors, and infractions. Often the criminal intent element affects a crime’s grading. Malum in se crimes, murder, for example, are evil in their nature and are generally graded higher than malum prohibitum crimes, which are regulatory, like a failure to pay income taxes.

Felonies

Felonies are the most serious crimes. They are either supported by a heinous intent, like the intent to kill, or accompanied by an extremely serious result, such as loss of life, grievous injury, or destruction of property. Felonies are serious, so they are graded the highest, and all sentencing options are available. Depending on the jurisdiction and the crime, the sentence could be execution, prison time, a fine, or alternative sentencing such as probation, rehabilitation, and home confinement. Potential consequences of a felony conviction also include the inability to vote, own a weapon, or even participate in certain careers.

Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, either because the intent requirement is of a lower level or because the result is less extreme. Misdemeanors are usually punishable by jail time of one year or less per misdemeanor, a fine, or alternative sentencing like probation, rehabilitation, or community service. Note that incarceration for a misdemeanor is in jail rather than prison. The difference between jail and prison is that cities and counties operate jails, and the state or federal government operates prisons, depending on the crime. The restrictive nature of the confinement also differs between jail and prison. Jails are for defendants who have committed less serious offenses, so they are generally less restrictive than prisons.

Felony-Misdemeanors

Felony-misdemeanors are crimes that the government can prosecute and punish as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the particular circumstances accompanying the offense. The discretion whether to prosecute the crime as a felony or misdemeanor usually belongs to the judge, but in some instances the prosecutor can make the decision.

Infractions

Infractions, which can also be called violations, are the least serious crimes and include minor offenses such as jaywalking and motor vehicle offenses that result in a simple traffic ticket. Infractions are generally punishable by a fine or alternative sentencing such as traffic school.

Figure 1.3 Diagram of Grading

Most Serious
Less Serious
Less Serious
Least Serious

Key Takeaways

  • Grading is based on the severity of punishment.
  • Malum in se crimes are evil in their nature, like murder. Malum prohibitum crimes are regulatory, like a failure to pay income taxes.
  • Felonies are graded the highest. Punishment options for felonies include the following:

    • Execution
    • Prison time
    • Fines
    • Alternative sentencing such as probation, rehabilitation, and home confinement
  • Misdemeanors are graded lower than felonies. Punishment options for misdemeanors include the following:

    • Jail time of one year or less per misdemeanor
    • Fines
    • Alternative sentencing such as probation, rehabilitation, and community service
  • Felony-misdemeanors are punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
  • Infractions, also called violations, are graded lower than misdemeanors and have less severe punishment options:

    • Fines
    • Alternative sentencing, such as traffic school
  • One difference between jail and prison is that cities and counties operate jails, and the state or federal government operates prisons, depending on the crime. The restrictive nature of the confinement is another difference. Jails are for defendants who have committed less serious offenses, so they are generally less restrictive than prisons.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Harrison kills Calista and is prosecuted and sentenced to one year in jail. Did Harrison commit a felony or a misdemeanor?
  2. Read State v. Gillison, 766 N.W. 2d 649 (2009). In Gillison, why did the Iowa Court of Appeals rule that the defendant’s prior convictions were felony convictions? What impact did this ruling have on the defendant’s sentence? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8913791129507413362&q= State+v.+Gillison&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1.

1.5 The Purposes of Punishment

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Learning Objective

  1. Ascertain the effects of specific and general deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.

Punishment has five recognized purposes: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.

Specific and General Deterrence

Deterrence prevents future crime by frightening the defendant or the public. The two types of deterrence are specific and general deterrence. Specific deterrence applies to an individual defendant. When the government punishes an individual defendant, he or she is theoretically less likely to commit another crime because of fear of another similar or worse punishment. General deterrence applies to the public at large. When the public learns of an individual defendant’s punishment, the public is theoretically less likely to commit a crime because of fear of the punishment the defendant experienced. When the public learns, for example, that an individual defendant was severely punished by a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty, this knowledge can inspire a deep fear of criminal prosecution.

Incapacitation

Incapacitation prevents future crime by removing the defendant from society. Examples of incapacitation are incarceration, house arrest, or execution pursuant to the death penalty.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation prevents future crime by altering a defendant’s behavior. Examples of rehabilitation include educational and vocational programs, treatment center placement, and counseling. The court can combine rehabilitation with incarceration or with probation or parole. In some states, for example, nonviolent drug offenders must participate in rehabilitation in combination with probation, rather than submitting to incarceration (Ariz. Rev. Stat., 2010). This lightens the load of jails and prisons while lowering recidivism, which means reoffending.

Retribution

Retribution prevents future crime by removing the desire for personal avengement (in the form of assault, battery, and criminal homicide, for example) against the defendant. When victims or society discover that the defendant has been adequately punished for a crime, they achieve a certain satisfaction that our criminal procedure is working effectively, which enhances faith in law enforcement and our government.

Restitution

Restitution prevents future crime by punishing the defendant financially. Restitution is when the court orders the criminal defendant to pay the victim for any harm and resembles a civil litigation damages award. Restitution can be for physical injuries, loss of property or money, and rarely, emotional distress. It can also be a fine that covers some of the costs of the criminal prosecution and punishment.

Figure 1.4 Different Punishments and Their Purpose

Different Punishments and Their Purpose

Key Takeaways

  • Specific deterrence prevents crime by frightening an individual defendant with punishment. General deterrence prevents crime by frightening the public with the punishment of an individual defendant.
  • Incapacitation prevents crime by removing a defendant from society.
  • Rehabilitation prevents crime by altering a defendant’s behavior.
  • Retribution prevents crime by giving victims or society a feeling of avengement.
  • Restitution prevents crime by punishing the defendant financially.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. What is one difference between criminal victims’ restitution and civil damages?
  2. Read Campbell v. State, 5 S.W.3d 693 (1999). Why did the defendant in this case claim that the restitution award was too high? Did the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agree with the defendant’s claim? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=11316909200521760089&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

Ariz. Rev. Stat. §13-901.01, accessed February 15, 2010, http://law.justia.com/arizona/codes/title13/00901-01.html.

1.6 Sources of Law

6

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the three sources of law.
  2. Rank the three sources of law, from highest to lowest.
  3. Ascertain the purpose of the US and state constitutions.
  4. Ascertain one purpose of statutory law.
  5. Ascertain the purpose of case law.
  6. Define judicial review.
  7. Diagram and explain the components of a case brief.

Law comes from three places, which are referred to as the sources of law.

Constitutional Law

The first source of law is constitutional law. Two constitutions are applicable in every state: the federal or US Constitution, which is in force throughout the United States of America, and the state’s constitution. The US Constitution created our legal system, as is discussed in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States”. States’ constitutions typically focus on issues of local concern.

The purpose of federal and state constitutions is to regulate government action. Private individuals are protected by the Constitution, but they do not have to follow it themselves.

Example of Government and Private Action

Cora stands on a public sidewalk and criticizes President Obama’s health-care plan. Although other individuals may be annoyed by Cora’s words, the government cannot arrest or criminally prosecute Cora for her speech because the First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees each individual the right to speak freely. On the other hand, if Cora walks into a Macy’s department store and criticizes the owner of Macy’s, Macy’s could eject Cora immediately. Macy’s and its personnel are private, not government, and they do not have to abide by the Constitution.

Exceptions to the Constitution

The federal and state constitutions are both written with words that can be subject to more than one interpretation. Thus there are many exceptions to any constitution’s protections. Constitutional protections and exceptions are discussed in detail in Chapter 3 “Constitutional Protections”.

For safety and security reasons, we see more exceptions to constitutional protections in public schools and prisons. For example, public schools and prisons can mandate a certain style of dress for the purpose of ensuring safety. Technically, forcing an individual to dress a specific way could violate the right to self-expression, which the First Amendment guarantees. However, if wearing a uniform can lower gang-related conflicts in school and prevent prisoners from successfully escaping, the government can constitutionally suppress free speech in these locations.

Superiority of the Constitution

Of the three sources of law, constitutional law is considered the highest and should not be supplanted by either of the other two sources of law. Pursuant to principles of federal supremacy, the federal or US Constitution is the most preeminent source of law, and state constitutions cannot supersede it. Federal constitutional protections and federal supremacy are discussed in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States” and Chapter 3 “Constitutional Protections”.

Statutory Law

The second source of law is statutory law. While the Constitution applies to government action, statutes apply to and regulate individual or private action. A statute is a written (and published) law that can be enacted in one of two ways. Most statutes are written and voted into law by the legislative branch of government. This is simply a group of individuals elected for this purpose. The US legislative branch is called Congress, and Congress votes federal statutes into law. Every state has a legislative branch as well, called a state legislature, and a state legislature votes state statutes into law. Often, states codify their criminal statutes into a penal code.

State citizens can also vote state statutes into law. Although a state legislature adopts most state statutes, citizens voting on a ballot can enact some very important statutes. For example, a majority of California’s citizens voted to enact California’s medicinal marijuana law (California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, 2010). California’s three-strikes law was voted into law by both the state legislature and California’s citizens and actually appears in the California Penal Code in two separate places (Brown, B., and Jolivette, G., 2010).

Statutory Law’s Inferiority

Statutory law is inferior to constitutional law, which means that a statute cannot conflict with or attempt to supersede constitutional rights. If a conflict exists between constitutional and statutory law, the courts must resolve the conflict. Courts can invalidate unconstitutional statutes pursuant to their power of judicial review, which is discussed in an upcoming section.

Administrative Laws and Ordinances

Other written and published laws that apply to individuals are administrative laws and ordinances. Administrative laws and ordinances should not supersede or conflict with statutory law.

Administrative laws are enacted by administrative agencies, which are governmental agencies designed to regulate in specific areas. Administrative agencies can be federal or state and contain not only a legislative branch but also an executive (enforcement) branch and judicial (court) branch. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an example of a federal administrative agency. The FDA regulates any food products or drugs produced and marketed in the United States.

Ordinances are similar to statutes, except that cities and counties vote them into law, rather than a state’s legislature or a state’s citizens. Ordinances usually relate to health, safety, or welfare, and violations of them are typically classified as infractions or misdemeanors, rather than felonies. A written law prohibiting jaywalking within a city’s or county’s limits is an example of an ordinance.

Model Penal Code

State criminal laws differ significantly, so in the early 1960s a group of legal scholars, lawyers, and judges who were members of the American Law Institute drafted a set of suggested criminal statutes called the Model Penal Code. The intent of the Model Penal Code was to provide a standardized set of criminal statutes that all states could adopt, thus simplifying the diversity effect of the United States’ legal system. While the Model Penal Code has not been universally adopted, a majority of the states have incorporated portions of it into their penal codes, and the Model Penal Code survives as a guideline and focal point for discussion when state legislatures modify their criminal statutes.

Case Law

The third source of law is case law. When judges rule on the facts of a particular case, they create case law. Federal case law comes from federal courts, and state case law comes from state courts. Case law has its origins in English common law.

English Common Law

In Old England, before the settlement of the United States, case law was the most prevalent source of law. This was in contrast to countries that followed the Roman Law system, which primarily relied on written codes of conduct enacted by legislature. Case law in England was mired in tradition and local customs. Societal principles of law and equity were the guidelines when courts issued their rulings. In an effort to be consistent, English judges made it a policy to follow previous judicial decisions, thereby creating a uniform system of laws throughout the country for the first time. Case law was named common law because it was common to the entire nation (Duhaime, L., 2010).

The English system of jurisprudence made its way to the United States with the original colonists. Initially, the thirteen colonies unanimously adopted common law as the law of the land. All crimes were common-law crimes, and cases determined criminal elements, defenses, and punishment schemes. Gradually, after the Revolutionary War, hostility toward England and modern reform led to the erosion of common-law crimes and a movement toward codification. States began replacing common-law crimes with statutes enacted by state legislatures. Oxford professor Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England, which interpreted and summarized English common law, became an essential reference as the nation began the process of converting common-law principles into written statutes, ordinances, and penal codes (Duhaime, L., 2010).

Limitations on Common-Law Crimes

In modern society, in many states and the federal government (United States v. Hudson & Goodwin, 2010), judges cannot create crimes. This violates notions of fairness. Making up a new crime and punishing the defendant for it does not provide consistency or predictability to our legal system. It also violates the principle of legality, a core concept of American criminal justice embodied in this phrase: “Nullum crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine crimen” (No crime without law, no punishment without crime).

In states that do not allow common-law crimes, statutes must define criminal conduct. If no statute exists to criminalize the defendant’s behavior, the defendant cannot be criminally prosecuted, even if the behavior is abhorrent. As the Model Penal Code states, “[n]o conduct constitutes an offense unless it is a crime or violation under this Code or another statute of this State” (Model Penal Code § 1.05(1)).

The common law still plays an important role in criminal lawmaking, even though most crimes are now embodied in statutes. Classification of crimes as felonies and misdemeanors is a reflection of English common law. Legislatures often create statutes out of former common-law crimes. Judges look to the common law when defining statutory terms, establishing criminal procedure, and creating defenses to crimes. The United States is considered a common-law country. Every state except Louisiana, which is based on the French Civil Code, adopts the common law as the law of the state except where a statute provides otherwise (Legal Definition, 2010).

Example of a Court’s Refusal to Create a Common-Law Crime

Read Keeler v. Superior Court, 470 P.2d 617 (1970). In Keeler, the defendant attacked his pregnant ex-wife, and her baby was thereafter stillborn. The California Supreme Court disallowed a murder charge against Keeler under California Penal Code § 187 because the statute criminalized only the malicious killing of a “human being.” The court reached its decision after examining the common-law definition of human being and determining that the definition did not include a fetus. The court reasoned that it could not create a new crime without violating the due process clause, separation of powers, and California Penal Code § 6, which prohibits the creation of common-law crimes. After the Keeler decision, the California Legislature changed Penal Code § 187 to include a fetus, excepting abortion (Cal. Penal Code, 2010).

Powerful Nature of Case Law

Generally, if there is a statute on an issue, the statute is superior to case law, just as the Constitution is superior to statutory law. However, judges interpret constitutional and statutory law, making case law a powerful source of law. A judge can interpret a constitution in a way that adds or creates exceptions to its protections. A judge can also interpret a statute in a way that makes it unconstitutional and unenforceable. This is called the power of judicial review (Marbury v. Madison, 2010).

Example of Judicial Review

An example of judicial review is set forth in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989). In Johnson, the US Supreme Court ruled that burning a flag is protected self-expression under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Thus the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction under a Texas statute that criminalized the desecration of a venerated object. Note how Johnson not only invalidates a state statute as being inferior to the US Constitution but also changes the US Constitution by adding flag burning to the First Amendment’s protection of speech.

Figure 1.5 Diagram and Hierarchy of the Sources of Law

Diagram and Hierarchy of the Sources of Law

Stare Decisis and Precedent

Cases are diverse, and case law is not really law until the judge rules on the case, so there must be a way to ensure case law’s predictability. It would not be fair to punish someone for conduct that is not yet illegal. Thus judges adhere to a policy called stare decisis. Stare decisis is derived from English common law and compels judges to follow rulings in previous cases. A previous case is called precedent. Once judges have issued a ruling on a particular case, the public can be assured that the resulting precedent will continue to be followed by other judges. Stare decisis is not absolute; judges can deviate from it to update the law to conform to society’s modern expectations.

Rules of Stare Decisis and Use of Precedent

Case precedent is generally an appeal rather than a trial. There is often more than one level of appeal, so some appeals come from higher courts than others. This book discusses the court system, including the appellate courts, in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States”.

Many complex rules govern the use of precedent. Lawyers primarily use precedent in their arguments, rather than statutes or the Constitution, because it is so specific. With proper research, lawyers can usually find precedent that matches or comes very close to matching the facts of any particular case. In the most general sense, judges tend to follow precedent that is newer, from a high court, and from the same court system, either federal or state.

Example of Stare Decisis and Use of Precedent

Geoffrey is a defense attorney for Conrad, who is on trial for first-degree murder. The murder prosecution is taking place in New Mexico. Geoffrey finds case precedent from a New York Court of Appeals, dated 1999, indicating that Conrad should have been prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter, not first-degree murder. Brandon, the prosecuting attorney, finds case precedent from the New Mexico Supreme Court, dated 2008, indicating that a first-degree murder prosecution is appropriate. The trial court will probably follow the precedent submitted by Brandon because it is newer, from a higher court, and from the same court system as the trial.

Case Citation

Cases must be published to become case law. A published case is also called a judicial opinion. This book exposes you to many judicial opinions that you have the option of reading on the Internet. It is essential to understand the meaning of the case citation. The case citation is the series of numbers and letters after the title of the case and it denotes the case’s published location. For example, let’s analyze the case citation for Keeler v. Superior Court, 470 P.2d 617 (1970).

Figure 1.6 Keeler Case Citation

Keeler Case Citation

As you can see from the diagram, the number 470 is the volume number of the book that published the Keeler case. The name of that book is “P.2d” (this is an abbreviation for Pacific Reports, 2d Series). The number 617 is the page number of the Keeler case. The date (1970) is the date the California Supreme Court ruled on the case.

Case Briefing

It is useful to condense judicial opinions into case brief format. The Keeler case brief is shown in Figure 1.7 “Keeler Case Brief”.

Figure 1.7 Keeler Case Brief

Keeler Case Brief

Read this case at the following link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=2140632244672927312&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Published judicial opinions are written by judges and can be lengthy. They can also contain more than one case law, depending on the number of issues addressed. Case briefs reduce a judicial opinion to its essentials and can be instrumental in understanding the most important aspects of the case. Standard case brief formats can differ, but one format that attorneys and paralegals commonly use is explained in the following paragraph.

Review the Keeler case brief. The case brief should begin with the title of the case, including the citation. The next component of the case brief should be the procedural facts. The procedural facts should include two pieces of information: who is appealing and which court the case is in. As you can see from the Keeler case brief, Keeler brought an application for a writ of prohibition, and the court is the California Supreme Court. Following the procedural facts are the substantive facts, which should be a short description of the facts that instigated the court trial and appeal. The procedural and substantive facts are followed by the issue. The issue is the question the court is examining, which is usually the grounds for appeal. The case brief should phrase the issue as a question. Cases usually have more than one issue. The case brief can state all the issues or only the issue that is most important. The substantive holding comes after the issue, is actually the case law, and answers the issue question. If more than one issue is presented in the case brief, a substantive holding should address each issue.

Figure 1.8 Example of a Substantive Holding

Example of a Substantive Holding:

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0005_0137_ZS.html.

A procedural holding should follow the substantive holding. The procedural holding discusses what the court did procedurally with the case. This could include reversing the lower court’s ruling, affirming the lower court’s ruling, or adjusting a sentence issued by the lower court. This book discusses court procedure in detail in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States”. Last, but still vital to the case brief, is the rationale. The rationale discusses the reasoning of the judges when ruling on the case. Rationales can set policy, which is not technically case law but can still be used as precedent in certain instances.

One judge writes the judicial opinion. Judges vote how to rule, and not all cases are supported by a unanimous ruling. Occasionally, other judges will want to add to the judicial opinion. If a judge agrees with the judicial opinion, the judge could write a concurring opinion, which explains why the judge agrees. If a judge disagrees with the judicial opinion, the judge could write a dissenting opinion explaining why the judge disagrees. The dissenting opinion will not change the judicial opinion, but it may also be used as precedent in a future case if there are grounds for changing the law.

Key Takeaways

  • The three sources of law are constitutional, statutory, and case law.
  • The sources of law are ranked as follows: first, constitutional; second, statutory; and third, case law. Although it is technically ranked the lowest, judicial review makes case law an extremely powerful source of law.
  • The purpose of the US and state constitutions is to regulate government action.
  • One purpose of statutory law is to regulate individual or private action.
  • The purpose of case law is to supplement the law when there is no statute on point and also to interpret statutes and the constitution(s).
  • The court’s power to invalidate statutes as unconstitutional is called judicial review.
  • The components of a case brief are the following:

    • The title, plus citation. The citation indicates where to find the case.
    • The procedural facts of the case. The procedural facts discuss who is appealing and in which court the case is located.
    • The substantive facts. The substantive facts discuss what happened to instigate the case.
    • The issue. The issue is the question the court is examining.
    • The substantive holding. The substantive holding answers the issue question and is the case law.
    • The procedural holding. The procedural holding discusses what the court did procedurally with the case.
    • The rationale. The rationale is the reason the court held the way it did.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Hal invents a new drug that creates a state of euphoria when ingested. Can Hal be criminally prosecuted for ingesting his new drug?
  2. Read Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223 (2001). Did the US Supreme Court allow prison inmates the First Amendment right to give other inmates legal advice? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9536800826824133166&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). What is the primary reason Justice Scalia dissented to the US Supreme Court’s opinion in Lawrence? The dissenting opinion is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZD.html. The judicial opinion in Lawrence v. Texas is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZS.html.

References

Brown, B., and Jolivette, G., “A Primer: Three Strikes—The Impact after More Than a Decade,” Legislative Analyst’s Office website, accessed February 15, 2010, http://www.lao.ca.gov/2005/3_strikes/3_strikes_102005.htm.

Cal. Penal Code § 187, accessed August 23, 2010, http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/cacode/PEN/3/1/8/1/s187.

California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Cal. Health and Safety Code § 11362.5, accessed February 15, 2010, http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/mmp/Pages/Medical%20Marijuana%20Program.aspx.

Duhaime, L., “Common Law Definition,” Duhaime.org website, accessed September 26, 2010, http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/C/CommonLaw.aspx.

Legal Definition, “Common Law,” Lectlaw.com website, accessed September 26, 2010, http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c070.htm.

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), accessed February 15, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0005_0137_ZS.html.

United States v. Hudson & Goodwin, 11 U.S. 32 (1812), accessed September 24, 2010, http://openjurist.org/11/us/32/the-united-states-v-hudson-and-goodwin.

1.7 End-of-Chapter Material

7

Summary

A crime is action or inaction in violation of a criminal law. Criminal laws vary from state to state and from state to federal.

The study of criminal law defines crimes and defenses to crimes. The study of criminal procedure focuses on the enforcement of rights by individuals while submitting to government investigation, arrest, interrogation, trial, and appeal.

A civil lawsuit or civil litigation matter resolves a dispute between individuals, called a plaintiff (the injured party) and defendant (the alleged wrongdoer). Every civil litigation matter includes a victim (the plaintiff), which has suffered harm. The goal of the civil litigation matter is to compensate the plaintiff for injury. The court can compensate the plaintiff by awarding money, which is called damages. Both parties in a civil litigation matter must represent themselves or hire private attorneys.

A criminal prosecution takes place when the government, represented by a prosecutor, takes legal action against the defendant (the alleged wrongdoer) for committing a crime. Some criminal prosecutions do not include a victim, or harm, because the goal of the criminal prosecution is punishment, not compensation. Every criminal prosecution involves the government, so the US and state constitutions provide the criminal defendant with extra protections not present in a civil lawsuit, such as free counsel when the defendant is indigent and facing incarceration.

Crimes can be classified according to the severity of punishment. The most serious crimes with the entire range of sentencing options available are felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and have less severe sentencing options. Felony-misdemeanors can be prosecuted and punished as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. Infractions, also called violations, are the least serious crimes and generally do not involve incarceration. The purposes of punishing a criminal defendant are both specific and general deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.

Law comes from three sources: the Constitution, a statute, or a case. The Constitution is the highest source of law but is only applicable when there is government action. Statutory law applies to individuals but is inferior to constitutional law. Case law is law made by judges when they rule on the facts of a case. Although case law is technically inferior to statutory law, judges must interpret statutes and the Constitution, so case law can be the most powerful source of law. When a case invalidates a statute as unconstitutional, this action is called judicial review. Case law stays consistent because judges follow previous court decisions, called precedent. This policy, called stare decisis, lends predictability to case law but is not absolute, and courts can deviate from it to update the law.

You Be the Lawyer

Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide whether you would accept or reject the case if you were the lawyer. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. You are an expert in criminal law, not civil litigation. Would you accept or reject this case? Read Cetacean Community v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14748284771413043760&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  2. You are an expert in criminal law, not criminal procedure. Would you accept or reject this case? Read People v. Wrotten, 2010 N.Y. Slip Op 04501 (2010). The case is available at this link: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-first-department/2010/2010-04501.html
  3. You are an expert in constitutional law. Would you accept or reject this case? Read Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603 (1999). The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/98-83.ZS.html.
  4. Reread question 3. Change your expertise to constitutional law as it applies to criminal prosecutions. Would you accept or reject the Wilson case?

Cases of Interest

Websites of Interest

Statistics of Interest

Answer to Exercise

From Section 1.1 “Introduction”

  1. The US Supreme Court held that the attorney general cannot criminalize the use of drugs under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act by enforcing the Controlled Substances Act. The Controlled Substances Act is targeted at preventing recreational drug use, and, therefore, the Court upheld Oregon’s ability to legalize assisted suicide.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 1.2 “Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure”

  1. This is an issue of criminal law. Although Paul is a law enforcement officer, when he shoots Barney while he is facedown in handcuffs, he may be committing a crime. The question in this case is not whether the arrest was executed properly, but whether a crime was committed after the arrest.
  2. Payton reviews a New York statute allowing law enforcement to arrest a defendant in the home without a warrant. This case focuses on law enforcement arrest, so it examines an issue of criminal procedure.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 1.3 “The Difference between Civil and Criminal Law”

  1. This is a civil litigation matter. Although the incident involves Jerry, who is a law enforcement officer, and it takes place while Jerry is writing a traffic ticket, Jerry is suing Juanita for damages. Thus this is civil litigation, not criminal prosecution. If Juanita is prosecuted for the crime of filing a false police report, then this would be a criminal prosecution.
  2. The Johnson case reviews an award of damages and is thus a civil litigation matter. Criminal conversation is the tort of adultery in North Carolina.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 1.4 “Classification of Crimes”

  1. This crime is probably a misdemeanor because Harrison was sentenced to one year in jail, rather than prison. Although the result, Calista’s death, is very serious, the method of killing may have been accidental. Criminal homicide is discussed in Chapter 9 “Criminal Homicide”.
  2. The Iowa Court of Appeals based its ruling on New Jersey law. Although New Jersey named the offenses “high misdemeanors,” New Jersey case law indicates that any offense with a sentence of one year or more incarceration is a common-law felony. This triggered a sentencing enhancement increasing the defendant’s sentence to an indeterminate sentence of incarceration not to exceed fifteen years.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 1.5 “The Purposes of Punishment”

  1. The court awards criminal restitution to the victim after a state or federal prosecutor is successful in a criminal trial. Thus the victim receives the restitution award without paying for a private attorney. A plaintiff that receives damages has to pay a private attorney to win the civil litigation matter.
  2. In Campbell, the defendant entered a plea agreement specifying that he had committed theft in an amount under $100,000. The trial court determined that the defendant had actually stolen $100,000 and awarded restitution of $100,000 to various victims. The defendant claimed that this amount was excessive because it exceeded the parameters of the theft statute he was convicted of violating. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and held that the discretion of how much restitution to award belongs to the judge. As long as the judge properly ascertained this amount based on the facts, restitution could exceed the amount specified in the criminal statute the defendant was convicted of violating.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 1.6 “Sources of Law”

  1. Hal can be prosecuted for ingesting his new drug only if he is in a state that allows for common-law crimes. The drug is new, so the state legislature will probably not have criminalized it by enacting a statute.
  2. The US Supreme Court held that inmates do not have the First Amendment right to give other inmates legal advice. The Court based its ruling on the prison’s interest in ensuring prison order, security, and inmate rehabilitation. The Court stated, “We nonetheless have maintained that the constitutional rights that prisoners possess are more limited in scope than the constitutional rights held by individuals in society at large” (Shaw v. Murphy, 2010).
  3. Justice Scalia criticized the US Supreme Court majority for not adhering to stare decisis. According to Justice Scalia, the Court did not follow a recent (seventeen-year-old) precedent set in Bowers v. Hardwick.

Answers to Law and Ethics Questions

  1. The reason criminal defendants get special protections not extended to civil litigation defendants is the harshness of the punishment and the inequality of the criminal prosecution itself. Criminal defendants may lose their life or their liberty. Civil litigation defendants risk only a loss of money. In addition, criminal defendants face the intimidating prospect of fighting the government and all its vast resources. Civil litigation defendants are squaring off against another individual. As a society, we believe that there is nothing as unjust as punishing an innocent person. Thus we give criminal defendants special protections to level the playing field.
  2. The criminal trial took place first because O. J. Simpson was a criminal defendant and therefore had the benefit of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Constitutional protections are discussed in Chapter 3 “Constitutional Protections”.

Answers to You Be the Lawyer

  1. In this case, the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction. The plaintiffs are not the government; they are a group of fish. They are not suing for the goal of punishment, but rather to compel the president of the United States and the secretary of defense to review the use of certain naval equipment. Thus this is a civil litigation matter and you should reject the case.
  2. The Court is reviewing the Sixth Amendment right to confront accusers. In this case, a witness who was too ill to travel was permitted to testify via live, two-way video instead of testifying in the courtroom in front of the defendant. The New York Supreme Court held that under the circumstances, this testimony complied with the Sixth Amendment. This case focuses on the defendant’s constitutional rights during his criminal trial, so this is a criminal procedure issue and you should reject the case.
  3. The US Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment when law enforcement brings media along while executing a search. Thus this is a federal constitutional issue and you should accept the case.
  4. In Wilson, the Court decided that the plaintiff was not entitled to damages when suing law enforcement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus although this case involves the Fourth Amendment, it is essentially a civil litigation matter, and you should reject the case.

References

Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001), accessed October 4, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9536800826824133166&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Chapter 3: Constitutional Protections

III

A US flag on a snowy mountain

Those who wrote our constitutions knew from history and experience that it was necessary to protect against unfounded criminal charges brought to eliminate enemies and against judges too responsive to the voice of higher authority.

   —Duncan v. Louisiana, cited in Section 3.2 “The Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses”

3.1 Applicability of the Constitution

13

Learning Objectives

  1. Distinguish between the two types of constitutional protections.
  2. Compare unconstitutional on its face with unconstitutional as applied.
  3. Distinguish among different standards of judicial review.
  4. Compare bill of attainder with ex post facto laws.
  5. Ascertain the three types of ex post facto laws.

In addition to statutory and common-law defenses, a criminal defendant has extensive protections that are set forth in the United States Constitution. As stated earlier in this book, the federal Constitution is applicable in all criminal cases because the government is prosecuting. State constitutions typically mirror the federal Constitution because it sets the minimum standard of protection that is guaranteed to all citizens. States can and often do provide more constitutional protections to criminal defendants than the federal Constitution, as long as those state protections do not violate notions of federal supremacy. In this chapter, the federal Constitution is analyzed with reference to state constitutional protections when relevant.

Constitutional Protections

Generally, two types of constitutional protections exist. First, a defendant can challenge the constitutionality of a criminal statute or ordinance (from this point forward, the term statute includes ordinances unless otherwise noted). Recall from Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law” that these codified laws cannot conflict with or attempt to supersede the Constitution. An attack on the constitutionality of a statute can be a claim that the statute is unconstitutional on its face, is unconstitutional as applied, or both. A statute is unconstitutional on its face when its wording is unconstitutional. A statute is unconstitutional as applied when its enforcement is unconstitutional. The difference between the two is significant. If a statute is unconstitutional on its face, it is invalid under any circumstances. If the statute is unconstitutional as applied, it is only unconstitutional under certain circumstances.

A second type of constitutional protection is procedural. The defendant can protest an unconstitutional procedure that occurs during prosecution. Procedure during prosecution includes, but is not limited to, arrest, interrogation, search, filing of charges, trial, and appeal. The defendant can make a motion to dismiss the charges, suppress evidence, or declare a mistrial. The defendant can also appeal and seek to reverse a conviction, among other remedies.

This book concentrates on criminal law rather than criminal procedure, so the bulk of this chapter is devoted to unconstitutional criminal statutes, rather than unconstitutional procedures. The exception is the right to a jury trial, which is discussed shortly.

Example of Constitutional Protections

Bill is on trial for obstructing a public sidewalk. Bill was arrested for standing in front of a restaurant’s entrance with a sign stating “will eat any and all leftovers.” The city ordinance Bill violated makes it a misdemeanor to “stand or sit on a public sidewalk with a sign.” To save money, the judge presiding over Bill’s trial declares that Bill will have a bench trial, rather than a jury trial. In this example, Bill can constitutionally attack the city ordinance for violating his freedom of speech because it prohibits holding a sign. The city ordinance appears unconstitutional on its face and as applied to Bill. Bill can also constitutionally attack his bench trial because he has the right to a jury trial. He could do this by making a motion to declare a mistrial, by petitioning an appellate court to halt the trial, or by appeal after a judgment of conviction.

Figure 3.1 Constitutional Protections

Constitutional Protections

Judicial Review

As stated previously in this book, courts review statutes to ensure that they conform to the Constitution pursuant to their power of judicial review. Courts generally use different standards of review when constitutional protections are at stake. Typically, a court balances the government’s interest in regulating certain conduct against an individual’s interest in a constitutionally protected right. This balancing of interests varies depending on the right at stake. If a constitutional right is fundamental, the court uses strict scrutiny to analyze the statute at issue. A statute that violates or inhibits fundamental constitutional protections is presumptively invalid and can be upheld only if it uses the least restrictive means possible. The government also must prove the statute is supported by a compelling government interest. When the challenge is based on discrimination under the equal protection clause, the court may use a lower standard, called the rational basis test. The rational basis test allows a statute to discriminate if the statute is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Most constitutional rights are considered fundamental and trigger the strict scrutiny of the courts.

Example of Strict Scrutiny

Review the example regarding Bill, who was arrested essentially for standing and holding a sign. The US Supreme Court has held that freedom of speech is a fundamental right. Thus a court reviewing the ordinance in Bill’s case will hold the ordinance presumptively invalid, unless the government can demonstrate a compelling interest in enacting it, and that it used the least restrictive means possible. The ordinance is broadly written to include all signs, and preventing individuals from holding signs does not serve a compelling government interest, so this difficult standard will probably result in the court holding the ordinance unconstitutional.

The Legislative Branch’s Prohibited Powers

The legislative branch cannot punish defendants without a trial or enact retroactive criminal statutes pursuant to the Constitution’s prohibition against bill of attainder and ex post facto laws. Article 1, § 9, clause 3 states, in pertinent part, “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” The prohibition on bill of attainder and ex post facto laws is extended to the states in Article 1, § 10, clause 1: “No State shall…pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law.” Many state constitutions also prohibit ex post facto legislative action, mirroring the federal Constitution (Indiana Constitution, 2010).

Bill of Attainder

Bill of attainder is when the legislative branch of government punishes the defendant without a trial. The drafters of the Constitution wanted to ensure that criminal defendants have a full and fair adjudication of their rights before the government imposes punishment. Bill of attainder is usually accomplished by a statute that targets an individual or group of individuals for some type of government sanction. Bill of attainder protection enforces separation of powers by eliminating the ability of the legislature to impose criminal punishment without a trial conducted by the judicial branch (U.S. v. Brown, 2010).

Example of Bill of Attainder

Brianne is a member of the Communist party. Brianne applies for a job as a teacher at her local elementary school and is refused, based on this statute: “Members of any subversive group, including the Communist party, cannot hold public office nor teach for a public institution.” Brianne could attack this statute as a bill of attainder. Its provisions, targeting members of the Communist party or any other subversive group, punish by eliminating career opportunities. The members targeted are punished without a trial or any adjudication of their rights. Thus this statute allows the legislature to impose a sanction without a trial in violation of the Constitution’s prohibited powers.

Ex Post Facto

An ex post facto law punishes an individual retroactively, and severely encroaches on notions of fairness. There are three types of ex post facto laws. First, a law is ex post facto if it punishes behavior that occurred before the law was in effect. Second, ex post facto laws may increase the punishment for the offense after the crime occurred. Third, a law can be ex post facto if it increases the possibility of conviction after the crime occurred.

Example of an Ex Post Facto Law Punishing Behavior Retroactively

A state murder statute defines murder as the killing of a human being, born alive. The state legislature amends this statute to include the killing of a fetus, with the exception of abortion. The amendment extends the application of the statute to all criminal fetus killings that occurred before the statute was changed. This language punishes defendants for behavior that was legal when committed. If the state attempts to include this language, a court can strike the statute for violating the prohibition against ex post facto laws.

Example of an Ex Post Facto Law Increasing Punishment Retroactively

In the preceding example about amending the murder statute, the state also amends the statute to increase the penalty for murder to the death penalty. Before the amendment, the penalty for murder was life in prison without the possibility of parole. The state cannot give the death penalty to defendants who committed murder before the statute was amended. This is considered ex post facto because it increases the punishment for the offense after the crime is committed.

Example of an Ex Post Facto Law Increasing the Possibility of Conviction Retroactively

In the preceding example, the state amends the murder statute to remove the statute of limitations, which is the time limit on prosecution. Before the amendment, the statute of limitations was fifty years. The state cannot prosecute defendants who committed murder more than fifty years ago, pursuant to the amendment. This is considered ex post facto because it increases the chance of conviction after the crime is committed.

Changes That Benefit a Defendant Retroactively

Changes that benefit a criminal defendant are not considered ex post facto and may be applied retroactively. In the preceding example, if the state amended the murder statute to shorten the statute of limitations, this change actually benefits defendants by making it more difficult to convict them. Thus this amendment would be constitutional.

Ex Post Facto Applies Only to Criminal Laws

Ex post facto protection applies only to criminal laws. Laws that raise fees or taxes after payment are civil rather than criminal in nature. Thus these retroactive increases do not exceed governmental authority and are constitutional.

Figure 3.2 The Constitution’s Prohibited Powers

The Constitution's Prohibited Powers

Key Takeaways

  • The Constitution protects individuals from certain statutes and certain governmental procedures.
  • A statute is unconstitutional on its face when its wording is unconstitutional. A statute is unconstitutional as applied when its enforcement is unconstitutional.
  • A court reviews a statute for constitutionality using strict scrutiny if the statute inhibits a fundamental constitutional right. Strict scrutiny means that the statute is presumptively invalid, and the government must prove it is supported by a compelling government interest and uses the least restrictive means. Occasionally, a court reviews a statute for constitutionality under the equal protection clause using the rational basis test, which means that the statute is constitutional if rationally related to a legitimate government interest.
  • A bill of attainder is when the legislative branch punishes a defendant without a trial. Ex post facto laws punish criminal defendants retroactively.
  • Ex post facto laws punish defendants for acts that were not criminal when committed, increase the punishment for a crime retroactively, or increase the chance of criminal conviction retroactively.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. A public university raises tuition in the middle of the semester after students have already paid and sends all registered students a bill for “fees past due.” Does this violate the prohibition on ex post facto laws? Why or why not?
  2. Read Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003). Why did the US Supreme Court hold that Alaska’s Megan’s Law is constitutional? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14879258853492825339&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Stogner v. California, 539 U.S. 607 (2003). Why did the US Supreme Court hold that California’s Sex Offender statute of limitations was unconstitutional? The case is available at this link: http://supreme.justia.com/us/539/607.

References

Indiana Constitution, art. I, § 24, accessed October 4, 2010, http://www.law.indiana.edu/uslawdocs/inconst/art-1.html.

U.S. v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965), accessed October 2, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/381/437/case.html.

3.2 The Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses

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Learning Objectives

  1. Define the Bill of Rights.
  2. Define the principle of selective incorporation.
  3. Distinguish between substantive and procedural due process.
  4. Compare void for vagueness and overbreadth.
  5. Ascertain the purpose of the equal protection clause as it applies to criminal laws.

Although the legislative branch’s prohibited powers are in Article I of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights contains most of the constitutional protections afforded to criminal defendants. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution. In addition, the Fourteenth Amendment, which was added to the Constitution after the Civil War, has a plethora of protections for criminal defendants in the due process and equal protection clauses.

The Bill of Rights was originally written to apply to the federal government. However, US Supreme Court precedent has held that any constitutional amendment that is implicit to due process’s concept of ordered liberty must be incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections and applied to the states (Duncan v. Louisiana, 2010). This doctrine is called selective incorporation, and it includes virtually all the constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights. Thus although the original focus of the Bill of Rights may have been limiting the federal government, modern interpretations of the Constitution ensure that its protections also extend to all levels of state and local government.

The Meaning of Due Process of Law

The due process clause states, “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The due process clause in the Fifth Amendment applies to federal crimes and federal criminal prosecutions. The federal due process clause is mirrored in the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees due process of law in state criminal prosecutions. Most states have a similar provision in their constitutions (Missouri Constitution, 2010).

Substantive due process protects individuals from an unreasonable loss of substantive rights, such as the right to speak freely and the right to privacy. Procedural due process protects individuals from being criminally punished without notice and an opportunity to be heard. Both substantive and procedural due processes ensure that individuals are not denied their life (capital punishment), liberty (incarceration), or property (forfeiture) arbitrarily.

Void for Vagueness

Void for vagueness challenges the wording of a statute under the due process clause. A statute is void for vagueness if it uses words that are indefinite or ambiguous. Statutes that are not precisely drafted do not provide notice to the public of exactly what kind of behavior is criminal. In addition, and more important, they give too much discretion to law enforcement and are unevenly enforced (U.S. v. White, 2010). With a void for vagueness challenge, the statute must be so unclear that “men of common intelligence must guess at its meaning,” (Connally v. General Construction Co., 2010) which is an objective standard.

Example of a Statute That Is Void for Vagueness

A state legislature enacts a statute that criminalizes “inappropriate attire on public beaches.” Larry, a law enforcement officer, arrests Kathy for wearing a two-piece bathing suit at the beach because in his belief, women should wear one-piece bathing suits. Two days later, Burt, another law enforcement officer, arrests Sarah for wearing a one-piece bathing suit at the beach because in his belief, women should not be seen in public in bathing suits. Kathy and Sarah can attack the statute on its face and as applied as void for vagueness. The term “inappropriate” is unclear and can mean different things to different people. Thus it gives too much discretion to law enforcement, is subject to uneven application, and does not give Kathy, Sarah, or the public adequate notice of what behavior is criminal.

Overbreadth

A statute is overbroad if it criminalizes both constitutionally protected and constitutionally unprotected conduct. This challenge is different from void for vagueness, although certain statutes can be attacked on both grounds. An overbroad statute criminalizes too much and needs to be revised to target only conduct that is outside the Constitution’s parameters.

Example of an Overbroad Statute

A state legislature enacts a statute that makes it criminal to photograph “nude individuals who are under the age of eighteen.” This statute is probably overbroad and violates due process. While it prohibits constitutionally unprotected conduct, such as taking obscene photographs of minors, it also criminalizes First Amendment protected conduct, such as photographing a nude baby.

Figure 3.3 The Due Process Clause

The Due Process Clause

The Equal Protection Clause

The Fourteenth Amendment states in relevant part, “nor shall any State…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The equal protection clause applies to the state government. State constitutions generally have a similar provision (California Constitution, 2010). The equal protection clause prevents the state government from enacting criminal laws that discriminate in an unreasonable and unjustified manner. The Fifth Amendment due process clause prohibits the federal government from discrimination if the discrimination is so unjustifiable that it violates due process of law (Bolling v. Sharpe, 2010).

The prohibition on governmental discrimination is not absolute; it depends on the class of persons targeted for special treatment. In general, court scrutiny is heightened according to a sliding scale when the subject of discrimination is an arbitrary classification. Arbitrary means random and often includes characteristics an individual is born with, such as race or national origin. The most arbitrary classifications demand strict scrutiny, which means the criminal statute must be supported by a compelling government interest. Statutes containing classifications that are not arbitrary must have a rational basis and be supported by a legitimate government interest.

Criminal statutes that classify individuals based on their race must be given strict scrutiny because race is an arbitrary classification that cannot be justified. Modern courts do not uphold criminal statutes that classify based on race because there is no government interest in treating citizens of a different race more or less harshly (Loving v. Virginia, 2010).

Criminal statutes that have a rational basis for discrimination and are supported by a legitimate government interest can discriminate, and frequently do. Criminal statutes that punish felons more severely when they have a history of criminal behavior, for example, three-strikes statutes, are supported by the legitimate government interests of specific and general deterrence and incapacitation. Note that the basis of the discrimination, a criminal defendant’s status as a convicted felon, is rational, not arbitrary like race. Thus although these statutes discriminate, they are constitutional pursuant to the equal protection clause.

Figure 3.4 The Equal Protection Clause

The Equal Protection Clause

Key Takeaways

  • The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution and contains many protections for criminal defendants.
  • Selective incorporation applies most of the constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights to the states.
  • Substantive due process protects criminal defendants from unreasonable government intrusion on their substantive constitutional rights. Procedural due process provides criminal defendants with notice and an opportunity to be heard before imposition of a criminal punishment.
  • A statute that is void for vagueness is so imprecisely worded that it gives too much discretion to law enforcement, is unevenly applied, and does not provide notice of what is criminal. A statute that is overbroad includes constitutionally protected conduct and therefore unreasonably encroaches upon individual rights.
  • The equal protection clause prevents the state government from enacting criminal laws that arbitrarily discriminate. The Fifth Amendment due process clause extends this prohibition to the federal government if the discrimination violates due process of law.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. A local ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to dress in “gang attire.” Is this ordinance constitutional? Why or why not?
  2. Read Smith v. Goguen, 415 U.S. 566 (1974). Why did the US Supreme Court strike down the Massachusetts flag misuse statute? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14723025391522670978&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104 (1972). In Grayned, the US Supreme Court analyzed an ordinance prohibiting individuals from willfully making a noise or disturbance on grounds adjacent to a school building that disturbs the peace or good order of the school session. Did the Court hold that this ordinance was constitutional? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://supreme.justia.com/us/408/104/case.html.
  4. Read Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concurring opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). Why did Justice O’Conner feel that Texas’s sodomy law was unconstitutional? The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZC.html.

References

Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954), accessed October 4, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16234924501041992561&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

California Constitution, art. I, § 7, accessed October 4, 2010, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/.const/.article_1.

Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385 (1926), accessed October 3, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/269/385/case.html.

Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968), accessed October 20, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=391&invol=145.

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), accessed October 4, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0388_0001_ZO.html.

Missouri Constitution, art. I, § 10, accessed October 10, 2010, http://www.sos.mo.gov/pubs/missouri_constitution.pdf.

U.S. v. White, 882 F.2d 250 (1989), accessed October 6, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12667022335593752485&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

3.3 Freedom of Speech

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Learning Objectives

  1. Define speech under the First Amendment.
  2. Identify five types of speech that can be governmentally regulated in spite of the First Amendment.
  3. Ascertain the constitutional parameters for statutes that criminalize speech.

The First Amendment states, in relevant part, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” Although this language specifically targets federal Congress, the First Amendment has been held applicable to the states by virtue of selective incorporation (Gitlow v. New York, 2010). Most state constitutions have a similar provision protecting freedom of speech (Illinois Constitution, 2010).

Freedom of speech has been the focus of countless judicial opinions. To summarize US Supreme Court precedent, the word speech has been interpreted to cover virtually any form of expression, including verbal and written words, pictures, photographs, videos, and songs. First Amendment speech also includes expressive conduct such as dressing a certain way (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 2011), flag burning (Texas v. Johnson, 2010), and cross burning (R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 2010).

Exceptions to the First Amendment’s Protection of Free Speech

In general, courts have examined the history of the Constitution and the policy supporting freedom of speech when creating exceptions to its coverage. Modern decisions afford freedom of speech the strictest level of scrutiny; only a compelling government interest can justify an exception, which must use the least restrictive means possible (Sable Communis. of California, Inc. v. FCC, 2010). For the purpose of brevity, this book reviews the constitutional exceptions to free speech in statutes criminalizing fighting words, incitement to riot, hate crimes, and obscenity.

Figure 3.5 The First Amendment

The First Amendment:

Fighting Words

Although the First Amendment protects peaceful speech and assembly, if speech creates a clear and present danger to the public, it can be regulated (Schenck v. U.S., 2010). This includes fighting words, “those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 2010).

Any criminal statute prohibiting fighting words must be narrowly tailored and focus on imminent rather than future harm. Modern US Supreme Court decisions indicate a tendency to favor freedom of speech over the government’s interest in regulating fighting words, and many fighting words statutes have been deemed unconstitutional under the First Amendment or void for vagueness and overbreadth under the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment due process clause (Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 2010).

Example of an Unconstitutional Fighting Words Statute

Georgia enacted the following criminal statute: “Any person who shall, without provocation, use to or of another, and in his presence…opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor” (Ga. Code § 26-6303). The US Supreme Court determined that this statute was overbroad, void for vagueness, and unconstitutional under the First Amendment (Gooding v. Wilson, 2010).

The Court held that the dictionary definitions of “opprobrious” and “abusive” give them greater reach than fighting words. Thus the statute is overbroad and does not restrict its prohibition to imminent harm. Opprobrious and abusive have various meanings, so the statute is also subject to uneven enforcement and is void for vagueness. As the Court stated, this language “licenses the jury to create its own standard in each case” (Gooding v. Wilson, 1972; Herndon v. Lowry, 2010).

Incitement to Riot

Incitement to riot can also be regulated under the clear and present danger exception. Similar to fighting words, an incitement to riot statute must prohibit imminent lawless action (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 2010).Statutes that prohibit simple advocacy with no imminent threat or harm cannot withstand the First Amendment’s heightened scrutiny.

Example of an Unconstitutional Incitement to Riot Statute

Ohio enacted a statute that criminalized “advocat[ing]…the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform” and “voluntarily assembl[ing] with any society, group or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism” (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.13). A Ku Klux Klan leader was convicted under the statute after the media broadcast films of him leading a KKK meeting. The US Supreme Court held, “Accordingly, we are here confronted with a statute which, by its own words and as applied, purports to punish mere advocacy and to forbid, on pain of criminal punishment, assembly with others merely to advocate the described type of action. Such a statute falls within the condemnation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments” (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 2010).

Hate Crimes

Many states and the federal government have enacted hate crimes statutes. When hate crimes statutes criminalize speech, including expressive conduct, a First Amendment analysis is appropriate. When hate crimes statutes enhance a penalty for criminal conduct that is not expressive, the First Amendment is not applicable (Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 2010).

Hate crimes statutes punish conduct that is targeted at specific classifications of people. These classifications are listed in the statute and can include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Hate crimes statutes that criminalize speech can be constitutional under the clear and present danger exception if they are tailored to apply only to speech or expressive conduct that is supported by the intent to intimidate (Virginia v. Black, 2010). This can include speech and expressive conduct such as threats of imminent bodily injury, death, or cross burning. Hate crimes statutes must be narrowly drafted, and cannot be void for vagueness or overbroad.

Hate crimes statutes that criminalize the content of speech, like a prejudicial opinion about a certain race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion are unconstitutional under the First Amendment (R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 2010). Statutes of this nature have been held to have a “chilling effect” on free expression by deterring individuals from expressing unpopular views, which is the essence of free speech protection. Although this type of speech can stir up anger, resentment, and possibly trigger a violent situation, the First Amendment protects content-based speech from governmental regulation without strict scrutiny exposing a compelling government interest.

Example of an Unconstitutional Statute Prohibiting Cross Burning

St. Paul, Minnesota, enacted the Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, which prohibited the display of a symbol that a person knows or has reason to know “arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender” (Ordinance, St. Paul, Minn., Legis. Code § 292.02 (1990)). In R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992), the US Supreme Court held that this ordinance was unconstitutional on its face because regulation was based on the content of speech, with no additional requirement for imminent lawless action. The Court held that the ordinance did not proscribe the use of fighting words (the display of a symbol) toward specific groups of individuals, which would be an equal protection clause challenge. Instead, the Court determined that the statute prohibited the use of specific types of fighting words, for example, words that promote racial hatred, and this is impermissible as viewpoint-based censorship. As the Court stated, “[c]ontent-based regulations are presumptively invalid” (R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 2010).

Example of a Constitutional Statute Prohibiting Cross Burning

Virginia enacted a statute that makes it criminal “for any person…, with the intent of intimidating any person or group…, to burn…a cross on the property of another, a highway or other public place” (Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-423). The US Supreme Court held this statute constitutional under the First Amendment because it did not single out cross burning indicating racial hatred, as the Minnesota cross-burning ordinance did. The Court stated, “Unlike the statute at issue in R. A. V., the Virginia statute does not single out for opprobrium only that speech directed toward ‘one of the specified disfavored topics.’ Id., at 391.” It does not matter whether an individual burns a cross with intent to intimidate because of the victim’s race, gender, or religion, or because of the victim’s “political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality” (Virginia v. Black, 2010).

Obscenity

Another exception to free speech is obscenity. Obscenity is usually conveyed by speech, such as words, pictures, photographs, songs, videos, and live performances. However, obscenity is not protected speech under the First Amendment (Roth v. United States, 2010).

In Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), the US Supreme Court devised a three-part test to ascertain if speech is obscene and subject to government regulation. Generally, speech is obscene if (1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; (2) it depicts sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law in a patently offensive way; and (3) it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (Miller v. California, 2010).

Example of Speech That Is Not Obscene

In Jenkins v. Georgia, 418 U.S. 153 (1974), the US Supreme Court viewed the film Carnal Knowledge to determine whether the defendant could be constitutionally convicted under an obscenity statute for showing it at a local theater. The Court concluded that most of the film’s sexual content was suggestive rather than explicit, and the only direct portrayal of nudity was a woman’s bare midriff. Thus although a jury convicted the defendant after viewing the film, the Court reversed the conviction, stating that the film does not constitute the hard-core pornography that the three-part test for obscenity isolates from the First Amendment’s protection. The Court stated, “Appellant’s showing of the film ‘Carnal Knowledge’ is simply not the ‘public portrayal of hard core sexual conduct for its own sake, and for the ensuing commercial gain’ which we said was punishable in Miller, Id., at 35” (Jenkins v. Georgia, 2010).

Nude Dancing

Statutes that regulate nude dancing have also been attacked under the First Amendment. Although the US Supreme Court has ruled that nude dancing is constitutionally protected expression, it has also upheld reasonable restrictions on nudity, such as requirements that nude dancers wear pasties and a g-string (City of Erie et al v. Pap’s A.M., 2010).

Table 3.1 Statutes Prohibiting Speech under a First Amendment Exception

Conduct Prohibited Potential Constitutional Challenge Necessary Statutory Requirements
Fighting words First Amendment, vague, overbreadth Must proscribe imminent lawless action, be narrowly drafted, precise
Incitement to riot First Amendment, vague, overbreadth Must proscribe imminent lawless action, be narrowly drafted, precise; cannot prohibit simple advocacy
Hate speech First Amendment, vague, overbreadth Must be narrowly drafted, precise; must target speech supported by the intent to intimidate; cannot be content based without a compelling government interest
Obscenity First Amendment, vague, overbreadth Must be narrowly drafted, precise; must target speech that appeals to a prurient interest in sex, depicts sex in a patently offensive way, lacks serious social value
Nude dancing First Amendment, vague, overbreadth Can be reasonably restricted

Law and Ethics

Should Depictions of Animal Cruelty Be Protected by the First Amendment?

Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 48, which criminalizes commercial creation, sale, or possession of a visual or auditory depiction in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if that conduct violates federal or state law where the creation, sale, or possession takes place. In United States v. Stevens, 552 U.S. 442 (2010), the US Supreme Court held that this statute is facially overbroad and violative of the First Amendment. Specifically, the Court held that depictions of animal cruelty are entitled to First Amendment protection, and the statute is presumptively invalid because it is content based. In addition, the Court stated that the government’s interest in censoring this type of material is not compelling enough to outweigh the prohibition on protected speech and that the statute on its face included material that may have redeeming social value. The Court’s opinion is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-769.ZO.html.

  1. Do you think the First Amendment should protect material depicting animal cruelty? Why or why not?
  2. What are some possible consequences of criminalizing this type of speech?

Check your answers to both questions using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

U.S. v. Stevens Video

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Explains the U.S. v. Stevens Case

This video of ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro analyzes the U.S. v. Stevens case:

Key Takeaways

  • Speech under the First Amendment is any form of expression, such as verbal or written words, pictures, videos, and songs. Expressive conduct, such as dressing a certain way, flag burning, and cross burning, is also considered First Amendment speech.
  • Five types of speech that can be governmentally regulated are fighting words, incitement to riot, hate speech, obscenity, and nude dancing.
  • Statutes that prohibit fighting words and incitement to riot must be narrowly drafted to include only speech that incites imminent unlawful action, not future harm or general advocacy. Statutes that prohibit hate speech must be narrowly drafted to include only speech that is supported by the intent to intimidate. Statutes that prohibit obscenity must target speech that appeals to a prurient interest in sex, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and has little or no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Nude dancing can be regulated as long as the regulation is reasonable, such as requiring dancers to wear pasties and a g-string.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. A state statute enhances the penalty for battery if the crime is committed “because of the victim’s race.” To prove race-biased intent, it is frequently necessary to admit evidence of the defendant’s statements indicating racial hatred and intolerance. Does this statute violate the First Amendment’s free speech protection? Why or why not? Read the case on which this question is based, Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 47 (1993). The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-515.ZO.html.
  2. Read Reno v. American Civ. Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997). This case reviews the constitutionality of a federal statute regulating Internet activity to protect minors. Why did the US Supreme Court hold that certain provisions of the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 were unconstitutional? The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=96-511.
  3. Read Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. 2705 (2010). Did the US Supreme Court uphold a federal statute prohibiting aid to terrorist groups? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3116082426854631219&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), accessed October 6, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/395/444/case.html.

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 572 (1942), accessed October 6, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?friend=wisbar&navby=case&court=us&vol=315&invol=568&pageno=574.

City of Erie et al v. Pap’s A.M., 529 U.S. 277 (2000), accessed October 11, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=98-1161.

Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), accessed October 5, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/268/652/case.html.

Gooding v. Wilson, 405 U.S. 518 (1972), accessed October 7, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3138831397470557431&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242, 263 (1937), accessed October 7, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3138831397470557431&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Illinois Constitution, art. I, § 4, accessed October 9, 2010, http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/con1.htm.

Jenkins v. Georgia, 418 U.S. 153, 161 (1974), accessed October 7, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=418&invol=153.

Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130 (1974), accessed October 7, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=415&invol=130.

Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), accessed October 7, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=287180442152313659&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992), accessed October 5, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=505&invol=377.

Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957), accessed October 7, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/354/476/case.html.

Sable Communis. of California, Inc. v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115 (1989), accessed October 5, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/492/115/case.html.

Schenck v. U.S., 249 U.S. 47 (1919), accessed October 5, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/249/47/case.html.

Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), accessed October 5, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=491&invol=397.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), accessed October 8, 2011, http://supreme.justia.com/us/393/503/case.html.

Virginia v. Black, 535 U.S. 343 (2003), accessed October 5, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=01-1107.

Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 47 (1993), accessed October 7, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-515.ZO.html.

3.4 The Right to Privacy

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Learning Objectives

  1. Ascertain the constitutional amendments that support a right to privacy.
  2. Ascertain three constitutionally protected individual interests that are included in the right to privacy.

The federal Constitution does not explicitly protect privacy. However, several of the amendments in the Bill of Rights ensure and protect individual decision making and autonomy from governmental intrusion. Thus modern interpretations of the Constitution by the US Supreme Court have created a right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut, 2010). This right is considered fundamental and subject to strict scrutiny; only a compelling government interest can justify a statute encroaching on its protections. Many states include an explicit right to privacy in their state constitutions (Hawaii Consitution, 2010).

The Constitutional Amendments Protecting Privacy

US Supreme Court precedent has held that the right to privacy comes from the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The First Amendment protects the right to speak freely, assemble peacefully, and worship according to individual choice. The Third Amendment prohibits the government from forcing individuals to quarter, house, or feed soldiers. The Fourth Amendment prevents the government from unreasonably searching or seizing an individual or an individual’s property. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments provide due process of law before the government can deprive an individual of life, liberty, or property. The Ninth Amendment states that rights not explicitly set forth in the Constitution may still exist. Taken together, these amendments indicate that the Constitution was written to erect a barrier between individuals and an overly intrusive and regulatory government. In modern society, this right to privacy guarantees the right to use birth control, the right to an abortion, and the right to participate in consensual sexual relations.

The Right to Use Birth Control

The right to privacy was first established in the US Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965). In Griswold, the defendants, Planned Parenthood employees, were convicted of prescribing birth control as accessories under two Connecticut statutes that criminalized the use of birth control. The Court found the statutes unconstitutional, holding that the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments created a “penumbra” of unenumerated constitutional rights, including zones of privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut, 2010). The Court stated that marital privacy, especially, deserved the utmost protection from governmental intrusion. The Griswold case set the stage for other fundamental privacy rights related to intimacy, including the right to an abortion and the right to consensual sexual relations.

The Right to an Abortion

The right to an abortion was set forth in the seminal US Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). In Roe, which examined a Texas statute criminalizing abortion, the Court held that every woman has the right to a legal abortion through the first trimester of pregnancy. In the aftermath of the Roe decision, more than half of the nation’s state laws criminalizing abortion became unconstitutional and unenforceable. The Court held that state government has a legitimate interest in protecting a pregnant woman and her fetus from harm, which becomes a compelling interest when she has reached full term. However, during the first trimester, health concerns from abortion do not justify the erosion of a woman’s right to make the abortion decision (Roe v. Wade, 2010). The Court thereafter struck down the Texas antiabortion statute as overbroad under the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause. Specifically, the Court held that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the abortion decision must be left to the pregnant woman and her attending physician (Roe v. Wade, 2010). In a recent decision post-Roe, the Court upheld a federal statute criminalizing partial-birth abortion, on the grounds that it was not void for vagueness or overbroad under the Fifth Amendment due process clause (Gonzales v. Carhat, 2010).

The Right to Consensual Sexual Relations

Even in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, courts were reluctant to interfere with states’ interests in enacting and enforcing statutes that criminalized sexual conduct. In Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), the US Supreme Court upheld a Georgia statute that made it a crime to engage in consensual sodomy (Bowers v. Hardwick, 2010). The Court stated that there is no fundamental right to engage in sodomy and that the history of protecting marriage and family relationships should not be extended in this fashion (Bowers v. Hardwick, 2010). Many years later, the Court changed its stance and overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). In Lawrence, a Texas statute criminalizing homosexual sodomy was attacked on its face and as applied to two men who were discovered engaging in sex in their bedroom during a law enforcement search for weapons. The Lawrence decision rested on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that intimate choices are a form of liberty protected by the due process clause, whether or not consenting individuals are married. The Court thereafter struck down the Texas sodomy statute because it was not justified by a sufficient government interest (Lawrence v. Texas, 2010).

Example of a Right to Privacy Analysis

Most states have statutes criminalizing consensual incest, which is sexual intercourse between family members who cannot legally marry. If an individual attacks a consensual incest statute as unconstitutional under the right to privacy, the court will balance the state’s interest in preventing harm to an infant, such as birth defects, with an individual’s interest in having consensual sexual intercourse with a family member, using strict scrutiny. If the court finds that the government interest is compelling, it can uphold the statute as long as it is not vague or overbroad.

Figure 3.6 The Right to Privacy

The Right to Privacy

Key Takeaways

  • The constitutional amendments supporting the right to privacy are the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
  • The right to privacy in the Constitution protects an individual’s right to use contraceptives, to receive an abortion through the first trimester, and to engage in consensual sexual relations.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. A state statute prohibits inmates in state prison from engaging in consensual sodomy. An inmate is prosecuted under the statute. How will a court determine whether this statute is constitutional? Read the statute on which this exercise is based: California Penal Code § 286(e), http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/286.html.
  2. Read Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). In Casey, Pennsylvania modified its abortion statute to include a twenty-four-hour waiting period and informed consent for minors. Did the US Supreme Court uphold the Pennsylvania abortion statute? The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/91-744.ZS.html.

References

Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), accessed October 11, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=478&invol=186.

Gonzales v. Carhart, 127 S. Ct. 1610 (2007), accessed October 11, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7079370668659431881&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), accessed October 9, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=381&invol=479.

Hawaii Constitution, art. I, § 6, accessed October 9, 2010, http://hawaii.gov/lrb/con/conart1.html.

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), accessed October 11, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=02-102.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 162 (1973), accessed October 10, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0410_0113_ZO.html.

3.5 The Right to Bear Arms

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Learning Objective

  1. Ascertain the constitutional parameters of an individual’s right to possess a handgun under the Second Amendment.

Although the federal Constitution specifically references a right to bear arms in the Second Amendment, the US Supreme Court has not interpreted this amendment in a significant fashion until recently. The Second Amendment provides “[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Many state constitutions have a similar provision (Volokh, E., 2010). In 2008, the US Supreme Court explored the Second Amendment and its effect on weapons possession in a case attacking Washington, DC, firearms legislation (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2010).

In District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in striking provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975. The Court struck the portions of this act that banned the possession of handguns and mandated that all legal firearms must be kept unloaded and disassembled while in the home. Although the District Court held that the Second Amendment applies only to the militia, the US Supreme Court emphasized that the Second Amendment is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans. The Court also expanded previous interpretations of the Second Amendment to cover an individual’s right to possess a usable handgun in the home for self-defense. The Heller case is unprecedented and is the first to address individual handgun possession under the Second Amendment. However, the Heller ruling is narrow and specifically excludes firearms restrictions on felons, the mentally ill, firearm possession in or near schools or government buildings, and the commercial sale of firearms. The Heller decision also fails to extend the Second Amendment’s protections to the states because Washington, DC, is a federal enclave.

In McDonald v. Chicago, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (2010), the US Supreme Court revisited the gun possession issue by reviewing and rejecting as unconstitutional a handgun ban in the city of Chicago, Illinois. In McDonald, the Court took the extra step of extending the Heller ruling to the states, holding that the Second Amendment applies to the states via its selective incorporation into the due process clause. However, McDonald did not expand the ruling in Heller in other ways and reemphasized the Heller exceptions of firearms restrictions on felons, the mentally ill, firearm possession in or near schools or government buildings, and the commercial sale of firearms.

Example of an Appropriate Restriction on Firearms

Dirk is a public middle-school janitor. Occasionally, with the permission of the principal, Dirk stays overnight in an outbuilding on campus when he works a particularly late shift. Dirk wants to keep a handgun in the outbuilding, for protection. If Dirk’s state has a statute prohibiting the possession of a handgun within one mile of any public school, Dirk cannot keep a handgun in the outbuilding for self-defense. Modern US Supreme Court precedent holds that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense. However, this precedent specifically exempts firearm possession near schools. Unless newer precedent expands the ruling to include firearm possession near schools, the statute in Dirk’s state is constitutional.

Figure 3.7 The Second Amendment

The Second Amendment:

Key Takeaway

  • Pursuant to recent US Supreme Court precedent, the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a usable handgun in the home for self-defense. This protection does not cover felons, the mentally ill, firearm possession near schools and government buildings, or the commercial sale of firearms.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. A state court order forbids the defendant from possessing a handgun while on probation. This makes it impossible for the defendant to resume his career as a police officer. How will this court order be analyzed under recent US Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Second Amendment?
  2. Read Lewis v. U.S., 445 U.S. 55 (1980). In Lewis, the defendant, a felon, was convicted under a federal statute for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The defendant claimed that this was unconstitutional because he was not represented by counsel during his trial on the original felony. The defendant never sought a pardon or reversal of his conviction for the original felony on appeal. Did the US Supreme Court uphold the defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1988023855177829800&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read U.S. v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995). In Lopez, the US Supreme Court held that a federal statute prohibiting firearms near schools was unconstitutional because it regulated conduct that had no effect on interstate commerce and thus exceeded Congress’s authority under the commerce clause. If a state enacts a similar statute, would this be constitutional under the Second Amendment? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=18310045251039502778&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), accessed October 13, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-290.ZO.html.

Volokh, E., “State Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms Provisions,” UCLA website, accessed October 22, 2010, http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/beararms/statecon.htm.

3.6 Excessive Punishment

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Learning Objectives

  1. Compare an inhumane procedure with disproportionate punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
  2. Identify the most prevalent method of execution pursuant to the death penalty.
  3. Ascertain crime(s) that merit capital punishment.
  4. Identify three classifications of criminal defendants who cannot be constitutionally punished by execution.
  5. Define three-strikes laws, and ascertain if they constitute cruel and unusual punishment pursuant to the Eighth Amendment.
  6. Ascertain the constitutionality of sentencing enhancements under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment comes from the Eighth Amendment, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” State constitutions often have similar provisions (Texas Constitution, 2010). Although the ban on cruel and unusual punishment relates directly to sentencing, which is a criminal procedure issue, criminal statutes mandating various penalties can be held unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment just like statutes offending the due process clause, so a brief discussion is relevant to this chapter. Another facet of excessive punishment is a criminal sentencing enhancement that is based on facts not found beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury. This has been held to violate the Sixth Amendment, which states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a…trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

In this section, three issues are analyzed and discussed: the infliction of cruel punishment, a criminal sentence that is too severe, and a criminal sentence that is invalid under the right to a jury trial.

Infliction of Cruel Punishment

In general, the government must refrain from inflicting cruel or barbaric punishments on criminal defendants in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In particular, cases asserting that a criminal punishment is inhumane often focus on capital punishment, which is the death penalty.

Synopsis of the History of Capital Punishment

The death penalty has been used as a criminal punishment since the eighteenth century BC. American death penalty law is influenced by the British because the colonists brought English common-law principles, including capital punishment, with them to the New World. The first execution in America took place in 1608, for spying (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010). Methods of execution and capital crimes varied from colony to colony. In the late 1700s, a movement to abolish the death penalty began, and in 1846 Michigan was the first state to eliminate the death penalty for all crimes except treason (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010). Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the United States fluctuated in its attitude toward capital punishment. Executions were at an all-time high in the 1930s (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010). However, in 1972, in the landmark decision of Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), the US Supreme Court held that Georgia’s death penalty statute, which gave the jury complete discretion to sentence a criminal defendant to death, was arbitrary and therefore authorized cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. This decision invalidated death penalty statutes in forty states. Later, in 1976, the US Supreme Court case of Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), affirmed the procedure of a bifurcated trial, separating the guilt phase from the penalty phase for death penalty cases. Gregg also affirmed the death penalty’s constitutionality under the Eighth Amendment. Currently, thirty-four states and the federal government authorize the death penalty, while sixteen states and the District of Columbia do not (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010).

Inhumane Capital Punishment

A claim that capital punishment is inhumane and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment focuses on the method of execution. Throughout the history of the death penalty, many methods of execution have been employed, including shooting, hanging, electrocution, the gas chamber, and lethal injection. At the time of this writing, the law is in a state of flux as to which methods of execution are constitutional because many state and federal decisions have stricken virtually every method available. The current focus of the courts is lethal injection because it is one of the few methods that has not been condemned as unconstitutional. Most states that authorize the death penalty use lethal injection as the primary method of execution. In a recent statement on this issue, the US Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees, 128 S. Ct. 1520 (2008), held that Kentucky’s four-drug lethal injection procedure was not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In other states, including Missouri and Tennessee, federal courts using different facts have ruled the multidrug procedure unconstitutional (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010). It is impossible to predict the future of death penalty methodology under the Eighth Amendment because each case will be decided based on the circumstances presented. However, it is clear that the law in this area is ripe for a definitive statement of constitutionality under the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.

Disproportionate Punishment

Disproportionate punishment is a different issue than inhumane punishment, but it is still within the parameters of the Eighth Amendment. Disproportionate punishment asserts that a criminal punishment is too severe for the crime. Two criminal punishments garner many disproportionate punishment claims: capital punishment and punishment pursuant to three-strikes statutes.

Capital Punishment as Disproportionate

Capital punishment can be disproportionate because it is too severe for the crime or because it is too severe for the criminal defendant.

Examples of Capital Punishment That Is Disproportionate to the Crime

Death is the ultimate punishment, so it must be equivalent to the crime the defendant committed. Although the states and the federal government have designated many capital crimes that may not result in death, for example, treason that does not lead to death, the US Supreme Court has confirmed that the death penalty is too severe for most crimes. In Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), the Court held that capital punishment is disproportionate for the crime of raping an adult woman. Many years later in Kennedy v. Louisiana, 128 S. Ct. 2641 (2008), the Court extended the disproportionality principle to invalidate the death penalty for child rape. Kennedy maintained the distinction between crimes committed against individuals and crimes committed against the government, like treason. The only crime against an individual that currently merits the death penalty is criminal homicide, which is the unlawful killing of one human being by another. Criminal homicide is discussed in detail in Chapter 9 “Criminal Homicide”.

Figure 3.8 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Examples of Capital Punishment That Are Disproportionate to the Criminal Defendant

Recent US Supreme Court precedent has targeted specific classifications of criminal defendants for whom capital punishment is overly severe. Recent cases hold that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment for a criminal defendant who was a juvenile when the crime was committed (Roper v. Simmons, 2010), who is mentally ill (Ford v. Wainwright, 2010), or has an intellectual disability (Atkins v. Virginia, 2010) at the time of the scheduled execution. Although states vary in their classifications of juveniles (discussed in detail in Chapter 6 “Criminal Defenses, Part 2”), the Eighth Amendment prohibits capital punishment for an individual who was under eighteen years of age when he or she committed criminal homicide. Mental illness could cover a variety of disorders, but the US Supreme Court has held that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a determination of sanity before execution (Ford v. Wainwright, 2010). Intellectual disability is distinct from mental illness and is defined by the US Supreme Court as a substantial intellectual impairment that impacts everyday life, and was present at the defendant’s birth or during childhood (Atkins v. Virginia, 2010). However, this standard is broad, so states vary in their legislative definitions of this classification (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010).

Example of Capital Punishment That Is Inhumane and Disproportionate to the Crime and the Criminal Defendant

Jerry is sentenced to death for rape. The state death penalty statute specifies death by decapitation. While on death row, Jerry begins to hear voices and is diagnosed as schizophrenic by the prison psychiatrist. The state schedules the execution anyway. In this example, the state death penalty statute is inhumane because death by decapitation is too severe a punishment for any crime. The death penalty statute is also disproportionate to the crime because execution is not a constitutional punishment for the crime of rape. Lastly, the death penalty statute is disproportionate to Jerry, the criminal defendant, because it is cruel and unusual to execute someone who is mentally ill.

Disproportionate Punishment Pursuant to Three-Strikes Laws

California was the first state to enact a “three strikes and you’re out” law (Cal. Penal Code § 667, 2010). Generally, three-strikes statutes punish habitual offenders more harshly when they commit a second or third felony after an initial serious or violent felony (Cal. Penal Code § 667, 2010). To date, California’s three-strikes law is the toughest in the nation; it mandates a minimum twenty-five-year- to life sentence for felons convicted of a third strike. California enacted its three-strikes legislation after the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Polly Klaas by a habitual offender. Twenty-four states followed, indicating public support for the incapacitation of career criminals (Three Strikes and You’re Out, 2010).

Three-strikes statutes vary, but those most likely to be attacked as disproportionate count any felony as a strike after an initial serious or violent felony. Counting any felony might levy a sentence of life in prison against a criminal defendant who commits a nonviolent felony. However, the US Supreme Court has upheld lengthy prison sentences under three-strikes statutes for relatively minor second or third offenses, holding that they are not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment (Ewing v. California, 2010).

Figure 3.9 The Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment:

Sentencing that Violates the Right to a Jury Trial

Modern US Supreme Court precedent has expanded the jury’s role in sentencing pursuant to the Sixth Amendment. Although a detailed discussion of sentencing procedure is beyond the scope of this book, a brief overview of sentencing and the roles of the judge and jury is necessary to a fundamental understanding of this important trial right, as is set forth in the following section.

The Role of the Judge and Jury in Sentencing Fact-Finding

As stated in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States”, the trier of fact decides the facts and renders a decision on innocence or guilt using beyond a reasonable doubt as the standard for the burden of proof. The trier of fact in a criminal prosecution is almost always a jury because of the right to a jury trial in the Sixth Amendment. Occasionally, the defendant waives the right to a jury trial and has a bench trial with a judge playing the role of trier of fact. Although the jury determines innocence or guilt during a jury trial, the verdict defines the end of their role as the trier of fact, and the judge sets the sentence. The death penalty is an exception to the jury’s limited role in sentencing; a jury must decide whether to sentence the defendant to death at a separate hearing after the trial has concluded.

Generally, criminal sentencing takes place after the trial. Although the sentencing procedure varies from state to state and from state to federal, a sentencing hearing is typically held after guilt has been determined at trial or after a guilty plea. For many years, judges have had almost exclusive control of sentencing. Although judges are restricted by the fact-finding done at trial, they can receive new evidence at sentencing if it is relevant. For example, a judge is bound by a jury determination that the defendant used a weapon when committing an armed robbery. However, the judge can accept new evidence at sentencing that reveals the defendant had two prior convictions for armed robbery and can enhance the sentence under a habitual offender or three-strikes statute.

Sentencing Enhancement by Judges

Until recently, judges could use evidence received at the sentencing hearing to enhance a sentence beyond the statutory maximum by making a determination of the new facts to a preponderance of evidence. However, in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), the US Supreme Court held that the right to a jury trial prohibits judges from enhancing criminal sentences beyond the statutory maximum based on facts not determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In Apprendi, the trial court enhanced the defendant’s sentence beyond the statutory maximum for possession of a firearm with an unlawful purpose under New Jersey’s hate crimes statute. Although the jury did not determine that the defendant’s crime was a hate crime, the judge accepted new evidence at sentencing that indicated the defendant’s shooting into a residence was racially motivated. The US Supreme Court reversed the New Jersey Supreme Court, which upheld the sentencing procedure. The Court held that other than evidence of a prior conviction, a judge cannot enhance a defendant’s sentence beyond the statutory maximum unless there has been a factual determination by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the facts supporting the sentencing enhancement. The Court based its holding on the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial as incorporated and applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.

Post-Apprendi, this holding was extended to federal sentencing guidelines in U.S. v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). In Booker, a federal judge enhanced a sentence following mandatory US Sentencing Guidelines, which permitted judges to find the sentencing enhancement facts using the preponderance of evidence standard. The US Supreme Court ruled that the enhancement was invalid under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial and held that the US Sentencing Guidelines would be advisory only, never mandatory. Booker was based on Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), which invalidated a similar Washington State sentencing procedure.

Pursuant to Apprendi, Booker, and Blakely, a criminal defendant’s sentence is unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial if it is enhanced beyond the statutory maximum by facts that were not determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This premise applies in federal and state courts and also to guilty pleas rather than jury verdicts (Blakely v. Washington, 2010).

Example of an Unconstitutional Sentence Enhancement

Ross is tried and convicted by a jury of simple kidnapping. The maximum sentence for simple kidnapping is five years. At Ross’s sentencing hearing, the judge hears testimony from Ross’s kidnapping victim about the physical and mental torture Ross inflicted during the kidnapping. The victim did not testify at trial. The judge finds that the victim’s testimony is credible and rules that Ross used cruelty during the kidnapping by a preponderance of evidence. The judge thereafter enhances Ross’s sentence to eight years, based on a statutory sentencing enhancement of three years for “deliberate cruelty inflicted during the commission of a crime.” The three-year sentencing enhancement is most likely unconstitutional. Under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, the jury must find deliberate cruelty beyond a reasonable doubt. A court can strike the enhancement of three years on appeal, and on remand, the trial court cannot increase the sentence beyond the five-year maximum.

Figure 3.10 The Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment:

Figure 3.11 Diagram of Constitutional Defenses

Diagram of Constitutional Defenses

Key Takeaways

  • An inhumane procedure punishes a defendant too severely for any crime. A disproportionate punishment punishes a defendant too severely for the crime he or she committed.
  • Lethal injection is the most prevalent method of execution pursuant to the death penalty.
  • Criminal homicide is the only crime against an individual that merits capital punishment.
  • Criminal defendants who were juveniles when the crime was committed, are mentally incompetent, or have an intellectual disability cannot be subjected to capital punishment.
  • Three-strikes laws punish criminal defendants more severely for committing a felony after they have committed one or two serious or violent felonies. Three-strikes laws have been held constitutional under the Eighth Amendment, even when they levy long prison sentences for relatively minor felonies.
  • Sentencing enhancements beyond the statutory maximum are unconstitutional unless they are based on facts determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Andrew is sentenced to death for torture. In Andrew’s state, there is an “eye-for-an-eye” statute that mandates punishment that mimics the crime the defendant committed. Pursuant to this statute, Andrew will be tortured to death. Is the state’s eye-for-an-eye statute constitutional under the Eighth Amendment? Why or why not?
  2. Read Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003). What was the defendant’s sentence in Lockyer? What was the defendant’s crime? Did the US Supreme Court hold that the defendant’s sentence was constitutional under the Eighth Amendment? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1810564739536423477&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Fierro v. Gomez, 77 F.3d 301 (1996). Did the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit hold that the gas chamber procedure in California was constitutional under the Eighth Amendment? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=26906922262871934&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  4. Read Gall v. U.S., 128 S. Ct. 586 (2007). In Gall, the federal judge departed from the US Sentencing Guidelines and imposed a sentence of probation because the defendant had reformed and rejected his criminal lifestyle. Did the US Supreme Court uphold this sentence? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5158806596650877502&q= Gall+v.+U.S.&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1.

References

Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), accessed October 15, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=2043469055777796288&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), accessed October 18, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-1632.ZO.html.

Cal. Penal Code § 667, accessed October 15, 2010, http://www.threestrikes.org/tslaw.html.

Death Penalty Information Center, “Introduction to the Death Penalty,” deathpenaltyinfo.org website, accessed October 17, 2010, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty.

Death Penalty Information Center, “Lethal Injection: Constitutional Issue,” deathpenaltyinfo.org website, accessed October 14, 2010, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/lethal-injection-constitutional-issue.

Death Penalty Information Center, “State Statutes Prohibiting the Death Penalty for People with Mental Retardation,” deathpenaltyinfo.org website, accessed October 14, 2010, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/state-statutes-prohibiting-death-penalty-people-mental-retardation.

Death Penalty Information Center, “States with and without the Death Penalty,” deathpenaltyinfo.org website, accessed October 14, 2010, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/states-and-without-death-penalty.

Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003), accessed October 15, 2010, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=01-6978.

Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), accessed October 15, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7904262174469084060&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), accessed October 15, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16987406842050815187&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Texas Constitution, art. I, § 13, accessed October 22, 2010, http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/SOTWDocs/CN/htm/CN.1.htm.

Three Strikes and You’re Out, “States That Have Three Strikes Laws,” threestrikes.org website, accessed October 15, 2010, http://www.threestrikes.org/3strikestates.html.

3.7 End-of-Chapter Material

19

Summary

The US Constitution protects criminal defendants from certain statutes and procedures. State constitutions usually mirror the federal and occasionally provide more protection to criminal defendants than the federal Constitution, as long as the state constitutions do not violate federal supremacy. Statutes can be unconstitutional as written or as enforced and must be supported by a sufficient government interest. Statutes that punish without a trial (bills of attainder) or criminal statutes that are applied retroactively (ex post facto) are unconstitutional under Article 1 §§ 9 and 10. Other constitutional protections are in the Bill of Rights, which is the first ten amendments, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which contains the due process clause and the equal protection clause.

The due process clause prohibits the government from taking an individual’s life, liberty, or property arbitrarily, without notice and an opportunity to be heard. Statutes that are vague or criminalize constitutionally protected conduct (overbroad) violate due process. The Fifth Amendment due process clause applies to the federal government, and the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause applies to the states. The Fourteenth Amendment due process clause also selectively incorporates fundamental rights from the Bill of Rights and applies them to the states. Rights incorporated and applied to the states are the right to free speech, the right to privacy, the right to bear arms, the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a jury trial. The Fourteenth Amendment also contains the equal protection clause, which prevents the government from enacting statutes that discriminate without a sufficient government interest.

The First Amendment protects speech, expression, and expressive conduct from being criminalized without a compelling government interest and a statute that uses the least restrictive means possible. Some exceptions to the First Amendment are precise statutes targeting fighting words, incitement to riot, hate crimes, obscenity, and nude dancing. The First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments also create a right to privacy that prevents the government from criminalizing the use of birth control, abortion, or consensual sexual relations.

The Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a usable handgun in the home for self-defense. This right is not extended to convicted felons, the mentally ill, commercial sale of firearms, and firearm possession near schools and government buildings. The Eighth Amendment protects criminal defendants from inhumane and excessive punishments. The Sixth Amendment ensures that all facts used to extend a criminal defendant’s sentencing beyond the statutory maximum must be determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

You Be the Legislative Analyst

You are an expert on constitutional law. Your state’s legislature has hired you to analyze some proposed statutes to ensure that they are constitutional. Read each proposed statute and determine the following: (1) which part of the constitution is relevant, (2) whether the statute is constitutional, and (3) your reasoning. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. The proposed statute increases penalties for overdue state income tax retroactively. Is the proposed statute constitutional?
  2. The proposed statute makes it a misdemeanor to display nude art in a public place. Is the proposed statute constitutional?
  3. The proposed statute enhances the sentence for rape by three years of imprisonment if the defendant is infected with AIDS. Is the proposed statute constitutional?
  4. The proposed statute prohibits a defendant with a conviction for any crime involving alcohol to possess a handgun in the home. Is the proposed statute constitutional?
  5. The proposed statute mandates fifteen years of solitary confinement in prison if the defendant is convicted of forcible rape. Is the proposed statute constitutional?

Cases of Interest

Statistics of Interest

Answers to Exercises

From Section 3.1 “Applicability of the Constitution”

  1. The public university can impose a retroactive tuition because this is not a criminal statute or procedure and does not violate the prohibition against ex post facto laws.
  2. In Smith, the US Supreme Court held that Alaska’s Megan’s Law statute was not criminal, but part of a civil regulatory scheme, and thus did not violate the prohibition against ex post facto laws.
  3. In Stogner, the US Supreme Court held that California cannot eliminate a statute of limitations and thereafter prosecute defendants who would have been time-barred from prosecution because this action violates the prohibition against ex post facto laws. The Court held that this statute increased the chances of conviction retroactively.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 3.2 “The Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses”

  1. The ordinance is void for vagueness and overbroad, violating the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause. The term gang attire is void for vagueness because it is imprecise, can mean different things to different people, fails to give notice of what is criminal, and gives too much discretion to law enforcement. The ordinance is overbroad because prohibiting all individuals from wearing gang attire probably includes First Amendment constitutionally protected conduct, such as wearing a gang-related Halloween costume or wearing a costume to act in a play or movie.
  2. In Smith, the US Supreme Court held that the flag misuse statute was void for vagueness. The Court stated,

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    But there is no comparable reason for committing broad discretion to law enforcement officials in the area of flag contempt. Indeed, because display of the flag is so common and takes so many forms, changing from one generation to another and often difficult to distinguish in principle, a legislature should define with some care the flag behavior it intends to outlaw (Smith v. Goguen, 2010).

  3. In Grayned, the US Supreme Court held that the ordinance was not void for vagueness because, with fair warning, it criminalized actual or imminent and willful interference with school activity. The Court also held that the statute was not overbroad because it prohibited only acts that “materially interfered with schoolwork,” which is not protected by the First Amendment.
  4. Justice O’Connor said that the Texas sodomy statute was unconstitutional pursuant to the equal protection clause. The statute only criminalized sodomy between persons of the same sex, so it targeted gay couples without a rational basis.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 3.3 “Freedom of Speech”

  1. The statute does not violate the First Amendment’s free speech protection because battery is not speech and is not covered by the First Amendment.
  2. The US Supreme Court held that the provisions were unconstitutional under the First Amendment because they were vague and content based. The Act did not specifically define “indecent” communications, or demonstrate that offensive material lacks any value under the three-part test for obscenity set forth in Miller.
  3. The US Supreme Court upheld 18 U.S.C. § 2339B (a) (1) as applied. The Court ruled that the federal government can prohibit aid to terrorist groups, even if it consists of training and advice on legal activities, without violating the First Amendment.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 3.4 “The Right to Privacy”

  1. The court will probably analyze whether the statute is constitutional under the right to privacy and the equal protection clause. The right to privacy analysis will use strict scrutiny because the right to privacy is fundamental. The state must demonstrate a compelling state interest in regulating sex in prison. The state’s arguments will probably focus on maintaining integrity, safety, and security in the institution. Under the equal protection clause analysis, the state has to show a legitimate state interest pursuant to the rational basis test because the category targeted—inmates in prison—is rational, not arbitrary.
  2. The Court upheld the statute, even though this case was post-Roe v. Wade. The Court reaffirmed Roe, but imposed a new standard for abortion laws. The new standard analyzes whether a state abortion law places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion. The Court held that the twenty-four-hour waiting period and informed consent for minors do not place such a burden. The Court did strike a separate requirement, which mandated husband notification before an abortion could take place.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 3.5 “The Right to Bear Arms”

  1. The court will uphold the order under the Second Amendment if the defendant was convicted of a felony. The recent US Supreme Court precedent in Heller and McDonald both exclude convicted felons from their holdings. However, if the defendant was convicted of a misdemeanor, the court has to determine whether Heller and McDonald extend the Second Amendment’s right to possess a usable handgun in the home for self-defense to a convicted police officer who wants to resume his career.
  2. The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction, stating that a defendant convicted unconstitutionally can and should challenge that conviction before owning or possessing a firearm.
  3. A state could criminalize firearm possession near schools because two recent US Supreme Court rulings (Heller and McDonald) both exempt firearms near schools from their protection of individual gun ownership and possession.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 3.6 “Excessive Punishment”

  1. The eye-for-an-eye statute is unconstitutional because it mandates an inhumane punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Torture is too severe a punishment for any crime.
  2. The defendant’s sentence was two consecutive terms of twenty-five years to life in prison under California’s three-strikes statute. The defendant’s crime(s) were stealing five videotapes from Kmart worth $84.70 on one occasion and stealing four videotapes from Kmart worth $68.84 on another, with two previous strikes. The US Supreme Court upheld the sentence and denied the defendant’s petition for habeas corpus.
  3. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the gas chamber under California’s protocol was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
  4. The US Supreme Court reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which held that the sentence was unreasonable according to the US Sentencing Guidelines. The Court reaffirmed that the Guidelines were advisory, but stated that the trial court has great discretion in setting the sentence, as long as the basis of the sentence is explained on the record.

Answers to Law and Ethics Questions

  1. The categorization of some speech as outside the First Amendment’s protection generally focuses on speech that can produce immediate or imminent harm or lawless action, like fighting words, or speech that is devoid of social value, like obscenity. Depictions of animal cruelty probably fall within the second category. Whether you believe depictions of animal cruelty should be criminalized depends on whether you feel another category should be added to the list. The US Supreme Court was reluctant to expand categorization, indicating that First Amendment protections far exceed government interests in content-based regulations.
  2. Some possible consequences of expanding categorization are the increase of government censorship into areas that may have value, either literary, artistic, political, or scientific. Any time case precedent limits the First Amendment, individual rights of expression are likewise inhibited, and the government’s power to regulate and enact laws encroaching upon individual freedoms is enhanced.

Answers to You Be the Legislative Analyst

  1. (1) The ex post facto clause is relevant. (2) The statute is most likely constitutional. (3) Even though the statute is retroactive, the statute is not a criminal law, but a tax increase, so there is no violation of the ex post facto clause.
  2. (1) The First Amendment and the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment are relevant. (2) The proposed statute is most likely unconstitutional. (3) The statute is probably void for vagueness and overbroad. The word “art” can be interpreted differently by different people, so it leads to uneven application by law enforcement. The statute also fails to give the public notice of what is criminal. In addition, because the statute criminalizes the display of “art,” it is overbroad and includes expressive works that may have artistic value and are protected under the First Amendment pursuant to the Miller test of obscenity.
  3. (1) The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is relevant. (2) The proposed statute is most likely constitutional. (3) The statute discriminates against criminal defendants infected with the AIDS virus. However, this classification has a rational basis and is not arbitrary. The state government has an interest in preventing the spread of AIDS, so the statute will probably be upheld under the equal protection clause, even though it is discriminatory.
  4. (1) The Second Amendment and the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment are relevant. (2) The proposed statute is most likely unconstitutional. (3) The US Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects an individual’s right to possess a usable handgun in the home for self-defense. Although the Court held that an exception could be made for convicted felons, the proposed statute covers any crime that involves alcohol, including misdemeanors (such as misdemeanor DUI). Thus it is overbroad and encroaches on the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms.
  5. (1) The Eighth Amendment and the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment are relevant. (2) The proposed statute is most likely unconstitutional. (3) The proposed statute appears to be inhumane and excessive for the crime, which makes it cruel and unusual punishment.

References

Smith v. Goguen, 415 U.S. 566, 582 (1974), accessed October 3, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14723025391522670978&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Chapter 4: The Elements of a Crime

IV

District Attorney County of Los Angeles official Seal

Thus, an Olympic swimmer may be deemed by the community as a shameful coward, or worse, for not rescuing a drowning child in the neighbor’s pool, but she is not a criminal.

   —State ex rel. Kuntz v. Thirteenth Jud. Dist., cited in Section 4 “Duty to Act Based on a Special Relationship”

4.1 Criminal Elements

20

Learning Objectives

  1. List the elements of a crime.
  2. Define the criminal act element.
  3. Identify three requirements of criminal act.
  4. Describe an exception to the criminal act element.
  5. Ascertain three situations where an omission to act could be criminal.
  6. Distinguish between actual and constructive possession.
  7. Identify the criminal intent element required when possession is the criminal act.

Crimes can be broken down into elements, which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal elements are set forth in criminal statutes, or cases in jurisdictions that allow for common-law crimes. With exceptions, every crime has at least three elements: a criminal act, also called actus reus; a criminal intent, also called mens rea; and concurrence of the two. The term conduct is often used to reflect the criminal act and intent elements. As the Model Penal Code explains, “‘conduct’ means an action or omission and its accompanying state of mind” (Model Penal Code § 1.13(5)).

Figure 4.1 Criminal Code of Georgia

Criminal Code of Georgia

Recall from Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law” that not all crimes require a bad result. If a crime does require a bad result, the prosecution must also prove the additional elements of causation and harm.

Another requirement of some crimes is attendant circumstances. Attendant circumstances are specified factors that must be present when the crime is committed. These could include the crime’s methodology, location or setting, and victim characteristics, among others.

This chapter analyzes the elements of every crime. Chapter 7 “Parties to Crime” through Chapter 13 “Crimes against the Government” analyze the elements of specific crimes, using a general overview of most states’ laws, the Model Penal Code, and federal law when appropriate.

Example of a Crime That Has Only Three Elements

Janine gets into a fight with her boyfriend Conrad after the senior prom. She grabs Conrad’s car keys out of his hand, jumps into his car, and locks all the doors. When Conrad strides over to the car, she starts the engine, puts the car into drive, and tries to run him down. It is dark and difficult for Janine to see, so Conrad easily gets out of her way and is unharmed. However, Janine is thereafter arrested and charged with attempted murder. In this case, the prosecution has to prove the elements of criminal act, criminal intent, and concurrence for attempted murder. The prosecution does not have to prove causation or that Conrad was harmed because attempt crimes, including attempted murder, do not have a bad result requirement. Attempt and other incomplete or inchoate crimes are discussed in Chapter 8 “Inchoate Offenses”.

Criminal Act

Criminal act, or actus reus, is generally defined as an unlawful bodily movement (N.Y. Penal Law, 2010). The criminal statute, or case in jurisdictions that allow common-law crimes, describes the criminal act element.

Figure 4.2 Alabama Criminal Code

Alabama Criminal Code

The Requirement of Voluntariness

One requirement of criminal act is that the defendant perform it voluntarily. In other words, the defendant must control the act. It would not serve the policy of specific deterrence to punish the defendant for irrepressible acts. The Model Penal Code gives the following examples of acts that are not voluntary and, therefore, not criminal: reflexes, convulsions, bodily movements during unconsciousness or sleep, conduct during hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion, or a bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual (Model Penal Code § 2.01 (2)). One voluntary act is enough to fulfill the voluntary act requirement. Thus if a voluntary act is followed by an involuntary one, the court may still impose criminal liability depending on the circumstances (Govt. of Virgin Islands v. Smith, 2010).

Example of an Involuntary and Noncriminal Act

Perry is hypnotized at the local county fair. The hypnotist directs Perry to smash a banana cream pie into his girlfriend Shelley’s face. Smashing a pie into a person’s face is probably battery in most states, but Perry did not commit the act voluntarily, so he should not be convicted of a crime. Punishing Perry for battery would not specifically deter Perry from performing the act again while hypnotized because he is not in control of his behavior when experiencing this mental state.

Example of a Voluntary Act Followed by a Nonvoluntary Act

Timothy attends a party at a friend’s house and consumes several glasses of red wine. Timothy then attempts to drive his vehicle home. While driving, Timothy passes out at the wheel and hits another vehicle, killing its occupant. Timothy can probably be convicted of one or more crimes in this situation. Timothy’s acts of drinking several glasses of wine and then driving a vehicle are voluntary. Thus even though Timothy got into a car accident while unconscious, his involuntary act was preceded by conscious, controllable, and voluntary action. A punishment in this instance could specifically deter Timothy from drinking and driving on another occasion and is appropriate based on the circumstances.

Status as a Criminal Act

Generally, a defendant’s status in society is not a criminal act. Status is who the defendant is, not what the defendant does. Similar to punishment for an involuntary act, when the government punishes an individual for status, it is essentially targeting that individual for circumstances that are outside his or her control. This punishment may be cruel and unusual pursuant to the Eighth Amendment if it is disproportionate to the defendant’s behavior.

In Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962), the US Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to punish an individual for the status of being a drug addict—even if the drugs to which the defendant is addicted are illegal. The Court compared drug addiction to an illness, such as leprosy or venereal disease. Punishing a defendant for being sick not only is inhumane but also does not specifically deter, similar to a punishment for an involuntary act.

If the defendant can control the actions at issue in spite of his or her status, the defendant’s conduct can be constitutionally criminalized and punished pursuant to the Eighth Amendment. In Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514 (1968), the US Supreme Court upheld the defendant’s conviction for “drunk in public,” in spite of the defendant’s status as an alcoholic. The Court held that it is difficult but not impossible for an alcoholic to resist the urge to drink, so the behavior the statute criminalized was voluntary. Also, the Court ruled that the state has an interest in treating alcoholism and preventing alcohol-related crimes that could injure the defendant and others. Pursuant to Powell, statutes that criminalize voluntary acts that arise from status are constitutional under the Eighth Amendment.

Example of a Constitutional Statute Related to Status

Refer to the example in Section 4 “Example of a Voluntary Act Followed by a Nonvoluntary Act”, where Timothy drives under the influence of alcohol and kills another. A state statute that criminalizes killing another person while driving under the influence is constitutional as applied to Timothy, even if Timothy is an alcoholic. The state has an interest in treating alcoholism and preventing alcohol-related crimes that could injure or kill Timothy or another person. Timothy’s act of driving while intoxicated is voluntary, even if his status as an alcoholic makes it more difficult for Timothy to control his drinking. Thus Timothy and other alcoholic defendants can be prosecuted and punished for killing another person while driving under the influence without violating the Eighth Amendment.

Thoughts as Criminal Acts

Thoughts are a part of criminal intent, not criminal act. Thoughts cannot be criminalized.

Example of Noncriminal Thoughts

Brianna, a housecleaner, fantasizes about killing her elderly client Phoebe and stealing all her jewelry. Brianna writes her thoughts in a diary, documenting how she intends to rig the gas line so that gas is pumped into the house all night while Phoebe is sleeping. Brianna includes the date that she wants to kill Phoebe in her most recent diary entry. As Brianna leaves Phoebe’s house, her diary accidentally falls out of her purse. Later, Phoebe finds the diary on the floor and reads it. Phoebe calls the police, gives them Brianna’s diary, and insists they arrest Brianna for attempted murder. Although Brianna’s murder plot is sinister and is documented in her diary, an arrest is improper in this case. Brianna cannot be punished for her thoughts alone. If Brianna took substantial steps toward killing Phoebe, an attempted murder charge might be appropriate. However, at this stage, Brianna is only planning a crime, not committing a crime. Phoebe may be able to go to court and get a restraining order against Brianna to prevent her from carrying out her murder plot, but Brianna cannot be incapacitated by arrest and prosecution for attempted murder in this case.

Omission to Act

An exception to the requirement of a criminal act element is omission to act. Criminal prosecution for a failure to act is rare because the government is reluctant to compel individuals to put themselves in harm’s way. However, under certain specific circumstances, omission to act can be criminalized.

An omission to act can only be criminal when the law imposes a duty to act (N.Y. Penal Law, 2010). This legal duty to act becomes an element of the crime, and the prosecution must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, along with proving the defendant’s inaction under the circumstances. Failure or omission to act is only criminal in three situations: (1) when there is a statute that creates a legal duty to act, (2) when there is a contract that creates a legal duty to act, or (3) when there is a special relationship between the parties that creates a legal duty to act. Legal duties to act vary from state to state and from state to federal.

Duty to Act Based on a Statute

When a duty to act is statutory, it usually concerns a government interest that is paramount. Some common examples of statutory duties to act are the duty to file state or federal tax returns (26 U.S.C., 2010), the duty of health-care personnel to report gunshot wounds (Fla. Stat. Ann., 2010), and the duty to report child abuse (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2010).

Figure 4.3 Kentucky Revised Statutes

Kentucky Revised Statutes

At common law, it was not criminal to stand by and refuse to help someone in danger. Some states supersede the common law by enacting Good Samaritan statutes that create a duty to assist those involved in an accident or emergency situation. Good Samaritan statutes typically contain provisions that insulate the actor from liability exposure when providing assistance (Minnesota Code, 2010).

Figure 4.4 Minnesota Good Samaritan Law

Minnesota Good Samaritan Law

Good Samaritan Law Video

Good Samaritan Sued after Rescuing Woman in an Accident

This video is a news story on a California Supreme Court case regarding the civil liability of a Good Samaritan:

Duty to Act Based on a Contract

A duty to act can be based on a contract between the defendant and another party. The most prevalent examples would be a physician’s contractual duty to help a patient or a lifeguard’s duty to save someone who is drowning. Keep in mind that experts who are not contractually bound can ignore an individual’s pleas for help without committing a crime, no matter how morally abhorrent that may seem. For example, an expert swimmer can watch someone drown if there is no statute, contract, or special relationship that creates a legal duty to act.

Duty to Act Based on a Special Relationship

A special relationship may also be the basis of a legal duty to act. The most common special relationships are parent-child, spouse-spouse, and employer-employee. Often, the rationale for creating a legal duty to act when people are in a special relationship is the dependence of one individual on another. A parent has the obligation by law to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for his or her children, because children are dependent on their parents and do not have the ability to procure these items themselves. In addition, if someone puts another person in peril, there may be a duty to rescue that person (State ex rel. Kuntz v. Thirteenth Jud. Dist., 2010). Although this is not exactly a special relationship, the victim may be dependent on the person who created the dangerous situation because he or she may be the only one present and able to render aid. On a related note, some jurisdictions also impose a duty to continue to provide aid, once aid or assistance has started (Jones v. U.S., 2010). Similar to the duty to rescue a victim the defendant has put in peril, the duty to continue to provide aid is rooted in the victim’s dependence on the defendant and the unlikely chance that another person may come along to help once the defendant has begun providing assistance.

Example of a Failure to Act That Is Noncriminal

Recall the example from Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”, Section 1.2.1 “Example of Criminal Law Issues”, where Clara and Linda are shopping together and Clara stands by and watches as Linda shoplifts a bra. In this example, Clara does not have a duty to report Linda for shoplifting. Clara does not have a contractual duty to report a crime in this situation because she is not a law enforcement officer or security guard obligated by an employment contract. Nor does she have a special relationship with the store mandating such a report. Unless a statute or ordinance exists to force individuals to report crimes committed in their presence, which is extremely unlikely, Clara can legally observe Linda’s shoplifting without reporting it. Of course, if Clara assists Linda with the shoplifting, she has then performed a criminal act or actus reus, and a criminal prosecution is appropriate.

Example of a Failure to Act That Is Criminal

Penelope stands on the shore at a public beach and watches as a child drowns. If Penelope’s state has a Good Samaritan law, she may have a duty to help the child based on a statute. If Penelope is the lifeguard, she may have a duty to save the child based on a contract. If Penelope is the child’s mother, she may have a duty to provide assistance based on their special relationship. If Penelope threw the child in the ocean, she may have a duty to rescue the child she put in peril. If Penelope is just a bystander, and no Good Samaritan law is in force, she has no duty to act and cannot be criminally prosecuted if the child suffers harm or drowns.

Possession as a Criminal Act

Although it is passive rather than active, possession is still considered a criminal act. The most common objects that are criminal to possess are illegal contraband, drugs, and weapons. There are two types of possession: actual possession and constructive possession. Actual possession indicates that the defendant has the item on or very near his or her person. Constructive possession indicates that the item is not on the defendant’s person, but is within the defendant’s area of control, such as inside a house or automobile with the defendant (State v. Davis, 2011). More than one defendant can be in possession of an object, although this would clearly be a constructive possession for at least one of them.

Because it is passive, possession should be knowing, meaning the defendant is aware that he or she possesses the item (Connecticut Jury Instructions No. 2.11-1, 2011). As the Model Penal Code states in § 2.01(4), “[p]ossession is an act, within the meaning of this Section, if the possessor knowingly procured or received the thing possessed or was aware of his control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate his possession.” In the vast majority of states, a statute permitting a conviction for possession without this knowledge or awareness lacks the criminal intent element and would be unenforceable.

Example of an Unenforceable Possession Statute

A state has a criminal statute that prohibits “being within 100 feet of any quantity of marijuana.” Ricardo sits next to Jean on the subway. A law enforcement officer smells marijuana and does a pat-down search of Jean. He discovers that Jean has a large baggie of marijuana in his jacket pocket and arrests Jean and Ricardo for marijuana possession. Ricardo was within one hundred feet of marijuana as prohibited by the statute, but Ricardo should not be prosecuted for marijuana possession. No evidence exists to indicate that Ricardo knew Jean, or knew that Jean possessed marijuana. Thus Ricardo does not have the criminal intent or mens rea for possession, and the state’s possession statute should not be enforced against him.

Key Takeaways

  • The elements of a crime are criminal act, criminal intent, concurrence, causation, harm, and attendant circumstances. Only crimes that specify a bad result have the elements of causation and harm.
  • Criminal act is usually an unlawful bodily movement that is defined in a statute, or a case in jurisdictions that allow common-law crimes.
  • The criminal act must be voluntary and cannot be based solely on the status of the defendant or the defendant’s thoughts.
  • An exception to the criminal act element is omission to act.
  • Omission to act could be criminal if there is a statute, contract, or special relationship that creates a legal duty to act in the defendant’s situation.
  • Actual possession means that the item is on or very near the defendant’s person. Constructive possession means that the item is within the defendant’s control, such as inside a house or vehicle with the defendant.
  • In most states, the defendant must be aware that he or she possesses the item to be convicted of possession.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Jacqueline is diagnosed with epilepsy two years after receiving her driver’s license. While driving to a concert, Jacqueline suffers an epileptic seizure and crashes into another vehicle, injuring both of its occupants. Can Jacqueline be convicted of a crime in this situation? Why or why not?
  2. Read Oler v. State, 998 S.W.2d 363 (1999). In Oler, the defendant was convicted of possession of a controlled substance by misrepresentation. The defendant solicited and received prescriptions for Dilaudid, a controlled substance, from four different physicians without informing them that he already had a prescription for Dilaudid. The defendant appealed, arguing that he had no legal duty to disclose his previous receipt of the drug to the physicians, and was therefore unlawfully punished for an omission to act. Did the Texas Court of Appeals uphold the defendant’s conviction? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=460187562193844690&q= 998+S.W.2d+363&hl=en&as_sdt=10000000000002.
  3. Read Staples v. U.S., 511 U.S. 600 (1994). In Staples, the defendant was convicted of possession of an unregistered automatic weapon in violation of the National Firearms Act. The defendant claimed the conviction was improper because the prosecution did not prove that he knew the weapon was automatic, and the prosecution must prove this knowledge to convict under the statute. Did the US Supreme Court reverse the defendant’s conviction? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-1441.ZO.html.

References

Connecticut Jury Instructions No. 2.11-1, accessed February 13, 2011, http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part2/2.11-1.htm.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.24, accessed October 25, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/florida/crimes/790.24.html.

Govt. of Virgin Islands v. Smith, 278 F.2d 169 (1960), accessed October 26, 2010, http://openjurist.org/278/f2d/169/government-of-the-virgin-islands-v-smith.

Jones v. U.S., 308 F.2d 307 (1962), accessed October 25, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14703438613582917232&hl=en&as_sdt=2002&as_vis=1.

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 620.030, accessed October 25, 2010, http://www.lrc.ky.gov/krs/620-00/030.pdf.

Minnesota Code § 604A.01, accessed October 25, 2010, http://law.justia.com/minnesota/codes/2005/595/604a-s01.html.

N.Y. Penal Law § 15.00, accessed October 25, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN015.00_15.00.html.

State ex rel. Kuntz v. Thirteenth Jud. Dist., 995 P.2d 951 (2000), accessed October 25, 2010, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/mt-supreme-court/1434948.html.

State v. Davis, 84 Conn. App. 505 (2004), accessed February 13, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12496216636522596448&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

26 U.S.C. § 7203, accessed October 25, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/26/usc_sec_26_00007203—-000-.html.

4.2 Criminal Intent

21

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe one important function of criminal intent.
  2. List the three common-law criminal intents, ranking them in order of culpability.
  3. Compare specific and general intent.
  4. Describe an inference that makes it easier for the prosecution to prove a general intent crime.
  5. Differentiate between motive and criminal intent.
  6. List and define the Model Penal Code mental states, ranking them in order of culpability.
  7. Identify an exception to the requirement that every crime contain a criminal intent element.
  8. Explain how transferred intent promotes justice.
  9. Describe the circumstances that give rise to vicarious criminal liability.
  10. Define concurrence of criminal act and intent.

Although there are exceptions that are discussed shortly, criminal intent or mens rea is an essential element of most crimes. Under the common law, all crimes consisted of an act carried out with a guilty mind. In modern society, criminal intent can be the basis for fault, and punishment according to intent is a core premise of criminal justice. As stated in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”, grading is often related to the criminal intent element. Crimes that have an “evil” intent are malum in se and subject the defendant to the most severe punishment. Crimes that lack the intent element are less common and are usually graded lower, as either misdemeanors or infractions.

Figure 4.5 New York Penal Law

New York Penal Law

States and the federal government vary in their approach to defining criminal intent, and each jurisdiction describes the criminal intent element in a criminal statute, or case, in jurisdictions that allow common-law crimes. In this section, common-law definitions of criminal intent are explored, along with definitions of the criminal mental states in the Model Penal Code.

Common-Law Criminal Intent

The common-law criminal intents ranked in order of culpability are malice aforethought, specific intent, and general intent. Statutes and cases use different words to indicate the appropriate level of intent for the criminal offense, so what follows is a basic description of the intent definitions adopted by many jurisdictions.

Malice Aforethought

Malice aforethought is a special common-law intent designated for only one crime: murder. The definition of malice aforethought is “intent to kill.” Society considers intent to kill the most evil of all intents, so malice aforethought crimes such as first- and second-degree murder generally mandate the most severe of punishments, including the death penalty in jurisdictions that allow for it. Malice aforethought and criminal homicide are discussed in detail in Chapter 9 “Criminal Homicide”.

Specific Intent

Specific intent is the intent with the highest level of culpability for crimes other than murder. Unfortunately, criminal statutes rarely describe their intent element as “specific” or “general,” and a judge may be required to define the level of intent using the common law or a dictionary to explain a word’s ordinary meaning. Typically, specific intent means that the defendant acts with a more sophisticated level of awareness (Connecticut Jury Instructions No. 2.3-1, 2011). Crimes that require specific intent usually fall into one of three categories: either the defendant intends to cause a certain bad result, the defendant intends to do something more than commit the criminal act, or the defendant acts with knowledge that his or her conduct is illegal, which is called scienter.

Example of Specific Intent to Bring about a Bad Result

A state statute defines mayhem as “physical contact with another, inflicted with the intent to maim, disfigure, or scar.” This statute describes a specific intent crime. To be guilty of mayhem under the statute, the defendant must inflict the physical contact with the intent of causing the bad result of maiming, disfigurement, or scarring. If the prosecution cannot prove this high-level intent, the defendant may be acquitted (or charged and convicted of a lower-level intent crime like battery).

So if Pauline says, “It’s time to permanently mess up that pretty face,” and thereafter takes out a razor and slices Peter’s cheek with it, Pauline might be found guilty of mayhem. On the other hand, if Pauline slaps Peter while he is shaving without making the comment, and the razor bites into his cheek, it is more challenging to prove that she intended a scarring, and Pauline might be found guilty only of battery.

Example of Specific Intent to Do More than the Criminal Act

A state statute defines theft as “a permanent taking of property belonging to another.” This statute describes a specific intent crime. To be guilty of theft under the statute, the defendant must intend to do more than “take the property of another,” which is the criminal act. The defendant must also intend to keep the property permanently.

So if Pauline borrows Peter’s razor to shave her legs, she has “taken the property of another,” but she has not committed theft for the simple reason that she intends to return the property after use.

Example of Scienter

Although the terms mens rea and scienter are sometimes used interchangeably, many jurisdictions define scienter as knowledge that an act is illegal. Scienter can be the basis of specific intent in some statutes. So a statute that makes it a crime to “willfully file a false tax return” may require knowledge that the tax return includes false information and that it will be unlawful to file it (U.S. v. Pompanio, 2010). If the prosecution fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew his or her conduct was illegal, this could nullify scienter, and the prosecution cannot prove specific intent.

General Intent

General intent is less sophisticated than specific intent. Thus general intent crimes are easier to prove and can also result in a less severe punishment. A basic definition of general intent is the intent to perform the criminal act or actus reus. If the defendant acts intentionally but without the additional desire to bring about a certain result, or do anything other than the criminal act itself, the defendant has acted with general intent (People v. McDaniel, 2011).

Inference of General Intent

Intent is a notoriously difficult element to prove because it is locked inside the defendant’s mind. Ordinarily, the only direct evidence of intent is a defendant’s confession, which the government cannot forcibly obtain because of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Witnesses who hear the defendant express intent are often unable to testify about it because of evidentiary rules prohibiting hearsay. However, many jurisdictions allow an inference of general intent based on the criminal act (Commonwealth v. Ely, 2011). In essence, if the jury accepts the inference, the prosecution does not have the burden of proving intent for a general intent crime.

Example of a General Intent Crime and an Inference of Intent

A state statute defines battery as “intentional harmful or offensive physical contact with another.” This statute describes a general intent crime. To be guilty of battery under the statute, the defendant must only intend the harmful or offensive contact. The defendant does not have to desire that the contact produces a specific result, such as scarring, or death; nor does the defendant need scienter, or awareness that the physical contact is illegal.

If Addie balls up her fist and punches Eddie in the jaw after Eddie calls her a “stupid idiot,” Addie has probably committed battery under the statute. A prosecutor could prove that Addie committed the act of harmful or offensive contact using Eddie’s testimony and a physician’s report. The jury could thereafter be instructed to “infer intent from proof of the act.” If the jury accepts the inference and determines that Addie committed the criminal act, the jury could find Addie guilty of battery without additional evidence of intent.

Figure 4.6 Common Law Intents

Most Serious
Less Serious
Least Serious

Motive

Intent should not be confused with motive, which is the reason the defendant commits the criminal act or actus reus. Motive can generate intent, support a defense, and be used to determine sentencing. However, motive alone does not constitute mens rea and does not act as a substitute for criminal intent.

Example of Motive

Isabella, a housewife with no criminal record, sits quietly in court waiting to hear the jury verdict in a trial for the rape of her teenage daughter by Ignatius. Ignatius has been convicted of child rape in three previous incidents. The jury foreman announces the decision finding Ignatius not guilty. Ignatius looks over his shoulder at Isabella and smirks. Isabella calmly pulls a loaded revolver out of her purse, and then shoots and kills Ignatius. In this case, Isabella’s motive is revenge for the rape of her teenage daughter, or the desire to protect other women from Ignatius’ conduct. This motive generated Isabella’s criminal intent, which is malice aforethought or intent to kill. In spite of Isabella’s motive, which is probably understandable under the circumstances, Isabella can be found guilty of murder because she acted with the murder mens rea. However, Isabella’s motive may be introduced at sentencing and may result in a reduced sentence such as life in prison rather than the death penalty. In addition, Isabella’s motive may affect a prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty at all because this would probably be disfavored by the public.

Model Penal Code Criminal Intent

The Model Penal Code divides criminal intent into four states of mind listed in order of culpability: purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently.

Purposely

A defendant who acts purposely intends to engage in conduct of that nature and intends to cause a certain result (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2011). Purposeful criminal intent resembles specific intent to cause harm, which was discussed previously. As the Model Penal Code states, “[a] person acts purposely with respect to a material element of an offense when: (i) if the element involves the nature of his conduct or a result thereof, it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result” (Model Penal Code § 2.02 (2) (a)).

Example of Purposely

Review the example given in Section 4 “Example of Specific Intent to Bring about a Bad Result”, where Pauline takes out a razor and slices Peter’s cheek. In this example, Pauline is aware of the nature of the act (slicing someone’s cheek with a razor). Pauline also appears to be acting with the intent to cause a specific result, based on her statement to Peter. Thus Pauline is acting with specific intent or purposely and can probably be convicted of some form of aggravated battery or mayhem in most jurisdictions.

Knowingly

Knowingly indicates that the defendant is aware of the nature of the act and its probable consequences (Utah Code Ann., 2011). Knowingly differs from purposely in that the defendant is not acting to cause a certain result but is acting with the awareness that the result is practically certain to occur (State v. Huff, 2011). The Model Penal Code describes knowingly as follows: “A person acts knowingly with respect to a material element of an offense when…he is aware that his conduct is of that nature…if the element involves a result of his conduct, he is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result” (Model Penal Code in § 2.02(2) (b)).

Example of Knowingly

Victor brags to his girlfriend Tanya that he can shoot into a densely packed crowd of people on the subway train without hitting any of them. Tanya dares Victor to try it. Victor removes a concealed weapon from his waistband and shoots, aiming at a group of people standing with their back to him. The shot kills Monica, who is standing the closest to Victor. In this case, Victor did not intend to shoot Monica. In fact, Victor’s goal was to shoot and miss all the standing subway passengers. However, Victor was aware that he was shooting a loaded gun (the nature of the act) and was also practically certain that shooting into a crowd would result in somebody getting hurt or killed. Thus Victor acted knowingly according to the Model Penal Code. If the state in which Victor shoots Monica defines murder intent as knowingly under the Model Penal Code, then Victor has most likely committed murder in this case.

Figure 4.7 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Recklessly

Recklessly is a lower level of culpability than knowingly, and reckless intent crimes are not as common as offenses criminalizing purposeful, knowing conduct. The degree of risk awareness is key to distinguishing a reckless intent crime from a knowing intent crime. A defendant acts recklessly if he or she consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the bad result or harm will occur (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2011). This is different from a knowing intent crime, where the defendant must be “practically certain” of the bad results. The reckless intent test is two pronged. First, the defendant must consciously disregard a substantial risk of harm. The standard is subjective; the defendant must know of the substantial risk. Second, the defendant must take an unjustifiable risk, meaning that no valid reason exists for the risk. The standard for this prong is objective; if a reasonable person would not take the risk, then the defendant’s action in taking it is reckless. As the Model Penal Code states, “[t]he risk must be of such a nature and degree that…its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a law-abiding person would observe in the actor’s situation” (Model Penal Code § 2.02(2) (c)).

Example of Recklessly

Review the example in Section 4 “Example of Knowingly”, where Victor shoots into a crowd of subway travelers and kills Monica. Change the example, and imagine that the subway train has only three passengers. Victor easily shoots in between them, yet the bullet ricochets off one of the seats and strikes Monica, killing her. Victor would be acting with reckless rather than knowing intent in this situation. Victor’s knowledge and awareness of the risk of injury or death when shooting a gun inside a subway car containing three passengers is probably substantial. A reasonable, law-abiding person would probably not take this action under these circumstances. Thus Victor might be charged with a lower-level form of criminal homicide like manslaughter in this case. The difference between murder and manslaughter is discussed in detail in Chapter 9 “Criminal Homicide”.

Negligently

Negligent intent crimes are less culpable than reckless intent crimes and are also less common. The difference between reckless and negligent intent is the defendant’s lack of awareness. While defendants committing negligent intent crimes are also faced with a substantial and unjustifiable risk, they are unaware of it, even though a reasonable person would be (Idaho Code Ann., 2011). Thus the first prong of the reckless intent test is simply changed from a subjective to objective standard. As the Model Penal Code states, “[a] person acts negligently…when he should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct”(Model Penal Code § 2.02(2) (d)).

Example of Negligently

Review the example in Section 4 “Example of Knowingly”, where Victor shoots into a crowd of subway travelers and kills Monica. Change the example, and imagine that the subway train has no passengers. Victor brags to Tanya that he can shoot a crumpled napkin on the floor. Tanya challenges him to try it. Victor shoots at the napkin and misses, and the bullet ricochets three times off three different seats, travels backward, and strikes Tanya in the forehead, killing her instantly. In this case, Victor may be unaware of the bullet’s potential to ricochet several times and actually travel backward. However, the trier of fact can determine that a “reasonable person” would be aware that shooting a gun inside a small subway train could result in injury or death. This would be a finding that Victor acted negligently, under the circumstances. If the state in which Victor shot Tanya criminalizes negligent killings, then Victor could be found guilty of criminal homicide in this case.

Figure 4.8 Model Penal Code Criminal Intents Ranked from Most Serious to Least Serious

Model Penal Code Criminal Intents Ranked from Most Serious to Least Serious: Purposely: Intends to bring about a result, Knowingly: Practically certain the result will occur, Recklessly: Consciously disregards a substantial or unjustifiable risk, Negligently: Should be aware of a substantial or unjustifiable risk, but is not

Elements and Criminal Intent

Occasionally, different criminal intents support the various elements of an offense. If a crime requires more than one criminal intent, each criminal intent must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for each element.

Under the common law, every offense had just one criminal intent. In modern society, every offense has one criminal intent unless a statute specifies otherwise. As the Model Penal Code states, “[w]hen the law defining an offense prescribes the kind of culpability that is sufficient for the commission of an offense, without distinguishing among the material elements thereof, such provision shall apply to all of the material elements of the offense, unless a contrary purpose plainly appears” (Model Penal Code § 2.02(4)).

Example of a Crime That Requires More Than One Criminal Intent

A state statute defines burglary as “breaking and entering into a residence at nighttime with the intent to commit a felony once inside.” In this statute, the elements are the following: (1) breaking, (2) and entering, (3) into a residence, (4) at nighttime. Breaking and entering are two criminal act elements. They must be committed with the specific intent, or purposely, to commit a felony once inside the residence. The elements of residence and nighttime are two attendant circumstances, which most likely have the lower level of general intent or knowingly. Thus this statute has four separate criminal intents that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction.

Strict Liability

An exception to the requirement of a criminal intent element is strict liability. Strict liability offenses have no intent element (Ala. Code, 2011). This is a modern statutory trend, which abrogates the common-law approach that behavior is only criminal when the defendant commits acts with a guilty mind. Sometimes the rationale for strict liability crimes is the protection of the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Thus strict liability offenses are often vehicle code or tax code violations, mandating a less severe punishment (Tex. Penal Code, 2011). With a strict liability crime, the prosecution has to prove only the criminal act and possibly causation and harm or attendant circumstances, depending on the elements of the offense.

Example of a Strict Liability Offense

A vehicle code provision makes it a crime to “travel in a vehicle over the posted speed limit.” This is a strict liability offense. So if a law enforcement officer captures radar information that indicates Susie was traveling in a vehicle five miles per hour over the posted speed limit, Susie can probably be convicted of speeding under the statute. Susie’s protests that she “didn’t know she was traveling at that speed,” are not a valid defense. Susie’s knowledge of the nature of the act is irrelevant. The prosecution only needs to prove the criminal act to convict Susie because this statute is strict liability and does not require proof of criminal intent.

Transferred Intent

Occasionally, the defendant’s criminal intent is not directed toward the victim. Depending on the jurisdiction, this may result in a transfer of the defendant’s intent from the intended victim to the eventual victim, for the purpose of fairness (N.Y. Penal Law, 2011). Although this is a legal fiction, it can be necessary to reach a just result. Transferred intent is only relevant in crimes that require a bad result or victim. In a case where intent is transferred, the defendant could receive more than one criminal charge, such as a charge for “attempting” to commit a crime against the intended victim. Attempt and transferred intent are discussed in detail in Chapter 8 “Inchoate Offenses”.

Example of Transferred Intent

Billy and his brother Ronnie get into an argument at a crowded bar. Billy balls up his fist and swings, aiming for Ronnie’s face. Ronnie ducks and Billy punches Amanda in the face instead. Billy did not intend to batter Amanda. However, it is unjust to allow this protective action of Ronnie’s to excuse Billy’s conduct. Thus Billy’s intent to hit Ronnie transfers in some jurisdictions over to Amanda. Billy can also be charged with attempted battery, which is assault, of Ronnie, resulting in two crimes rather than one under the transferred intent doctrine.

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is similar to respondeat superior, a civil law concept discussed in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”. Vicarious liability transfers a defendant’s responsibility for the crime to a different defendant, on the basis of a special relationship. Under a theory of vicarious liability, the defendant does not need to commit the criminal act supported by criminal intent. The defendant just has to be involved with the criminal actor in a legally defined relationship. As in civil law, vicarious liability is common between employers and employees.

Corporate liability is a type of vicarious liability that allows a corporation to be prosecuted for a crime apart from its owners, agents, and employees (720 ILCS 5/5-4, 2011). This is a modern concept that did not exist at early common law. Although corporations cannot be incarcerated, they can be fined. Vicarious liability and corporate liability are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7 “Parties to Crime”.

Example of Vicarious Liability

Don hires James to work in his liquor store. James is specially trained to ask for the identification of any individual who appears to be under the age of thirty and attempts to buy alcohol. One night, James sells alcohol to Ashley and does not request identification because Ashley is attractive and James wants to ask her out on a date. Unfortunately, Ashley is underage and is participating in a sting operation with local law enforcement. Certain statutes could subject Don to criminal prosecution for selling alcohol to an underage person like Ashley, even though Don did not personally participate in the sale. Because Don is James’s employer, he may be vicariously liable for James’s on-the-job conduct in this instance.

Concurrence of Act and Intent

Another element of most criminal offenses is the requirement that the criminal act and criminal intent exist at the same moment (California Criminal Jury Instructions No. 252, 2011). This element is called concurrence. Concurrence is rarely an issue in a criminal prosecution because the criminal intent usually generates the bodily response (criminal act). However, in some rare instances, the criminal act and intent are separated by time, in which case concurrence is lacking and the defendant cannot be convicted of a crime.

Example of a Situation Lacking Concurrence

Sherree decides she wants to kill her husband using a handgun. As Sherree is driving to the local gun shop to purchase the handgun, her husband is distracted and steps in front of her car. Sherree slams on the brakes as a reflex, but unfortunately she is unable to avoid striking and killing her husband. Sherree cannot be prosecuted for criminal homicide in this case. Although Sherree had formulated the intent to kill, the intent to kill did not exist at the moment she committed the criminal act of hitting her husband with her vehicle. In fact, Sherree was trying to avoid hitting her husband at the moment he was killed. Thus this case lacks concurrence of act and intent, and Sherree is not guilty of criminal homicide.

Key Takeaways

  • One important function of intent is the determination of punishment. In general, the more evil the intent, the more severe the punishment.
  • The three common-law intents ranked in order of culpability are malice aforethought, specific intent, and general intent.
  • Specific intent is the intent to bring about a certain result, do something other than the criminal act, or scienter. General intent is simply the intent to perform the criminal act.
  • With a general intent crime, the trier of fact may infer intent from the criminal act. This alleviates the prosecution’s burden of proving criminal intent.
  • Motive is the reason the defendant commits the criminal act. Motive standing alone is not enough to prove criminal intent.
  • The Model Penal Code’s criminal states of mind ranked in order of culpability are purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. Purposely is similar to specific intent to cause a particular result. Knowingly is awareness that results are practically certain to occur. Recklessly is a subjective awareness of a risk of harm, and an objective and unjustified disregard of that risk. Negligently is not being aware of a substantial risk of harm when a reasonable person would be.
  • The exception to the requirement that every crime contain a criminal intent element is strict liability.
  • Transferred intent promotes justice by holding a defendant responsible for his or her criminal conduct, even though the conduct was intended to harm a different victim.
  • Vicarious liability is the transfer of criminal liability from one criminal defendant to another based on a special relationship.
  • Concurrence requires that act and intent exist at the same moment.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. As Jordan is driving to school, she takes her eyes off the road for a moment and rummages through her purse for her phone. This causes her to run a stop sign. Jordan is thereafter pulled over by law enforcement and issued a traffic ticket. What is Jordan’s criminal intent in this case? Is Jordan criminally responsible for running the stop sign? Why or why not?
  2. Read Morissette v. U.S., 342 U.S. 246 (1952). In Morissette, the defendant was convicted of unlawful conversion of federal property for gathering and selling spent bomb casings dropped during US Air Force practice maneuvers. The statute required “knowing” conversion of the property, and the defendant claimed he believed the property was abandoned. Did the US Supreme Court uphold the defendant’s conviction? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=787130527265701764&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read State v. Crosby, 154 P.3d 97 (2007). In Crosby, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter of a dependent person by neglect. The defendant’s mother died of “sepsis” and was brought to the hospital covered with feces and bedsores. The defendant was her mother’s caregiver. The jury was instructed that the defendant possessed the mental state of “recklessness” under the statute if she disregarded a substantial risk of harm or circumstances. The jury asked the judge if “circumstances” included the bedsores or just death. He responded that the risk could be more than just death and left it up to the jury to decide. Did the Supreme Court of Oregon uphold the defendant’s conviction? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10006178173306648171&q= State+v.+Crosby+S53295&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.
  4. Read State v. Horner, 126 Ohio St. 3d 466 (2010). In Horner, the defendant pleaded no contest to aggravated robbery. The defendant’s pre-plea indictment did not contain a mens rea element for aggravated robbery, just the mens rea for theft. The defendant moved to dismiss the no contest plea, based on the fact that the indictment was defective for lacking the mens rea element. Did the Ohio Supreme Court find the indictment defective? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2010/2010-ohio-3830.pdf.

Law and Ethics: Dean v. U.S.

Ten Years Imprisonment for an Accident?

“Accidents happen. Sometimes they happen to individuals committing crimes with loaded guns.” Read Dean v. U.S., 129 S. Ct. 1849 (2009)), which is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10945987555184039397&q= Dean+v.+U.S.&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.

In Dean, the defendant was sentenced to ten years imprisonment under a federal sentencing enhancement for an accidental discharge of his firearm during a bank robbery. The prosecution presented evidence at trial indicating that the defendant went into the bank wearing a mask and carrying a loaded firearm. The defendant told everyone in the bank to “get down,” and then went behind the tellers’ station and began grabbing money with his left hand. The gun in his right hand discharged. The defendant seemed surprised by the discharge, cursed, and ran out of the bank. No one was injured or hurt during the robbery.

The defendant thereafter admitted he committed the robbery. The US Supreme Court upheld the defendant’s sentencing, in spite of the fact that there was no evidence of intent to discharge the firearm. The Court based its holding on the plain meaning of the statute requiring a minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment when a firearm is discharged during a robbery. The statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (1) (A), does not expressly state a criminal intent requirement. The Court further held that a presumption of criminal intent was not required. As the Court stated, “[i]t is unusual to impose criminal punishment for the consequences of purely accidental conduct. But it is not unusual to punish individuals for the unintended consequences of their unlawful acts” (Dean v. U.S., 129 S. Ct. 1849, 1855 (2009)).

  1. Do you think it is ethical to sentence Dean to ten years’ imprisonment for his accidental conduct in this case? Why or why not?

Check your answer using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

References

Ala. Code § 13A-2-3, accessed February 14, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/alabama/criminal-code/13A-2-3.html.

California Criminal Jury Instructions No. 252, accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/200/252.html.

Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-1-501(8), accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.michie.com/colorado/lpext.dll?f=templates&fn=main-h.htm&cp=.

Commonwealth v. Ely, 444 N.E.2d 1276 (1983), accessed February 13, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=369554378994187453&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Connecticut Jury Instructions No. 2.3-1, accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part2/2.3-1.htm.

Idaho Code Ann. § 18-101(2), accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/idstat/Title18/T18CH1SECT18-101.htm.

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 626:2(II)(a), accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/LXII/626/626-2.htm.

People v. McDaniel, 597 P.2d 124 (1979), accessed February 14, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8266915507346002022&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

State v. Huff, 469 A.2d 1251 (1984), accessed February 14, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4287195880403875631&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Tex. Penal Code § 49.04, accessed February 14, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/texas/penal/49.04.00.html.

Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-103(2), accessed February 14, 2011, http://le.utah.gov/~code/TITLE76/htm/76_02_010300.htm.

U.S. v. Pompanio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976), accessed October 28, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/429/10/case.html.

720 ILCS 5/5-4, accessed February 14, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/illinois/720ilcs5/5-4.html.

4.3 Causation and Harm

22

Learning Objectives

  1. Distinguish between factual and legal cause.
  2. Define intervening superseding cause, and explain the role it plays in the defendant’s criminal liability.
  3. Define one and three years and a day rules.

As stated previously, causation and harm can also be elements of a criminal offense if the offense requires a bad result. In essence, if injury is required under the statute, or the case is in a jurisdiction that allows for common-law crimes, the defendant must cause the requisite harm. Many incidents occur when the defendant technically initiates circumstances that result in harm, but it would be unjust to hold the defendant criminally responsible. Thus causation should not be rigidly determined in every instance, and the trier of fact must perform an analysis that promotes fairness. In this section, causation in fact and legal causation are examined as well as situations where the defendant may be insulated from criminal responsibility.

Figure 4.9 Oregon Revised Statutes

Oregon Revised Statutes

Causation in Fact

Every causation analysis is twofold. First, the defendant must be the factual or but for cause of the victim’s harm. The but for term comes from this phrase: “but for the defendant’s act, the harm would not have occurred” (Del. Code Ann. tit. II, 2011). As the Model Penal Code states, “[c]onduct is the cause of a result when…(a) it is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred” (Model Penal Code § 2.03(1)(a)). Basically, the defendant is the factual or but for cause of the victim’s harm if the defendant’s act starts the chain of events that leads to the eventual result.

Example of Factual Cause

Henry and Mary get into an argument over their child custody agreement. Henry gives Mary a hard shove. Mary staggers backward, is struck by lightning, and dies instantly. In this example, Henry’s act forced Mary to move into the area where the lighting happened to strike. However, it would be unjust to punish Henry for Mary’s death in this case because Henry could not have imagined the eventual result. Thus although Henry is the factual or but for cause of Mary’s death, he is probably not the legal cause.

Legal Causation

It is the second part of the analysis that ensures fairness in the application of the causation element. The defendant must also be the legal or proximate cause of the harm. Proximate means “near,” so the defendant’s conduct must be closely related to the harm it engenders. As the Model Penal Code states, the actual result cannot be “too remote or accidental in its occurrence to have a [just] bearing on the actor’s liability” (Model Penal Code § 2.03 (2) (b)).

The test for legal causation is objective foreseeability (California Criminal Jury Instructions No. 520, 2011). The trier of fact must be convinced that when the defendant acted, a reasonable person could have foreseen or predicted that the end result would occur. In the example given in Section 4 “Example of Factual Cause”, Henry is not the legal cause of Mary’s death because a reasonable person could have neither foreseen nor predicted that a shove would push Mary into a spot where lightning was about to strike.

The Model Penal Code adjusts the legal causation foreseeability requirement depending on whether the defendant acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. If the defendant’s behavior is reckless or negligent, the legal causation foreseeability requirement is analyzed based on the risk of harm, rather than the purpose of the defendant.

Example of Legal Causation

Imagine that Henry and Mary get into the same argument over their child custody agreement, but this time they are in their garage, which is crowded with furniture. Henry gives Mary a hard shove, even though she is standing directly in front of a large entertainment center filled with books and a heavy thirty-two-inch television set. Mary staggers backward into the entertainment center and it crashes down on top of her, killing her. In this situation, Henry is the factual cause of Mary’s death because he started the chain of events that led to her death with his push. In addition, it is foreseeable that Mary might suffer a serious injury or death when shoved directly into a large and heavy piece of furniture. Thus in this example, Henry could be the factual and legal cause of Mary’s death. It is up to the trier of fact to make this determination based on an assessment of objective foreseeability and the attendant circumstances.

Intervening Superseding Cause

Another situation where the defendant is the factual but not the legal cause of the requisite harm is when something or someone interrupts the chain of events started by the defendant. This is called an intervening superseding cause. Typically, an intervening superseding cause cuts the defendant off from criminal liability because it is much closer, or proximate, to the resulting harm (Connecticut Jury Instructions No. 2.6-1, 2011). If an intervening superseding cause is a different individual acting with criminal intent, the intervening individual is criminally responsible for the harm caused.

Example of an Intervening Superseding Cause

Review the example with Henry and Mary in Section 4 “Example of Legal Causation”. Change the example so that Henry pulls out a knife and chases Mary out of the garage. Mary escapes Henry and hides in an abandoned shed. Half an hour later, Wes, a homeless man living in the shed, returns from a day of panhandling. When he discovers Mary in the shed, he kills her and steals her money and jewelry. In this case, Henry is still the factual cause of Mary’s death, because he chased her into the shed where she was eventually killed. However, Wes is probably the intervening superseding cause of Mary’s death because he interrupted the chain of events started by Henry. Thus Wes is subject to prosecution for Mary’s death, and Henry may be prosecuted only for assault with a deadly weapon.

One and Three Years and a Day Rules

In criminal homicide cases, the causation analysis could be complicated by a victim’s survival for an extended time period. Because of modern technology, victims often stay alive on machines for many years after they have been harmed. However, it may be unreasonable to hold a defendant responsible for a death that occurs several years after the defendant’s criminal act. A few states have rules that solve this dilemma.

Some states have either a one year and a day rule or a three years and a day rule (S.C. Code Ann., 2011). These rules create a timeline for the victim’s death that changes the causation analysis in a criminal homicide case. Under one or three years and a day rules, the victim of a criminal homicide must die within the specified time limits for the defendant to be criminally responsible. If the victim does not die within the time limits, the defendant may be charged with attempted murder, rather than criminal homicide. California makes the timeline a rebuttable presumption that can be overcome with evidence proving that the conduct was criminal and the defendant should still be convicted (Cal. Penal Code, 2011).

Figure 4.10 California Penal Code

California Penal Code

Death timeline rules are often embodied in a state’s common law and have lost popularity in recent years (Key v. State, 2011). Thus many states have abolished arbitrary time limits for the victim’s death in favor of ordinary principles of legal causation (Rogers v. Tennessee, 2011). Death timeline rules are not to be confused with the statute of limitations, which is the time limit the government has to prosecute a criminal defendant.

Figure 4.11 Diagram of the Elements of a Crime

Diagram of the Elements of a Crime

Key Takeaways

  • Factual cause means that the defendant starts the chain of events leading to the harm. Legal cause means that the defendant is held criminally responsible for the harm because the harm is a foreseeable result of the defendant’s criminal act.
  • An intervening superseding cause breaks the chain of events started by the defendant’s act and cuts the defendant off from criminal responsibility.
  • One and three years and a day rules create a timeline for the victim’s death in a criminal homicide.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Phillipa sees Fred picking up trash along the highway and decides she wants to frighten him. She drives a quarter of a mile ahead of Fred and parks her car. She then hides in the bushes and waits for Fred to show up. When Fred gets close enough, she jumps out of the bushes screaming. Frightened, Fred drops his trash bag and runs into the middle of the highway where he is struck by a vehicle and killed. Is Phillipa’s act the legal cause of Fred’s death? Why or why not?
  2. Read Bullock v. State, 775 A.2d. 1043 (2001). In Bullock, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter based on a vehicle collision that occurred when his vehicle hit the victim’s vehicle in an intersection. The defendant was under the influence of alcohol and traveling thirty miles per hour over the speed limit. The victim was in the intersection unlawfully because the light was red. The defendant claimed that the victim was the intervening superseding cause of her own death. Did the Supreme Court of Delaware agree? The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/de-supreme-court/1137701.html.
  3. Read Commonwealth v. Casanova, 429 Mass. 293 (1999). In Casanova, the defendant shot the victim in 1991, paralyzing him. The defendant was convicted of assault with intent to murder and two firearms offenses. In 1996, the victim died. The defendant was thereafter indicted for his murder. Massachusetts had abolished the year and a day rule in 1980. Did the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court uphold the indictment, or did the court establish a new death timeline rule? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16055857562232849296&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

Cal. Penal Code § 194, accessed February 14, 2011, http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/cacode/PEN/3/1/8/1/s194.

California Criminal Jury Instructions No. 520, accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/520.html.

Connecticut Jury Instructions No. 2.6-1, accessed February 14, 2011, http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part2/2.6-1.htm.

Del. Code Ann. tit. II, § 261, accessed February 14, 2011, http://delcode.delaware.gov/title11/c002/index.shtml#261.

Key v. State, 890 So.2d 1043 (2002), accessed February 15, 2011, http://www.lexisone.com/lx1/caselaw/freecaselaw?action= OCLGetCaseDetail&format=FULL&sourceID=beehed&searchTerm= efiQ.QLea.aadj.eaOS&searchFlag=y&l1loc=FCLOW.

Rogers v. Tennessee, 532 U.S. 541 (2001), accessed February 14, 2011, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=99-6218.

S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2910, accessed February 15, 2011, http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t56c005.htm.

4.4 End-of-Chapter Material

23

Summary

Crimes are made up of parts, referred to as elements. The criminal elements are criminal act or actus reus, criminal intent or mens rea, concurrence, causation, harm, and attendant circumstances. Only crimes that specify a bad result require the causation and harm elements.

Criminal acts must be voluntary or controllable and cannot consist solely of the defendant’s status or thoughts. Just one voluntary act is needed for a crime, so if a voluntary act is followed by an involuntary act, the defendant can still be criminally responsible. Omission or failure to act can also be criminal if there is a duty to act based on a statute, contract, or special relationship. Possession is passive, but it can still be a criminal act. The most common items that are criminal to possess are illegal contraband, drugs, and weapons. Possession can be actual if the item is on or very near the defendant’s person, or constructive if within an area of the defendant’s control, like inside the defendant’s house or vehicle. More than one defendant can be in possession of one item. Criminal possession should be supported by the intent of awareness because it is passive.

Criminal intent is an important element because it is often one factor considered in the grading of criminal offenses. The three common-law criminal intents are malice aforethought, which is intent to kill, specific intent, and general intent. Specific intent is the intent to bring about a particular result, a higher level of awareness than is required to perform the criminal act, or scienter, which is knowledge that a criminal act is unlawful. General intent is the intent to do the act and can often give rise to an inference of criminal intent from proof of the criminal act. Motive should not be confused with or replace intent. Motive is the reason the defendant develops criminal intent.

The Model Penal Code describes four criminal states of mind, which are purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. Purposely is similar to specific intent to cause a particular result. Knowingly is awareness that results are practically certain to occur. Recklessly is a subjective awareness of a risk of harm and an objective and unjustified disregard of that risk. Negligently is not being aware of a substantial risk of harm when a reasonable person would be. Offense elements, including specified attendant circumstances, may require different mental states. If so, the prosecution must prove each mental state for every element beyond a reasonable doubt.

Strict liability crimes do not require an intent element and are generally malum prohibitum, with a less severe punishment. Transferred intent is a legal fiction that transfers a defendant’s criminal intent to an unintended victim for the purpose of fairness. Pursuant to transferred intent, the defendant may be responsible for two crimes: attempt and the completed crime, depending on the circumstances. Vicarious liability transfers a defendant’s criminal liability to a different defendant based on a special relationship. Corporate liability is a type of vicarious liability that holds a corporation responsible for crimes apart from its owners, agents, and employees. Concurrence is also a criminal element that requires the criminal act and criminal intent exist at the same moment.

When the crime requires a bad result, the defendant must cause the harm. The defendant must be the factual and legal cause. Factual cause means that the defendant starts the chain of events that leads to the bad result. Legal or proximate cause means that it is objectively foreseeable that the end result will occur when the defendant commits the criminal act. An intervening superseding cause breaks the chain of events started by the defendant’s criminal act and insulates the defendant from criminal liability. When the intervening superseding cause is an individual, the intervening individual is criminally responsible for the crime. Some states have rules that protect the defendant from criminal responsibility for homicide when the victim lives a long time after the criminal act. These death timeline rules require the victim to die within one or three years and a day from the defendant’s criminal act and are becoming increasingly unpopular. Many states have abolished death timeline rules in favor of ordinary principles of legal causation.

You Be the Law Student

Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide whether the issue is the defendant’s criminal act or criminal intent. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Read State v. Andrews, 572 S.E.2d 798 (2002). In Andrews, the defendant took Prozac and Effexor for one day. The next day, the defendant ran his wife and her friend down with his car. After hitting both victims, the defendant jumped out of the car and stabbed his wife three times. He was convicted of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon against both victims. He appealed on the grounds that the jury was given an improper instruction as to his criminal responsibility for the crimes committed against his wife’s friend. Did the Court of Appeals of North Carolina hold that this is an issue of criminal act or criminal intent? The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nc-court-of-appeals/1197459.html.
  2. Read State v. Sowry, 155 Ohio App. 3d 742 (2004). In Sowry, Ohio police arrested the defendant and brought him to jail. Before booking the defendant, the police asked him whether he had any drugs on his person. He responded “no.” The police thereafter searched him and discovered a plastic bag of marijuana in his pocket. The defendant was later convicted of knowingly conveying drugs onto the grounds of a detention facility. The defendant appealed and was successful. Did the Court of Appeals of Ohio hold that this is an issue of criminal act or criminal intent? The case is available at this link: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/2/2004/2004-Ohio-399.pdf.
  3. Read Regalado v. U.S., 572 A.2d 416 (1990). In Regalado, the defendant was convicted of animal cruelty for punching a puppy repeatedly in the face. The defendant appealed, claiming that he was merely “disciplining” the puppy. Did the District of Columbia Court of Appeals hold that this is an issue of criminal act or criminal intent? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10084482120424691457&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  4. Read State v. Slayton, 154 P.3d 1057 (2007). In Slayton, the defendant received a hunting permit, hired a guide, and thereafter shot an elk and carried it out of the area. The defendant’s hunting permit was valid in only a limited location, and the defendant shot the elk outside that location. The defendant was convicted of unauthorized hunting and transporting wildlife. The Arizona Superior Court vacated the defendant’s convictions, the state appealed, and the Court of Appeals of Arizona reversed. Did the Court of Appeals of Arizona hold that this is an issue of criminal act or criminal intent? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13377680343653410685&q= State+v.+Slayton&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_ylo=2006.

Cases of Interest

Websites of Interest

Answers to Exercises

From Section 4.1 “Criminal Elements”

  1. Jacqueline can be convicted of a crime in this situation. Although an epileptic seizure is not a voluntary act, Jacqueline’s conduct in driving while aware that she has epilepsy is. Only one voluntary act is required for a crime, and Jacqueline was able to control her decision making in this instance. Punishing Jacqueline for driving with epilepsy could specifically deter Jacqueline from driving on another occasion and is appropriate under the circumstances.
  2. The Texas Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s indictment and conviction. The court stated that the defendant’s conduct in deliberately seeking out four physicians and presenting his medical problem to them with the intent to gain a prescription for a controlled substance in violation of Texas law is a criminal act, not an omission to act.
  3. The US Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s conviction and held that the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew the weapon was automatic to convict him of failure to register an automatic weapon.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 4.2 “Criminal Intent”

  1. Jordan is acting recklessly or negligently. If Jordan is an experienced driver, then she knows that there is a substantial risk of injury or harm when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road. If Jordan is not an experienced driver, she may not be aware of the risk, but she should be because she has been trained to drive and has passed exams and practical driving tests that emphasize this fact. Whether Jordan’s intent is reckless or negligent is probably irrelevant because most states make running a stop sign a strict liability offense with no criminal intent required.
  2. The US Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s conviction. The Court disagreed with the lower court that this was a strict liability public welfare offense and determined that a presumption of intent was inappropriate. The Court held that criminal intent was an element of the offense that the trier of fact needed to find beyond a reasonable doubt.
  3. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed and held that the substantial risk applied to the victim’s death (bad result), not the victim’s bedsores (attendant circumstances).
  4. The Ohio Supreme Court held that the indictment was valid and that the statute clearly intended for aggravated robbery to be a strict liability offense lacking mens rea.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 4.3 “Causation and Harm”

  1. Phillipa’s act is the factual and legal cause of Fred’s death. Phillipa’s act in jumping out of the bushes screaming caused Fred to run onto the highway, so Phillipa’s act is the factual cause of Fred’s death. In addition, a reasonable person could foresee that frightening someone next to a major highway might result in them trying to escape onto the highway, where a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed could hit them. Thus Phillipa’s act is also the legal cause of Fred’s death.
  2. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s conviction based on a jury instruction that did not include the victim’s actions. The Delaware Supreme Court held that the defendant’s acts could not be the legal cause of death unless the result of the defendant’s acts was foreseeable. Foreseeability in this case could only be analyzed if the jury instructions address the victim’s behavior.
  3. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the defendant’s indictment, and did not create a new death timeline rule.

Answer to Law and Ethics Question

  1. Although ten years is a lengthy prison sentence, it may be ethical even for a criminal act committed without criminal intent if there is a potential for harm. In Dean, the defendant may have discharged the firearm unintentionally, but there was a great potential for injury. The defendant was inside a bank filled with employees and customers. Although the defendant’s shot did not cause physical injury to any of the bank’s occupants, this was mere happenstance. The defendant could have shot and killed someone. If a security guard was startled by the gunshot, a shootout may have occurred, injuring many more individuals. Thus punishing a defendant for an act that lacks criminal intent (and harm) could fulfill specific and general deterrence. Criminal intent and harm are only two factors to be considered when grading crimes. If other purposes of punishment are applicable, they can also be considered as factors.

Answers to You Be the Law Student

  1. The Court of Appeals of North Carolina held that the defendant was criminally responsible for hitting his wife’s friend under a theory of transferred intent. Thus this is an issue of criminal intent. The Court of Appeals held that transferred intent applies even when the defendant injures the intended victim.
  2. The Court of Appeals of Ohio held that the defendant did not choose to bring drugs to the jail; the police forcibly took him there. Thus there was no voluntary criminal act.
  3. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the animal cruelty statute required proof of general intent plus malice, which the defendant demonstrated with his beating of the puppy. Thus this is an issue of criminal intent.
  4. The Court of Appeals of Arizona held that the statutes the defendant violated are strict liability, so the fact that the defendant may have been mistaken as to the limited location authorized by his hunting permit is irrelevant. Thus this is an issue of criminal intent.

Chapter 5: Criminal Defenses, Part 1

V

A door that has broken into by forced entry

A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence…

   —Fla. Stat. Ann. §776.013(4), cited in Section 5.3.3 “Defense of Habitation”

5.1 Criminal Defenses

24

Learning Objectives

  1. Distinguish between a denial or failure of proof defense and an affirmative defense.
  2. Distinguish between imperfect and perfect defenses.
  3. Distinguish between factual and legal defenses.
  4. Give examples of factual and legal defenses.
  5. Distinguish between defenses based on justification and excuse.

A plethora of criminal defenses exist. Defenses may completely exonerate the criminal defendant, resulting in an acquittal, or reduce the severity of the offense. Chapter 3 “Constitutional Protections” discussed defenses based on the federal Constitution. This chapter reviews the categorization of nonconstitutional criminal defenses, along with the elements of various defenses sanctioning the use of force.

Categorization of Defenses

Defenses can be categorized as denial or failure of proof, affirmative, imperfect, or perfect. Defenses can also be categorized as factual, legal, based on justification, or excuse. Lastly, defenses can be created by a court (common law), or created by a state or federal legislature (statutory).

Definition of Denial or Failure of Proof and Affirmative Defenses

As stated in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States”, a criminal defendant will be acquitted if the prosecution cannot prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In certain cases, the defendant can either deny that a criminal element(s) exists or simply sit back and wait for the prosecution to fail in meeting its burden of proof. This legal strategy is sometimes referred to as either a denial or failure of proof defense.

An affirmative defense is not connected to the prosecution’s burden of proof. When the defendant asserts an affirmative defense, the defendant raises a new issue that must be proven to a certain evidentiary standard. State statutes often specify whether a defense is affirmative. The Model Penal Code defines an affirmative defense as a defense that is deemed affirmative in the Code or a separate statute, or that “involves a matter of excuse or justification peculiarly within the knowledge of the defendant” (Model Penal Code § 1.12 (3) (c)). Procedurally, the defendant must assert any affirmative defense before or during the trial, or the defense cannot be used as grounds for an appeal.

Example of an Affirmative Defense

A fight breaks out at a party, and Juan is severely injured. Jasmine and Jerome are arrested and charged for battering Juan. Jerome claims that he did not touch Juan; someone else battered him. Jasmine claims that she did not batter Juan because she was legally defending herself against Juan’s attack. Jerome’s claim focuses on the elements of battery and asserts that these elements cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Technically, Jerome can do nothing and be acquitted if the prosecution fails to prove that he was the criminal actor. Jasmine’s self-defense claim is an affirmative defense. Jasmine must do something to be acquitted: she must prove that Juan attacked her to a certain evidentiary standard.

Figure 5.1 Denial and Affirmative Defenses

Denial/Failure of Proof
Affirmative

Burden of Proof for Affirmative Defenses

As stated in Chapter 2 “The Legal System in the United States”, states vary as to their requirements for the defendant’s burden of proof when asserting an affirmative defense (Findlaw.com, 2010). Different defenses also have different burdens of proof. Some states require the defendant to meet the burden of production, but require the prosecution to thereafter meet the burden of persuasion, disproving the defense to a preponderance of evidence, or in some states, beyond a reasonable doubt. Other states require the defendant to meet the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. In such states, the defendant’s evidentiary standard is preponderance of evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt. In the example given in Section 5 “Example of an Affirmative Defense”, for Jasmine’s self-defense claim, Jasmine must prove she was defending herself by meeting either the burden of production or the burden of production and persuasion to a preponderance of evidence, depending on the jurisdiction.

Figure 5.2 Diagram of the Criminal Burden of Proof

Diagram of the Criminal Burden of Proof

Definition of Imperfect and Perfect Defenses

As stated previously, a defense can reduce the severity of the offense, or completely exonerate the defendant from criminal responsibility. If a defense reduces the severity of the offense, it is called an imperfect defense. If a defense results in an acquittal, it is called a perfect defense. The difference between the two is significant. A defendant who is successful with an imperfect defense is still guilty of a crime; a defendant who is successful with a perfect defense is innocent.

Example of Imperfect and Perfect Defenses

LuLu flies into a rage and kills her sister Lola after she catches Lola sleeping with her fiancé. LuLu is thereafter charged with first-degree murder. LuLu decides to pursue two defenses. First, LuLu claims that the killing should be manslaughter rather than first-degree murder because she honestly but unreasonably believed Lola was going to attack her, so she thought she was acting in self-defense. Second, LuLu claims she was insane at the time the killing occurred. The claim of manslaughter is an imperfect defense that will reduce LuLu’s sentence, but will not acquit her of criminal homicide. The claim of insanity is a perfect defense that will result in an acquittal.

Definition of Factual and Legal Defenses

A defense must be based on specific grounds. If a defense is based on an issue of fact, it is a factual defense. If a defense is based on an issue of law, it is a legal defense.

Example of Factual and Legal Defenses

Armando is charged with the burglary of Roman’s residence. Armando decides to pursue two defenses. First, Armando claims that he was with Phil on the date and time of the burglary. This is called an alibi defense. Second, Armando claims that it is too late to prosecute him for burglary because of the expiration of the statute of limitations. Armando’s alibi defense is a factual defense; it is based on the fact that Armando could not have committed the burglary because he was somewhere else at the time it occurred. Armando’s statute of limitations defense is a legal defense because it is based on a statute that limits the amount of time the government has to prosecute Armando for burglary.

Definition of Justification and Excuse

With the exception of alibi, most affirmative defenses are based on either justification or excuse. Typically, justification and excuse defenses admit that the defendant committed the criminal act with the requisite intent, but insist that the conduct should not be criminal.

A defense based on justification focuses on the offense. A justification defense claims that the defendant’s conduct should be legal rather than criminal because it supports a principle valued by society. A defense based on excuse focuses on the defendant. An excuse defense claims that even though the defendant committed the criminal act with criminal intent, the defendant should not be responsible for his or her behavior.

Example of Justification and Excuse

Review the examples of affirmative, imperfect, and perfect defenses given in Section 5.1.1 “Categorization of Defenses”. Jasmine’s self-defense claim is based on justification. Society believes that individuals should be able to protect themselves from harm, so actions taken in self-defense are justified and noncriminal. Note that a self-defense claim focuses on the offense (battery) in light of the circumstances (to prevent imminent harm). LuLu’s insanity claim is based on excuse. Although LuLu killed Lola with criminal intent, if LuLu is truly insane it is not be fair or just to punish her for her behavior. Note that an insanity claim focuses on the defendant (a legally insane individual) and whether he or she should be criminally responsible for his or her conduct.

Table 5.1 Categorization of Defenses

Defense Type Characteristics
Common-law Created by a court
Statutory Created by a state or federal legislature
Denial or failure of proof Creates doubt in one or more elements of the offense and prevents the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof
Affirmative Raises an issue separate from the elements of the offense
Imperfect Reduces the severity of the offense
Perfect Results in an acquittal
Factual Based on an issue of fact
Legal Based on an issue of law
Alibi Asserts that the defendant was somewhere else when the crime was committed
Expiration of the statute of limitations Asserts that it is too late for the government to prosecute the defendant for the crime
Justification Claims that the criminal conduct is justified under the circumstances
Excuse Claims that the defendant should be excused for his or her conduct

Key Takeaways

  • A denial or failure of proof defense focuses on the elements of the crime and prevents the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof. An affirmative defense is a defense that raises an issue separate from the elements of the crime. Most affirmative defenses are based on justification or excuse and must be raised before or during the trial to preserve the issue for appeal.
  • An imperfect defense reduces the severity of the offense; a perfect defense results in an acquittal.
  • If the basis for a defense is an issue of fact, it is called a factual defense. If the basis for a defense is an issue of law, it is called a legal defense.
  • An example of a factual defense is an alibi defense, which asserts that the defendant could not have committed the crime because he or she was somewhere else when the crime occurred. An example of a legal defense is a claim that the statute of limitations has expired, which asserts that it is too late for the government to prosecute the defendant for the crime.
  • An affirmative defense is based on justification when it claims that criminal conduct is justified under the circumstances. An affirmative defense is based on excuse when it claims that the criminal defendant should be excused for his or her conduct.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Carol is on trial for battery, a general intent crime. Carol puts on a defense that proves her conduct was accidental, not intentional. Is this an affirmative defense? Why or why not?
  2. Read State v. Burkhart, 565 S.E.2d 298 (2002). In Burkhart, the defendant was convicted of three counts of murder. The defendant claimed he acted in self-defense. The jury instruction given during the defendant’s trial stated that the prosecution had the burden of disproving self-defense. However, the instruction did not state that the prosecution’s burden of disproving self-defense was beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the Supreme Court of South Carolina uphold the defendant’s conviction for the murders? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1066148868024499763&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Hoagland v. State, 240 P.3d 1043 (2010). In Hoagland, the defendant wanted to assert a necessity defense to the crime of driving while under the influence. The Nevada Legislature had never addressed or mentioned a necessity defense. Did the Supreme Court of Nevada allow the defendant to present the necessity defense? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8002120339805439441&q= Hoagland+v.+State&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_ylo=2009.

References

Findlaw.com, “The Insanity Defense among the States,” findlaw.com website, accessed October 11, 2010, http://criminal.findlaw.com/crimes/more-criminal-topics/insanity-defense/the-insanity-defense-among-the-states.html.

5.2 Self-Defense

25

Learning Objectives

  1. Define self-defense.
  2. Define deadly force.
  3. Ascertain the four elements required for self-defense.
  4. Ascertain two exceptions to the unprovoked attack requirement.
  5. Define the battered wife defense, and explain its justification under the imminence requirement.
  6. Analyze when it is appropriate to use deadly force in self-defense.
  7. Distinguish between the duty to retreat and stand-your-ground doctrines.
  8. Define imperfect self-defense.

As stated previously, self-defense is a defense based on justification. Self-defense can be a defense to assault, battery, and criminal homicide because it always involves the use of force. In the majority of states, self-defense is a statutory defense (Mich. Comp. Laws, 2010). However, it can be modified or expanded by courts on a case-by-case basis.

Most states have special requirements when the defendant uses deadly force in self-defense. Deadly force is defined as any force that could potentially kill. An individual does not have to actually die for the force to be considered deadly. Examples of deadly force are the use of a knife, gun, vehicle, or even bare hands when there is a disparity in size between two individuals.

Self-defense can operate as a perfect or imperfect defense, depending on the circumstances. Defendants who commit criminal homicide justified by self-defense can be acquitted, or have a murder charge reduced from first to second or third degree, or have a charge reduced from murder to manslaughter. Criminal homicide is discussed in detail in Chapter 9 “Criminal Homicide”.

To successfully claim self-defense, the defendant must prove four elements. First, with exceptions, the defendant must prove that he or she was confronted with an unprovoked attack. Second, the defendant must prove that the threat of injury or death was imminent. Third, the defendant must prove that the degree of force used in self-defense was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Fourth, the defendant must prove that he or she had an objectively reasonable fear that he or she was going to be injured or killed unless he or she used self-defense. The Model Penal Code defines self-defense in § 3.04(1) as “justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.”

Provocation

In general, if the defendant initiates an attack against another, the defendant cannot claim self-defense (State v. Williams, 2010). This rule has two exceptions. The defendant can be the initial aggressor and still raise a self-defense claim if the attacked individual responds with excessive force under the circumstances, or if the defendant withdraws from the attack and the attacked individual persists.

Excessive Force Exception

In some jurisdictions, an individual cannot respond to the defendant’s attack using excessive force under the circumstances (State v. Belgard, 2010). For example, an individual cannot use deadly force when the defendant initiates an attack using nondeadly force. If an individual does resort to deadly force with a nondeadly force attack, the defendant can use reasonable force in self-defense.

Example of the Excessive Force Exception

Patty and Paige get into an argument over a loan Patty made to Paige. Paige calls Patty a spoiled brat who always gets her way. Patty slaps Paige across the face. Paige grabs a carving knife from the kitchen counter and tries to stab Patty. Patty wrestles the knife away and stabs Paige in the chest, killing her. In this example, Patty provoked the attack by slapping Paige across the face. However, the slap is nondeadly force. In many jurisdictions, Paige cannot respond to nondeadly force with deadly force, like a knife. Paige used excessive force in her response to Patty’s slap, so Patty can use deadly force to defend herself and may not be responsible for criminal homicide under these circumstances.

Withdrawal Exception

In some jurisdictions, the defendant can be the initial aggressor and still use force in self-defense if the defendant withdraws from the attack, and communicates this withdrawal to the attacked individual (N.Y. Penal Law, 2010). If the attacked individual persists in using force against the defendant after the defendant’s withdrawal, rather than notifying law enforcement or retreating, the defendant is justified in using force under the circumstances.

Example of Withdrawal

Change the excessive force exception example in Section 5 “Example of the Excessive Force Exception”. Imagine that after Patty slaps Paige across the face, Paige begins pounding Patty with her fists. Patty manages to escape and runs into the garage. She huddles against the garage wall. Paige chases Patty into the garage. Patty says, “Please, please don’t hurt me. I’m sorry I slapped you.” Paige kicks Patty in the back. Patty turns around and karate chops Paige in the neck, rendering her unconscious. In many jurisdictions, Patty’s karate chop is lawful under a theory of self-defense because she completely withdrew from the attack. Thus Patty is probably not criminally responsible for battery, based on the karate chop to the neck. However, Patty could be criminally responsible for battery based on the slap to Paige’s face because this physical contact was unprovoked and not defensive under the circumstances.

Figure 5.3 New York Penal Law

New York Penal Law

Imminence

The defendant cannot use any degree of force in self-defense unless the defendant is faced with an imminent attack (State v. Taylor, 2010). Imminent means the attack is immediate and not something that will occur in the future. If the defendant is threatened with a future attack, the appropriate response is to inform law enforcement, so that they can incapacitate the threatening individual by arrest or prosecution. Another situation where imminence is lacking is when the attack occurred in the past. When the defendant uses force to remedy a previous attack, this is retaliatory, and a self-defense claim is not appropriate. The legal response is to inform law enforcement so that they can incapacitate the attacker by arrest or prosecution.

Some state courts have expanded the imminence requirement to include situations where a husband in a domestic violence situation uses force or violence regularly against the defendant, a battered wife, therefore creating a threat of imminent harm every day (Bechtel v. State, 2010). If a jurisdiction recognizes the battered wife defense, the defendant—the battered wife—can legally use force against her abusive husband in self-defense in situations where harm is not necessarily immediate.

Example of an Attack That Is Not Imminent

Vinny tells Fiona that if she does not pay him the $1,000 she owes him, he will put out a contract on her life. Fiona pulls out a loaded gun and shoots Vinny. Fiona cannot successfully argue self-defense in this case. Vinny’s threat was a threat of future harm, not imminent harm. Thus Fiona had plenty of time to contact law enforcement to help protect her safety.

Example of an Attack That Is Retaliatory

Dwight and Abel get into a fist fight. Dwight knocks Abel unconscious. Dwight observes Abel for a few minutes, and then he picks up a large rock and crushes Abel’s skull with it, killing him. Dwight cannot claim self-defense in this situation. Once Dwight realized that Abel was unconscious, he did not need to continue to defend himself against an imminent attack. Dwight’s conduct appears retaliatory and is not justified under these circumstances.

Example of an Imminent Attack under the Battered Wife Defense

Spike severely beats and injures his wife Veronica every couple of days. Spike’s beatings have become more violent, and Veronica starts to fear for her life. One night, Veronica shoots and kills Spike while he is sleeping. In states that have expanded self-defense to include the battered wife defense, Veronica may be successful on a theory of self-defense.

Mary Winkler Defense Video

Dr. Alan J. Lipman Catherine Crier on Winkler Spousal Abuse Murder Trial

Mary Winkler claimed the battered wife defense as an imperfect defense to the murder of her husband, a pastor (Gay, M., 2011).

Proportionality

The defendant cannot claim self-defense unless the degree of force used is objectively reasonable under the circumstances. This requirement primarily focuses on the use of deadly force and when it is legally justified. In general, deadly force can by employed in self-defense when a reasonable person feels threatened with imminent death, serious bodily injury, and, in some jurisdictions, a serious felony (Or. Rev. Stat. 2010). Serious bodily injury and serious felony are technical terms that are defined in a statute or case, depending on the jurisdiction. The Model Penal Code states that deadly force is not justifiable “unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat” (Model Penal Code § 3.04(2)(b)).

Example of Appropriate Deadly Force

Nicholas, an intruder, pins Wanda to the floor of her garage and begins to forcibly remove her clothing. Wanda feels around the floor with her hand and finds a screwdriver. She plunges the screwdriver into Nicholas’s neck, killing him. Wanda has used appropriate force and can claim self-defense in most jurisdictions. A reasonable person in Wanda’s situation would feel deadly force is necessary to repel Nicholas’s sexual assault. Nicholas’s attack is a serious felony that could result in serious bodily injury or death. Thus the use of deadly force is legally justified under these circumstances.

Duty to Retreat

Early common law stated that the defendant had a duty to retreat to the wall before using deadly force against an attacker. The majority of states have rejected this doctrine and instead allow the defendant to stand his or her ground if the defendant is not the initial aggressor in the confrontation (State v. Sandoval, 2010). In jurisdictions that still follow the retreat doctrine, the defendant must retreat if there is an objectively reasonable belief that the attacker will cause death or serious bodily injury, and a retreat won’t unreasonably increase the likelihood of death or serious bodily injury (Connecticut Criminal Jury Instructions, 2010). The Model Penal Code defines the duty to retreat by stating that the use of deadly force is not justifiable if “the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating” (Model Penal Code § 3.04 (2) (b) (ii)). An established exception to the retreat doctrine in jurisdictions that follow it is the defense of the home, which is called the castle doctrine. The castle doctrine is discussed shortly.

Example of the Duty to Retreat

Sandy and Sue have an argument in the park. Sue pulls a knife out of a sheath that is strapped to her leg and begins to advance toward Sandy. Sandy also has a knife in her pocket. In a state that follows the retreat doctrine, Sandy must attempt to escape, if she can do so safely. In a state that follows the stand-your-ground doctrine, Sandy can defend herself using her own knife and claim lawful self-defense. Note that Sandy was not the initial aggressor in this situation. If Sandy pulled a knife first, she could not use the knife and claim self-defense, whether the state follows the stand-your-ground doctrine or the duty to retreat doctrine.

Objectively Reasonable Fear of Injury or Death

The defendant cannot claim self-defense unless a reasonable person in the defendant’s situation would believe that self-defense is necessary to avoid injury or death. If the defendant honestly but unreasonably believes self-defense is necessary under the circumstances, a claim of imperfect self-defense may reduce the severity of the offense (State v. Faulkner, 2010). However, the defendant is still guilty of a crime, albeit a less serious crime.

Example of Unjustified Conduct

Justin, who weighs over two hundred pounds and is six feet tall, accidentally bumps into Wanda, a slender ten-year-old child. Wanda spins around and shakes her fist at Justin. Justin responds by shoving Wanda so hard that she crashes into a telephone pole and is killed. Justin probably cannot claim self-defense under these circumstances. A reasonable person would not believe Wanda is about to seriously injure or kill Justin. Thus Justin’s response is unnecessary and unjustified in this case.

Example of Imperfect Self-Defense

Change the unjustified conduct example given in Section 5 “Example of Unjustified Conduct”. Imagine that a slender, female ten-year-old severely abused Justin when he was younger. Since the abusive incident, Justin has an unreasonable fear of female children and honestly believes that they can and will hurt him if provoked. If the trier of fact determines that Justin honestly but unreasonably believed that Wanda was about to inflict serious bodily injury or kill him, any charge of murder could be reduced to manslaughter on a theory of imperfect self-defense.

Key Takeaways

  • Self-defense is a defense based on justification that allows a defendant to use physical force to protect himself or herself from injury or death.
  • Deadly force is any force that can produce death. An individual does not have to die for the force to be deemed deadly.
  • Four elements are required for self-defense: (1) an unprovoked attack, (2) which threatens imminent injury or death, and (3) an objectively reasonable degree of force, used in response to (4) an objectively reasonable fear of injury or death.
  • Two exceptions to the unprovoked attack rule are an individual’s use of excessive force in response to an initial attack and the defendant’s withdrawal from the initial attack.
  • The battered wife defense asserts that a woman who is a victim of spousal abuse may use force in self-defense under certain circumstances, even when the threat of harm is not immediate. The battered wife defense is justified with respect to the imminence requirement: because the abuse is so constant, the battered wife faces an imminent threat every day.
  • Deadly force is appropriate in self-defense when the attacker threatens death, serious bodily injury, and, in some jurisdictions, a serious felony.
  • The duty to retreat doctrine is a common-law rule requiring a defendant to retreat if it is safe to do so, instead of using deadly force in self-defense. The stand-your-ground doctrine is a rule allowing the defendant to use deadly force if appropriate in self-defense, rather than retreating.
  • Imperfect self-defense is a defense available when the defendant has an honest but unreasonable belief that force is necessary to defend against injury or death. Imperfect self-defense reduces the severity of the offense, but does not result in acquittal.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Scott’s wife Diane constantly physically abuses him. One night while Diane is sleeping, Scott places a pillow over her face and smothers her. Can Scott defend against a charge of criminal homicide by claiming self-defense? Why or why not?
  2. Read Rodriguez v. State, 212 S.W.3d 819 (2006). In Rodriguez, the defendant was convicted of murder and attempted murder. The defendant appealed his convictions on the ground that the jury did not unanimously reject each element of self-defense. Did the Court of Appeals of Texas uphold the defendant’s convictions? The case is available at this link: https://casetext.com/case/rodriguez-v-state-464.
  3. Read Shuler v. Babbitt, 49 F.Supp.2d 1165 (1998). In Shuler, the defendant shot and killed a grizzly bear that charged him while he checked a sheep pasture to make sure his sheep were safe. The sheep had already been subjected to several bear attacks. The Fish and Wildlife Service thereafter fined the defendant under the Endangered Species Act. The defendant claimed self-defense against the bear. The Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the defendant provoked the attack and could not claim self-defense. Did the US District Court for the District of Montana uphold the fine? The case is available at this link: http://www.gilalivestockgrowers.org/documents/ShulerVsBabbitt.pdf.

Law and Ethics: The Menendez Brothers

Were They Entitled to a Jury Instruction on Imperfect Self-Defense?

Read Menendez v. Terhune, 422 F.3d 1012 (2005). The case is available at this link: http://cases.justia.com/us-court-of-appeals/F3/422/1012/569492.

Lyle and Eric Menendez were tried and convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder of their parents. There were two series of trials. The first trial, which had two separate juries, resulted in two hung juries. At the first trial, the brothers introduced evidence of sexual abuse by their father, and the court instructed the jury on imperfect self-defense. The imperfect self-defense jury instruction was based on the brothers’ honest but unreasonable fear that their father would hurt or kill them (Menendez v. Terhune, 2010). The second trial took place in front of one jury and resulted in the convictions. During the second trial, some evidence of abuse was excluded, Lyle Menendez refused to testify, and there was no jury instruction on imperfect self-defense. After sentencing, the brothers petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus based on several claims, including the exclusion of the abuse evidence and failure to instruct the jury on imperfect self-defense (Menendez v. Terhune, 2010). The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the petition on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury instruction on imperfect self-defense and no foundation to support the admissibility of the evidence of abuse. The court held that the evidence confirmed there was no imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death when the brothers killed their parents.

The facts of the case are lurid. Evidence included the sexual abuse of both boys by their father, surreptitiously taped psychotherapy sessions, spending sprees, fabricated mafia hit stories, and alleged will tampering by the brothers after the parents were killed.

  1. Do you think the Menendez case should have been treated as a “battered child syndrome” case, easing the requirement of imminence and allowing for a jury instruction on imperfect self-defense?

Check your answer using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

Menendez Brothers Video

Lyle and Erik Menendez News Report

A news story on the conviction of the Menendez brothers is presented in this video:

References

Bechtel v. State, 840 P.2d 1 (1992), accessed November 13, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14171263417876785206&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Connecticut Criminal Jury Instructions, No. 2.8-3, accessed November 13, 2010, http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part2/2.8-3.htm.

Gay, M., “Abused Wife Who Killed Preacher Husband Speaks Out,” Huffingtonpost.com website, accessed August 25, 2011, http://www.aolnews.com/2010/11/05/abused-wife-who-killed-preacher-husband-speaks-out.

Menendez v. Terhune, 422 F.3d 1012, 1024 (2005), accessed November 19, 2010, http://cases.justia.com/us-court-of-appeals/F3/422/1012/569492.

Mich. Comp. Laws § 780.972, accessed November 13, 2010, http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(3li5rs55kkzn2pfegtskdunn))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-780-972&highlight=self-defense.

N.Y. Penal Law § 35.15(1)(b), accessed November 13, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN035.15_35.15.html.

Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.219, accessed November 13, 2010, http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/161.html.

State v. Belgard, 410 So.2d 720 (1982), accessed November 13, 2010, http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=19821130410So2d720_1997.xml&docbase=CSLWAR1-1950-1985.

State v. Faulkner, 483 A.2d 759 (1984), accessed November 13, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17158253875987176431&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

State v. Sandoval, 130 P.3d 808 (2006), accessed November 13, 2010, http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/S53457.htm.

State v. Taylor, 858 P.2d 1358 (1993), accessed November 13, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1539441759711884447&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

State v. Williams, 644 P.2d 889 (1982), accessed November 13, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=18157916201475630105&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

5.3 Other Use-of-Force Defenses

26

Learning Objectives

  1. Ascertain the elements required for the defense of others.
  2. Define real and personal property.
  3. Explain the appropriate circumstances and degree of force a defendant can use when defending property.
  4. Ascertain the elements required for the defense of ejection of trespasser.
  5. Distinguish defense of property from defense of habitation.
  6. Ascertain the three elements required for the use of deadly force in defense of habitation under modern castle laws.
  7. Identify three common features of modern castle laws.
  8. Ascertain the constitutional parameters of the use of force by law enforcement to arrest or apprehend criminal suspects.

Aside from self-defense, a defendant can legally use force to defend another person, real or personal property, and habitation. In addition, law enforcement can use force to arrest or capture individuals who reasonably appear to be committing crimes. In this section, the elements of several use-of-force defenses will be reviewed. Keep in mind that these defenses can be statutory, common-law, perfect, or imperfect, depending on the facts and the jurisdiction.

Defense of Others

According to early common law, a defendant could use force to defend another only when the defendant and the person defended had a special relationship, such as a family connection. Most jurisdictions now reject this common-law restriction on defense of others and allow a defendant to defend anyone to the same degree that he or she could use self-defense (People v. Kurr, 2010). Thus in a majority of jurisdictions, defense of others requires the same elements as self-defense: the individual defended must be facing an unprovoked, imminent attack, and the defendant must use a reasonable degree of force with a reasonable belief that force is necessary to repel the attack.

Occasionally, a defendant uses force to defend another who has no legal right to use force in self-defense. Under the common law, the defendant could not use force legally if the individual defended could not use force legally in self-defense. However, the majority of states now allow a defendant to use force to defend another person if it reasonably appears that use of force is justified under the circumstances (Commonwealth v. Miranda, 2010). The Model Penal Code allows the defense of another when “under the circumstances as the actor believes them to be, the person whom he seeks to protect would be justified in using such protective force” (Model Penal Code § 3.05(1) (b)). Thus if the defendant has a subjective belief that the individual defended could use force legally in self-defense, defense of others is appropriate under the Model Penal Code.

Example of Defense of Others

Alex and Shane, aspiring law enforcement officers, are performing a training maneuver in a rural area. Their instructor Devin is watching nearby. Alex pretends to attack Shane. Just as Devin is about to demonstrate a takedown, Timmy, who is jogging in the area, dashes over and begins beating Alex. Under the older common-law rule, Timmy could be successfully prosecuted for battery of Alex. Shane did not have the right to use self-defense during a practice maneuver, so neither did Timmy. In jurisdictions that allow defense of others if it reasonably appears that self-defense is warranted, Timmy could probably use the defense to battery because it reasonably appeared that Alex was about to unlawfully attack Shane. In jurisdictions that follow the Model Penal Code, Timmy can most likely use defense of others as a defense to battery because it is clear Timmy honestly believed Shane had the right to use self-defense in this situation.

Defense of Property

All jurisdictions allow individuals to use force in defense of property under certain specified circumstances. Property can be real or personal. Real property is land and anything permanently attached to it. This includes a home. However, defense of the home is discussed in Section 5.3.3 “Defense of Habitation”. Personal property is any movable object.

In the majority of states, the defendant can use force only to defend real or personal property if the defendant has an objectively reasonable belief that an imminent threat of damage, destruction, or theft will occur (California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2010). The Model Penal Code provides “the use of force upon or toward the person of another is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary: (a) to prevent or terminate an unlawful entry or other trespass upon land or a trespass against or the unlawful carrying away of tangible, movable property” (Model Penal Code §3.06(1) (a)). Thus if the defendant has a subjective belief that force is immediately necessary to protect real or personal property, force is appropriate under the Model Penal Code.

The amount of force that a defendant may legally use to protect real or personal property is reasonable force, under the circumstances (K.S.A., 2010). The defendant can also chase someone who steals personal property and take the item back (Conn. Gen. Stat., 2010). The Model Penal Code provides “the use of force upon or toward the person of another is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary…to retake tangible movable property” (Model Penal Code §3.06(1) (b)). In general, the Model Penal Code and most states do not authorize the use of deadly force to protect property (other than the home) under any circumstances (Fla. Stat. Ann., 2010).

Example of Defense of Property

Kelsey sees Keith, her stepbrother, approaching her brand new car with a key in his hand. It appears that Keith is about to scrape the paint on the door of the car with this key. Kelsey tackles Keith to prevent him from vandalizing the car. Kelsey has probably used reasonable force under the circumstances and can claim defense of property as a defense to battery. If Keith testifies that he was simply going to hand Kelsey the key, which she left in the house, the attack could still be justified if the trier of fact determines that it was objectively reasonable for Kelsey to believe Keith was about to damage her property. In jurisdictions that follow the Model Penal Code, Kelsey can probably use defense of property as a defense to battery because it is clear Kelsey believed that force was immediately necessary to protect her personal property in this situation. Of course, if Kelsey pulls out a gun and shoots Keith, she could not claim defense of property because deadly force is never justifiable to protect real or personal property from harm.

Ejection of Trespasser

A simple trespasser is an individual who is present on real property without consent of the owner. Property owners have the legal right to eject trespassers under certain specified circumstances.

Most states authorize the ejection of a trespasser if the trespasser is first asked to leave and fails to comply within a reasonable time (N.J. Stat., 2010). The degree of force that can be used to eject the trespasser is reasonable force, under the circumstances (Iowa Code, 2010). Deadly force is never reasonable to eject a trespasser unless the trespasser threatens imminent deadly force against the defendant or another individual (State v. Curley, 2010). Deadly force under these circumstances is justified by self-defense or defense of others, not ejection of trespasser.

Example of Ejection of Trespasser

Sam sees Burt sitting on his lawn. Sam goes up to Burt and asks him to “move along.” Burt looks up, but does not stand. Sam goes into the house and calls law enforcement, but they inform Sam that there is a local emergency, and they cannot come and eject Burt for at least five hours. Sam goes back outside and sees that Burt is now sprawled out across the lawn. Sam grabs Burt, lifts him to his feet, and pushes him off the lawn and onto the sidewalk. Sam can probably use ejection of trespasser as a defense to battery of Burt. Sam asked Burt the trespasser to leave, and Burt ignored him. Sam’s attempt to rely on law enforcement was likewise unsuccessful. Sam’s use of nondeadly force appears objectively reasonable. Thus Sam’s ejection of a trespasser is most likely appropriate under these circumstances.

Defense of Habitation

Defense of habitation is a defense that applies specifically to the defendant’s residence. At early common law, a person’s home was as sacred as his or her person, and deadly force could be employed to protect it. The majority of states have since enacted modern castle laws that embody this common-law doctrine. Other than the use of deadly force, defense of habitation generally follows the same rules as defense of property, self-defense, and defense of others. Thus this defense of habitation discussion focuses primarily on the use of deadly force.

The first state to expand the defense of habitation to include the use of deadly force was Colorado, with its “make my day” self-defense statute (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2010). In 2005, Florida began a wave of castle law modifications that resulted in most states revising their defense of habitation laws (Fla. Stat. Ann., 2010). Generally, three elements must be present before the use of deadly force is appropriate to defend habitation under modern castle laws. First, the intruder must actually enter or be in the process of entering the residence owned by the defendant (Fla. Stat. Ann., 2010). This excludes intruders who are outside or in the curtilage, which is the protected area around the home. Second, the residence must be occupied when the entry occurs. This excludes devices like spring-guns that protect unoccupied dwellings with deadly force (People v. Ceballos, 2010). Third, the defendant must have an objectively reasonable belief that the intruder intends to commit a crime of violence against the occupant(s) after entry (Or. Rev. Stat., 2010). The Model Penal Code provides “[t]he use of deadly force is not justifiable…unless the actor believes that…the person against whom the force is used is attempting to dispossess him of his dwelling…or…attempting to commit…arson, burglary, robbery or other felonious theft…and either…has employed or threatened deadly force…or…the use of force other than deadly force would expose the actor or another in his presence to substantial danger of serious bodily harm” (Model Penal Code § 3.06 (3)(d)).

The majority of states’ castle laws abolish any duty to retreat when inside the home (Alaska Stat., 2010). Florida’s castle law creates a presumption that the defendant has a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury when the intruder makes an unlawful or forceful entry (Fla Stat. Ann., 2010). This compels the prosecution to disprove the defendant’s reasonable belief of death or great bodily injury beyond a reasonable doubt, which is extremely difficult. Additional features of many castle laws are civil immunity and criminal immunity from prosecution (720 ILCS, 2010). Immunity from prosecution means that a defendant who complies with the castle law requirements cannot be sued for damages or prosecuted for a crime based on injury or death to the intruder.

Figure 5.4 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Example of Defense of Habitation under a Castle Law

Nate, a homeowner with three children, hears the front door open in the middle of the night. Nate removes a handgun from the nightstand and creeps silently down the stairs. He sees Bob tiptoeing toward his daughter’s bedroom. Nate shoots and kills Bob. Unfortunately, Bob is Nate’s daughter’s boyfriend, who was trying to enter her bedroom for a late-night get-together. Nate could probably assert the defense of protection of habitation under modern castle laws in most jurisdictions. Bob made entry into an occupied residence. It is difficult to identify individuals in the dark and to ascertain their motives for entering a residence without the owner’s consent. Thus it was objectively reasonable for Nate to feel threatened by Bob’s presence and to use deadly force to protect his domicile and its residents. If Nate is successful with his defense, he will also be immune from a civil suit for damages if the castle law in his jurisdiction provides this immunity.

Change the example with Nate and Bob so that Bob enters the residence during the day, and Nate identifies him as his daughter’s boyfriend. Under these circumstances, the prosecution could rebut any presumption that Nate’s actions were objectively reasonable. A reasonable person would ask Bob why he was entering the residence before shooting and killing him. The trier of fact might determine that Nate’s intent was not to protect himself and his family, but to kill Bob, which would be malice aforethought. If Nate’s actions are not justifiable by the defense of habitation, he could be charged with and convicted of first-degree murder in this situation.

Use of Force in Arrest and Apprehension of Criminal Suspects

Occasionally, law enforcement must use force to effectuate an arrest or apprehend a criminal suspect. The appropriate use of force during an arrest or apprehension can operate as a defense to assault, battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping, and criminal homicide. At early common law, law enforcement could use reasonable, nondeadly force to arrest an individual for a misdemeanor and reasonable, even deadly force, to arrest an individual for any felony. Modern law enforcement’s ability to use deadly force is governed by the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court clarified the constitutional standard for law enforcement’s use of deadly force in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). In Garner, the Court invalidated a Tennessee statute that allowed law enforcement to exercise any degree of force to apprehend and arrest a fleeing felon. The law enforcement officer in Garner admitted that he shot and killed a suspect, reasonably believing he was unarmed. The Court held that the Fourth Amendment governed law enforcement’s use of deadly force in this situation because the use of deadly force is a seizure. Thus law enforcement’s use of deadly force must be scrutinized pursuant to the standard of constitutional reasonableness. According to the Court, the only constitutionally reasonable circumstances under which law enforcement can use deadly force to arrest or apprehend a fleeing felon is when law enforcement has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Currently, most jurisdictions have statutes protecting law enforcement’s reasonable use of force when effectuating an arrest or apprehending a fleeing suspect. Under Garner, these statutes must restrict the lawful use of deadly force to potentially deadly situations. If a law enforcement officer exceeds the use of force permitted under the circumstances, the law enforcement officer could be prosecuted for a crime or sued for civil damages (or both).

Example of Reasonable Force by Law Enforcement to Arrest

Review the example in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”, Section 1.2.1 “Example of Criminal Law Issues”. In that example, Linda puts a bra in her purse without paying for it at an expensive department store. When she attempts to leave the store, an alarm is activated. Linda begins sprinting down the street. Colin, a police officer, just happens to be driving by with the window of his patrol car open. He hears the store alarm, sees Linda running, and begins shooting at Linda from the car. Linda is shot in the leg and collapses. In this example, no facts exist to indicate that Linda poses a potentially deadly threat to Colin or others. The fact that Linda is running down the street and an alarm is going off does not demonstrate that Linda has committed a crime necessitating deadly force to arrest. Thus Colin can use only nondeadly force to arrest Linda, such as his hands, or possibly a stun gun or Taser to subdue her. If Linda is unarmed and Colin uses a firearm to subdue her, the utilization of deadly force is excessive under these circumstances and Colin has no defense to assault with a deadly weapon or to attempted murder.

Change this example and imagine that Colin pulls over and attempts to arrest Linda. Linda removes a gun from her purse. Under most modern statutes, Colin does not have a duty to retreat and can use deadly force to arrest or apprehend Linda. Under Garner, it is reasonable to believe that Linda poses a danger of death or serious bodily injury to Colin or others. Thus Colin can constitutionally use deadly force to protect himself and the public from harm in this situation. Note that Linda’s theft is probably a misdemeanor, not a felony. However, it is Linda’s exhibition of deadly force to resist arrest that triggers Colin’s deadly force response. Under these circumstances, Colin’s use of deadly force is justified and can operate as a legal defense in a criminal prosecution or civil suit for damages.

Figure 5.5 Diagram of Use-of-Force Defenses

Diagram of Use-of-Force Defenses

Key Takeaways

  • Defense of others has the same elements as self-defense: the individual defended must be facing an unprovoked, imminent attack, and the defendant must use a reasonable degree of force with a reasonable belief that force is necessary to repel the attack.
  • Real property is land and anything permanently attached to it. Personal property is any movable object.
  • The defendant can use nondeadly force to defend real or personal property if the defendant has an objectively reasonable belief that an imminent threat of damage, destruction, or theft will occur.
  • Property owners can use reasonable nondeadly force to eject a trespasser after first asking the trespasser to leave.
  • Only nondeadly force may be used to defend property; deadly force may be used to defend habitation.
  • The defendant can use deadly force to defend habitation under modern castle laws if an intruder enters occupied premises, and the defendant has an objectively reasonable belief that the intruder will seriously injure or kill the occupants.
  • Modern castle laws abolish the duty to retreat when inside the home, occasionally include a presumption that the defendant has an objectively reasonable belief the intruder is going to seriously injure or kill the occupants, and provide civil and criminal immunity from prosecution.
  • Use of deadly force by law enforcement is considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, so law enforcement cannot use deadly force to apprehend or arrest a criminal suspect unless there is probable cause to believe the suspect will inflict serious physical injury or death upon the officer or others.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Melanie watches as Betty verbally abuses Colleen. Betty is a known bully who verbally abused Melanie in the past. Betty calls Colleen an expletive and gives her a firm shove. Melanie walks up behind Betty, removes a knife from her pocket, and plunges the knife into Betty’s back. Betty suffers internal injuries and later dies. Can Melanie use defense of others as a defense to criminal homicide? Why or why not?
  2. Read Commonwealth v. Alexander, 531 S.E.2d 567 (2000). In Alexander, the defendant was convicted of brandishing a weapon when he pointed an unloaded rifle at an individual who was repossessing his vehicle in an aggressive and belligerent manner. Did the Supreme Court of Virginia uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/va-supreme-court/1454888.html.
  3. Read Dutton v. Hayes-Pupko, No. 03-06-00438 (2008). In Dutton, a law enforcement officer asked the victim for her name and date of birth after she allegedly sprayed her neighbors with a hose. The victim refused to respond, and the law enforcement officer handcuffed her and forced her into his vehicle, injuring her wrist. The victim sued for use of excessive force in arrest. Did the Texas Court of Appeals hold that the victim had the right to sue the officer for use of excessive force in arrest? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17543977294597089197&q= Dutton+v.+Hayes-Pupko&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1.

References

Alaska Stat. § 11.81.335(b), accessed November 16, 2010, http://touchngo.com/lglcntr/akstats/Statutes/Title11/Chapter81/Section335.htm.

California Criminal Jury Instructions No. 3476, accessed November 15, 2010, http://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/3400/3476.html.

Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-1-704.5, accessed November 16, 2010, http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/jeffco/sheriff_uploads/revised_statutes.htm.

Commonwealth v. Miranda, No. 08-P-2094 (2010), accessed November 14, 2010, http://www.socialaw.com/slip.htm?cid=19939&sid=119.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-21, accessed November 15, 2010, http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/pub/chap951.htm#Sec53a-21.htm.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 776.031, accessed November 16, 2010, http://law.justia.com/florida/codes/2007/TitleXLVI/chapter776/776_031.html.

Iowa Code § 704.4, accessed November 15, 2010, http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/cool-ice/default.asp?category=billinfo&service=iowacode&ga=83&input=704#704.4.

K.S.A. § 21-3213, accessed November 15, 2010, http://kansasstatutes.lesterama.org/Chapter_21/Article_32/21-3213.html.

N.J. Stat. § 2C:3-6, accessed November 15, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-jersey/2c-the-new-jersey-code-of-criminal-justice/3-6.html.

Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.225, accessed November 16, 2010, http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/161.html.

People v. Ceballos, 526 P.2d 241 (1974), accessed November 16, 2010, http://wings.buffalo.edu/law/bclc/web/calceballos.htm.

People v. Kurr, 654 N.W.2d 651 (2002), accessed November 14, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14992698629411781257&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

State v. Curley, Docket # 0000011.WA (Wash. App. 2010), accessed November 15, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=11648057948374905030&q= State+v.+Curley&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_ylo=2009.

720 ILCS § 5/7-2 (b), accessed November 16, 2010, http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=072000050HArt.+7&ActID=1876&ChapAct=720.

5.4 Defenses Based on Choice

27

Learning Objectives

  1. Ascertain the three elements required for the choice of evils defense.
  2. Distinguish between the choice of evils defense and the duress defense.
  3. Identify one crime that is not justifiable by the choice of evils defense or the duress defense.

Occasionally, the law protects a defendant from criminal responsibility when the defendant has no choice but to commit the crime. In this section, we review the choice of evils and duress defenses.

Choice of Evils Defense

The choice of evils defense (called the necessity defense in some jurisdictions) protects a defendant from criminal responsibility when the defendant commits a crime to avoid a greater, imminent harm. Under the Model Penal Code, “[c]onduct which the actor believes to be necessary to avoid harm or evil…is justifiable, provided that: (a) the harm or evil sought to be avoided by such conduct is greater than that sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense charged” (Model Penal Code § 3.02(1)(a)). The choice of evils defense can be statutory or common-law, perfect or imperfect, depending on the jurisdiction.

The choice of evils defense generally requires three elements. First, there must be more than one harm that will occur under the circumstances. Usually, the harms are the product of nature, or are circumstances beyond the defendant’s control (State v. Holmes, 2010). Second, the harms must be ranked, with one of the harms ranked more severe than the other. The ranking is generally up to the legislature or common law. In many jurisdictions, the loss of life is never justifiable under this defense and cannot be ranked lower than any other harm (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2010). Third, the defendant must have an objectively reasonable belief that the greater harm is imminent and can only be avoided by committing the crime that results in the lesser harm (Tenn. Code Ann., 2010).

Figure 5.6 Kentucky Revised Statutes

Kentucky Revised Statutes

The choice of evils defense is rarely used and is generally only a defense to the loss or destruction of property. When the defense is perfect, it results in an acquittal. When the defense is imperfect, it results in a reduction in sentence or the defendant’s conviction of a lesser offense.

Example of the Choice of Evils Defense

Tamara gets lost while hiking in a remote, mountainous area. After wandering around for hours with the temperature dropping, Tamara finds a locked cabin. Tamara breaks a window and climbs inside. Once inside, Tamara prepares some canned chili, drinks tap water, and uses the telephone to call law enforcement. Tamara could probably plead and prove choice of evils as a defense to burglary and theft in many jurisdictions. Tamara was confronted with two harms: harm to her personal safety and well-being and harm to the real and personal property of another. The harm to Tamara’s health and safety is ranked more severe than the minimal harm to property. It is objectively reasonable to break into and enter a cabin and use some of the supplies inside to prevent imminent injury or death. Thus although Tamara committed burglary and theft in many jurisdictions, she did so with the reasonable belief that she was saving her own life. A trier of fact could find that the harm avoided by Tamara’s actions was greater than the harm caused by the burglary and theft, and Tamara could be acquitted, or have her sentence or crime reduced, depending on the jurisdiction.

Change the facts in the preceding example, and imagine that Tamara steals money and jewelry in addition to the chili and tap water. Tamara could not successfully prove the defense of choice of evils to this additional theft. No harm was avoided by Tamara’s theft of the money and jewelry. Thus choice of evils cannot justify this crime.

Change the facts in the preceding example, and imagine that Tamara kills the cabin’s owner because he refuses to allow her to enter. Tamara could not successfully prove the defense of choice of evils under these circumstances. Tamara’s life is no more important than the cabin owner’s. Thus Tamara cannot rank the harms, and choice of evils cannot justify criminal homicide in this case.

The Duress Defense

In some jurisdictions, the choice of evils defense is called the duress defense if the choice of evils is deliberately brought on by another individual, rather than by nature, an act of God, or circumstances outside the defendant’s control. The Model Penal Code defines the duress defense as “an affirmative defense that the actor engaged in the conduct…because he was coerced to do so by the use of, or a threat to use, unlawful force against his person or the person of another” (Model Penal Code § 2.09(1)).

Three elements are required for the duress defense. First, the defendant or another person must face a threat of imminent serious bodily injury or death (Conn. Gen. Stat., 2010). Second, the defendant must have an objectively reasonable belief that the only way to avoid the serious bodily injury or death is to commit the crime at issue (Haw. Rev. Stat., 2010). Third, in most jurisdictions, the crime committed cannot be criminal homicide (RCW 9A.16.060, 2010). Like choice of evils, the duress defense is rarely used and can be statutory or common law, perfect or imperfect, depending on the jurisdiction.

Example of the Duress Defense

Keisha, a bank teller, hands Brian, a bank robber, money out of her drawer after he points a loaded gun at her head. Technically, Keisha embezzled the money from the bank, but she did so based on the objectively reasonable fear that Brian would kill her if she failed to comply with his demands. Keisha can successfully claim duress as a defense to any charge of theft. If Brian had pointed the gun at another client in line at the bank instead of Keisha, Keisha could still prevail using the duress defense because duress also applies when the threat of death or serious bodily injury is to another person.

Change the example with Keisha and Brian, and imagine that Brian’s threat is made in a phone call, rather than in person. Brian threatens to kill Keisha if she doesn’t place thousands of dollars in an envelope and mail it to him at a specified address. If Keisha complies, Keisha cannot prove duress as a defense to theft. Brian’s threat by phone call is not a threat of imminent death. In addition, it is not objectively reasonable to be frightened by a voice on the telephone. Keisha could hang up the phone and contact law enforcement, instead of timidly complying with Brian’s demands.

Change the preceding example with Keisha and Brian, and imagine that Brian orders Keisha to kill his ex-wife Pat, who works at the station next to Keisha. Brian thereafter hands Keisha a switchblade. Keisha cannot kill Pat and claim duress as a defense to murder in most states. Keisha’s life is no more valuable than Pat’s. Therefore, Keisha cannot legally choose to commit the crime of murder and justify the crime with the duress defense.

Key Takeaways

  • Three elements are required for the choice of evils defense: the defendant must be faced with two or more evils, the evils must be ranked, and it must be objectively reasonable for the defendant to choose to commit the crime to avoid the imminent evil that is ranked higher.
  • Choice of evils is often based on nature or an act of God; duress is generally brought on by another individual.
  • Choice of evils and duress are generally not defenses to criminal homicide.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. A fire sweeps through a residential neighborhood. Clark and Manny light their neighbor’s house on fire to create a firebreak. This prevents several houses from burning, including Clark’s and Manny’s. Do Clark and Manny have a defense to arson in this case? Why or why not?
  2. Read People v. Lovercamp, 43 Cal. App. 3d 823 (1974). In Lovercamp, the defendants escaped from prison and were immediately captured. The defendants claimed they were forced to escape because a group of prisoners threatened them with sexual assault. The trial court did not allow the defendants to introduce evidence supporting the defense of necessity, and the defendants were convicted of escape. Did the Court of Appeals of California uphold their conviction for escape? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6496346791408865822&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read State v. Daoud, 141 N.H. 142 (1996). In Daoud, the defendant was convicted of driving while under the influence. The defendant appealed because the trial court did not allow her to present evidence in support of the duress defense. Did the Supreme Court of New Hampshire uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=18389754229002463686&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-14, accessed November 22, 2010, http://search.cga.state.ct.us/dtsearch_pub_statutes.html.

Haw. Rev. Stat. § 702-231, accessed November 22, 2010, http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/histatutes/5/37/702/702-231.

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 503.030, accessed November 22, 2010, http://www.lrc.ky.gov/krs/503-00/030.PDF.

RCW 9A.16.060, accessed November 22, 2010, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.16&full=true#9A.16.060.

State v. Holmes, 129 Ohio Misc. 2d 38 (2004), accessed November 22, 2010, http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/rod/docs/pdf/98/2004/2004-ohio-7334.pdf.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-609, accessed November 22, 2010, http://www.michie.com/tennessee/lpext.dll?f=templates&fn=main-h.htm&cp=tncode.

5.6 End-of-Chapter Material

29

Summary

Defenses can be denial or failure of proof, affirmative, imperfect, perfect, factual, legal, common law (created by case law), or statutory (created by a state or federal legislature). A denial or failure of proof defense creates doubt in one or more of the elements of the offense and prevents the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof. An affirmative defense raises an issue separate from the elements of the offense and must be asserted before or during the trial or it cannot serve as the basis for an appeal. Defendants have either the burden of production or the burden of production and persuasion to a preponderance of evidence for an affirmative defense. An imperfect defense reduces the severity of the offense, or sentence. A perfect defense results in an acquittal. A factual defense is grounded in the facts of the case, while a legal defense depends on a statute or common-law principle. An example of a factual defense is an alibi defense, which asserts that the defendant could not have committed the crime because he or she was somewhere else at the time the crime occurred. An example of a legal defense is expiration of the statute of limitations, which means it is too late to prosecute the defendant for the offense.

Defenses can also be based on justification or excuse. A defense based on justification focuses on the offense and deems the conduct worthy of protection from criminal responsibility. A defense based on excuse focuses on the defendant and excuses his or her conduct under the circumstances.

Self-defense justifies the defendant’s conduct in using physical force as protective. Self-defense is legal only when the defendant is faced with an unprovoked, imminent attack, and it is objectively reasonable that the degree of force used in response is necessary to avoid the attack. The defendant can be the initial aggressor and still use self-defense if the attacked individual uses too much force in response to the defendant’s attack or if the defendant withdraws from the attack and is still pursued by the attacked individual. The attack does not necessarily have to be imminent if the defendant is a battered wife. Deadly force is any force that can kill under the circumstances. Deadly force can be used in self-defense only if the defendant is faced with imminent death, serious bodily injury, or the commission of a serious felony. Some jurisdictions require the defendant to retreat before resorting to deadly force, while others allow the defendant to stand his or her ground.

In most states, an individual can defend another to the same extent as self-defense. If a defendant is honestly but unreasonably mistaken about the fact that he or she needs to respond in self-defense or defense of others, imperfect self-defense or defense of others may be appropriate, depending on the jurisdiction. A defendant can also defend property using nondeadly force from an imminent threat of damage, loss, or theft. Real property is land and anything permanently attached to it, while personal property is any movable object. In many jurisdictions, a trespasser may be ejected from real property using nondeadly force after the trespasser has been requested to leave.

Defense of habitation is distinct from defense of real property in most states. Modern laws called castle laws expand the use of force to defend habitation. Castle laws eliminate the duty to retreat when in the home and provide civil and criminal immunity from prosecution for the use of deadly force. Deadly force can be used against a trespasser who enters occupied premises without consent of the owner when there is an objectively reasonable belief that the occupants will be seriously injured or killed.

Law enforcement can also use force to arrest or apprehend a criminal. If the force is deadly, it is considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment and is scrutinized under an objectively reasonable standard.

The defense of choice of evils (called the necessity defense in some jurisdictions) permits the defendant to commit a crime if the harm caused is less severe than harm that will occur if the crime is not committed. In general, criminal homicide cannot be defended by choice of evils. Duress, a closely related defense, can sanction the use of force when the defendant is imminently threatened with serious bodily injury or death. Like choice of evils, the degree of force used pursuant to duress should be nondeadly.

The victim can also consent to the defendant’s conduct, creating a consent defense, as long as the consent is given knowingly and voluntarily, the conduct is sexual or occurs during a sporting event, and the conduct does not involve serious bodily injury or death.

You Be the Defense Attorney

You are a well-known private defense attorney with a perfect record. Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide whether you would accept or reject it if you want to maintain your level of success. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. The defendant and his wife argued. She raised a knife above her head and stated, “Don’t make me use this.” The defendant took the knife away and thereafter stabbed the victim forty-three times in the head and chest with it. The defendant wants to make an imperfect self-defense argument. Will you accept or reject the case? Read State v. Perez, 840 P.2d 1118 (1992). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7422940810428798296&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  2. The defendants crossed a police tape and trespassed on a medical clinic’s private property while protesting abortion. The defendants want to make arguments in support of necessity, defense of others, and duress. The basis of the defendants’ claims is that they are protecting the lives of unborn children. Will you accept or reject the case? Read Allison v. Birmingham, 580 So.2d 1377 (1991). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8254507993974001416&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. The defendant, a police officer, shot the victim twice after being summoned to the victim’s home by his wife. The victim was intoxicated and armed with two small steak knives. The defendant shot the victim subsequent to a somewhat lengthy encounter during which the victim lunged at him with the knives. The victim claimed he was putting the knives down or about to put the knives down. The victim is suing the defendant for damages based on use of excessive force in arrest or apprehension. Will you accept or reject the case? Read Roy v. Inhabitants of Lewiston, 42 F.3d 691 (1994). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8822695050372354696&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  4. The defendant, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, distributes marijuana to qualified patients under California’s Compassionate Use Act, which allows the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. The US government wants to stop this distribution under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits possession and use of marijuana under any circumstances. The defendant wants to continue distribution under a claim of medical necessity. Will you accept or reject the case? Read U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, 532 U.S. 483 (2001). The case is available at this link: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/00-151P.ZO.

Cases of Interest

Statistics of Interest

Answers to Exercises

From Section 5.1 “Criminal Defenses”

  1. Carol’s defense creates doubt in the intent element for battery. Thus Carol’s defense is a denial or failure of proof defense, not an affirmative defense.
  2. The Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed the defendant’s conviction because the jury instruction should have explained that the prosecution has the burden of disproving self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
  3. The Supreme Court of Nevada held that necessity was a valid common-law defense to driving while under the influence. However, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction because he did not meet the requirements for necessity under the circumstances.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 5.2 “Self-Defense”

  1. Colin cannot claim traditional self-defense because there is no objectively reasonable fear of imminent injury or death while Diane is sleeping. Colin also cannot technically assert the battered wife defense because he is a husband. Courts can expand statutory defenses or create new common-law defenses. However, courts may be reluctant to expand the battered wife defense to spouses of either gender, based on the physical differences between men and women and the lack of empirical evidence documenting battered husband syndrome.
  2. The Court of Appeals of Texas affirmed the defendant’s convictions, holding that the jury does not have to be unanimous as to each required element of self-defense.
  3. The US District Court for the District of Montana reversed the fine and held that the defendant did not provoke the attack and was entitled to shoot the bear in self-defense.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 5.3 “Other Use-of-Force Defenses”

  1. Melanie cannot use defense of others as a defense to criminal homicide. Melanie can defend Colleen only to the same extent she could defend herself. Nothing in the fact pattern indicates that Colleen could defend herself using deadly force. Thus Melanie could be successfully prosecuted for criminal homicide in this situation.
  2. The Supreme Court of Virginia held that the defendant could not threaten deadly force to defend personal property and affirmed the conviction.
  3. The Court of Appeals of Texas held that the victim had the right to sue for excessive force used to arrest. The evidence did not indicate that the victim posed an immediate danger to the law enforcement officer’s safety, or that she was attempting to resist arrest or flee. Moreover, the offense—failure to identify herself or give her date of birth—was minor. Thus the law enforcement officer was not immune from a lawsuit for damages under the circumstances.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 5.4 “Defenses Based on Choice”

  1. Clark and Manny can use choice of evils as a defense to arson in many jurisdictions. Clark and Manny were confronted with two harms: the loss of several homes or the loss of their neighbor’s home. Clark and Manny ranked the loss of one home lower than the loss of several homes, which is objectively reasonable. Thus Clark and Manny could be acquitted or have a reduction in sentence or severity of the offense, depending on the jurisdiction.
  2. The Court of Appeals of California held that the defendants should have been allowed to present evidence in support of the necessity defense and were entitled to a retrial.
  3. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire upheld the defendant’s conviction. The court recognized that a common-law defense of duress exists in some jurisdictions, but held that the facts in the defendant’s case did not indicate that she was under duress. The court stated the defendant had lawful alternatives to driving while under the influence, such as calling a taxi or a friend for a ride or walking.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 5.5 “Consent”

  1. In most jurisdictions, Allen cannot be criminally prosecuted because Brett consented to being tackled by choosing to participate in football, a contact sport.
  2. The Court of Appeals of California held that the defendant had no constitutional right to be cryogenically frozen and affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of his lawsuit seeking an injunction and immunity from criminal prosecution. The court reasoned that the defendant’s right to refuse medical treatment is different from involving another individual in his death. It thereafter held that the defendant was legally free to commit suicide, but he could not authorize another to kill him.
  3. The Court of Appeals of Georgia upheld the defendant’s conviction for battery. The court stated, “It is the act and intent and results of the defendant’s act which constitute the crimes as charged; the attitude of the victim is not called into issue by these elements” (Ramey v. State, 2010).

Answer to Law and Ethics Question

  1. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gave great discretion to the state trial court, creating a presumption that the trial court did a proper analysis of the law and evidence when rejecting the imperfect self-defense jury instruction. The court thereafter agreed with the trial court’s findings that the evidence excluded did not support a theory of imminent threat, required under California case law for a theory of imperfect self-defense (Menendez v. Terhune, 2010). The battered wife syndrome or defense was not discussed in detail, although the Menendez brothers’ theory of abuse is similar. This case is a good demonstration of how state case law varies, especially with regard to modern theories of self-defense based on psychological trauma. In a different state, there may have been a different result grounded in state law regarding these innovative defense theories.

Answers to You Be the Defense Attorney

  1. In this case, the trial court rejected the imperfect self-defense argument and refused to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter. The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed. The court held that after the defendant took the knife away, the victim was unarmed and no imminent threat of harm remained. Thus you would lose on the imperfect self-defense argument and should reject the case.
  2. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama affirmed the trial court’s rejection of the defense arguments based on the fact that abortion is legal. The court reviewed the common law, statutes, and case precedent and concluded that these defenses are not appropriate to protest legal acts. Thus you would lose on the justification defense arguments and should reject the case.
  3. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit for damages. The court held that the defendant’s use of force was objectively reasonable under the circumstances and gave broad latitude to officers who are forced to make split-second decisions under dangerous conditions. Thus you would win on the appropriate use of force in arrest argument and should accept the case.
  4. The US Supreme Court held that there is no medical necessity exception to the Controlled Substances Act. The Court based its holding on the language of the federal statute, which reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception. Thus you would lose on the medical necessity argument and should reject the case.

References

Menendez v. Terhune, 422 F.3d 1012, 1029 (2005), accessed November 19, 2010, http://cases.justia.com/us-court-of-appeals/F3/422/1012/569492.

Ramey v. State, 417 S.E.2d 699, 701 (1992), accessed November 23, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10809733884390698075&hl=en&as_sdt=2002&as_vis=1.

Chapter 6: Criminal Defenses, Part 2

VI

An array of alcohol and drugs

The use of drugs or controlled substances, dependence on drugs or controlled substances or voluntary intoxication shall not, as such, constitute a defense to a criminal charge…

   —Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.125(1), cited in Section 6.2.2 “Intoxication”

6.1 The Insanity Defense

30

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify four states that do not recognize an insanity defense.
  2. Identify four versions of the insanity defense.
  3. Ascertain the two elements required for the M’Naghten insanity defense.
  4. Ascertain the two elements required for the irresistible impulse insanity defense.
  5. Compare the M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, and substantial capacity tests.
  6. Ascertain the basis of the Durham insanity defense.
  7. Identify the various burdens of proof for the insanity defense.
  8. Distinguish between diminished capacity and the insanity defense.
  9. Compare the insanity defense with mental competence to stand trial.
  10. Compare the insanity defense with the guilty but mentally ill verdict.
  11. Compare different commitment procedures for an insane criminal defendant.
  12. Distinguish temporary from permanent insanity.

With the exception of alibi and the expiration of the statute of limitations, Chapter 5 “Criminal Defenses, Part 1” explored criminal defenses based on justification. This chapter reviews criminal defenses based on excuse, including the insanity defense. Remember that defenses based on excuse focus on the defendant and claim that the defendant should be excused from criminal responsibility for his or her conduct under the circumstances.

Although controversial, most states and the federal government recognize an insanity defense (18 U.S.C., 2010). Montana, Utah, Kansas, and Idaho are the only states that do not (Findlaw.com, 2010). The insanity defense is the subject of much debate because it excuses even the most evil and abhorrent conduct, and in many jurisdictions, legal insanity functions as a perfect defense resulting in acquittal. However, the insanity defense is rarely used and hardly ever successful. This is generally because of the difficulty in proving legal insanity.

Many criminal defendants suffer from mental illness and can produce evidence of this illness such as psychiatric or layperson testimony. Often, mental disturbance is apparent from the defendant’s conduct under the circumstances. However, legal insanity differs from medical insanity and is generally much more difficult to establish. The rationale behind creating a different standard for legal insanity is the goal of a criminal prosecution discussed in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”. Criminal prosecution should deter as well as incapacitate. While the purpose of a medical diagnosis is to eventually cure the defendant’s disorder, the purpose of criminal law is to punish the defendant. Thus the defendant’s conduct is not excused if the defendant or society can benefit from punishment.

The policy supporting the insanity defense is twofold. First, an insane defendant does not have control over his or her conduct. This is similar to a defendant who is hypnotized, or sleepwalking. Second, an insane defendant does not have the ability to form criminal intent. Without the ability to control conduct, or the understanding that conduct is evil or wrong by society’s standards, an insane defendant presumably will commit crimes again and again. Thus no deterrent effect is served by punishment, and treatment for the mental defect is the appropriate remedy.

Four variations of the insanity defense currently exist: M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, substantial capacity, and Durham.

M’Naghten Insanity Defense

The M’Naghten insanity defense, also called the right-wrong test, is the most common insanity defense in the United States. It is also the oldest and was created in England in 1843. The defense is named after Daniel M’Naghten. M’Naghten was under the paranoid delusion that the Prime Minister of England, Sir Robert Peel, was trying to kill him. When he tried to shoot Sir Peel from behind, he inadvertently shot Sir Peel’s Secretary, Edward Drummond, who thereafter died. M’Naghten was put on trial for murder and, to the shock of the nation, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity (Queen v. M’Naghten, 2010). After a public outcry at this verdict, the British House of Lords developed a test for insanity that remains relatively intact today.

The M’Naghten insanity defense is cognitive and focuses on the defendant’s awareness, rather than the ability to control conduct. The defense requires two elements. First, the defendant must be suffering from a mental defect at the time he or she commits the criminal act. The mental defect can be called a “defect of reason” or a “disease of the mind,” depending on the jurisdiction (Iowa Code, 2010). Second, the trier of fact must find that because of the mental defect, the defendant did not know either the nature and quality of the criminal act or that the act was wrong.

The terms “defect of reason” and “disease of the mind” can be defined in different ways, but in general, the defendant must be cognitively impaired to the level of not knowing the nature and quality of the criminal act, or that the act is wrong. Some common examples of mental defects and diseases are psychosis, schizophrenia, and paranoia.

Jurisdictions vary as to the level of awareness the defendant must possess. Some jurisdictions use the term “know,” or “understand,” (Cal. Penal Code, 2010) while others use the term “appreciate” (Ala. Code, 2010). If know or understand is the standard, the trier of fact must ascertain a basic level of awareness under the attendant circumstances. If appreciate is the standard, the trier of fact must analyze the defendant’s emotional state, and evidence of the defendant’s character or personality may be relevant and admissible.

A defendant does not know the nature and quality of a criminal act if the defendant is completely oblivious to what he or she is doing. This is quite rare, so most defendants claiming insanity choose to assert that they did not know their act was wrong. However, jurisdictions differ as to the meaning of “wrong.” Some jurisdictions define wrong as “legally wrong,” meaning the defendant must be unaware that the act is against the law (State v. Crenshaw, 2010). Others define wrong as “legally and morally wrong,” meaning the defendant must also be unaware that the act is condemned by society (State v. Skaggs, 2010). Generally, the only instance where the defendant must be “morally wrong,” standing alone, is when the defendant claims that the conduct was performed at the command of God, which is called the deific defense (State v. Worlock, 2010). Whether the standard is legally wrong or morally wrong, if there is any evidence of a cover-up or an attempt to hide or escape, it is apparent that the defendant knew the difference between right and wrong, defeating the claim of insanity under M’Naghten.

Example of a Case Inappropriate for the M’Naghten Insanity Defense

Susan wants to marry a single man, but he does not want the responsibility of caring for her children. Susan decides to kill her children. She drives her two sons, aged three and five, out to the lake. She puts the car in park, gets out, and then puts it in gear, watching as it drives into the water. Both of her sons drown. Later that day, Susan files a police report stating that a stranger kidnapped her children at gunpoint. While searching the area for the kidnapper, the police discover the children’s bodies and evidence indicating that Susan killed them.

Susan recants her kidnapping story and admits she killed her children. However, she claims she is not guilty by reason of insanity. Susan’s claim will probably not be successful if she killed her children in a jurisdiction that recognizes the M’Naghten insanity defense. Susan tried to mislead the police, demonstrating her awareness that she had done something wrong. Thus although Susan’s behavior appears mentally imbalanced, she clearly knew the difference between right and wrong, and her conduct is not excusable under M’Naghten’s rigid requirements.

Example of a Case Appropriate for the M’Naghten Insanity Defense

Andrea, a diagnosed schizophrenic, drowns five of her young children in the bathtub. Andrea promptly phones 911 and tells the operator that her children are dead. The operator dispatches an emergency call to law enforcement. When law enforcement officers arrive at Andrea’s house, she informs them that she killed her children so that they could leave this earth and enter heaven.

Andrea thereafter claims she is not guilty for killing her children by reason of insanity. Andrea could be successful if the jurisdiction in which she killed her children recognizes the M’Naghten insanity defense. Andrea suffers from a mental defect, schizophrenia. In addition, there is no evidence indicating Andrea knew her conduct was wrong, such as an attempted escape, or cover-up. In fact, Andrea herself contacted law enforcement and immediately told them about her criminal acts. Thus both of the M’Naghten elements appear to be present, and Andrea’s conduct may be excusable under the circumstances.

Figure 6.1 M’Naghten Insanity Defense

M'Naghten Insanity Defense

Irresistible Impulse Insanity Defense

Another variation of the insanity defense is the irresistible impulse defense. This defense has lost popularity over the years and is rejected by most of the states and the federal government (18 U.S.C., 2010). In some cases, the irresistible impulse insanity defense is easier to prove than the M’Naghten insanity defense, resulting in the acquittal of more mentally disturbed defendants.

The irresistible impulse insanity defense generally supplements M’Naghten, so the focus is on the defendant’s awareness (cognitive) and the defendant’s will (ability to control conduct). In jurisdictions that recognize the irresistible impulse insanity defense, the first element is the same as M’Naghten; the defendant must suffer from a mental defect or disease of the mind. However, the second element adds the concept of volition, or free choice. If the defendant cannot control his or her conduct because of the mental defect or disease, the defendant’s conduct is excused even if the defendant understands that the conduct is wrong (State v. White, 2010). This is a softer stance than M’Naghten, which does not exonerate a defendant who is aware conduct is wrong. The challenge for the trier of fact in an irresistible impulse jurisdiction is distinguishing between conduct that can be controlled and conduct that cannot.

Example of a Case Inappropriate for the Irresistible Impulse Insanity Defense

Jolene, who has been diagnosed with paranoia, decides she must cut off all her sorority sisters’ hair because they are “out to get her.” She drives to the sorority house with a Taser and scissors in her backpack. Her plan is to subdue each sister with the stun gun and then hack off her hair. As she arrives at the house, she sees Agnes, one of her sorority sisters, trip and fall in the parking lot, ripping her cashmere sweater and scraping her chin. Feeling a stab of pity, Jolene ignores Agnes and walks hurriedly toward the building. As she enters, Ashley, another sorority sister, turns, scowls at Jolene, and barks, “What in the world are you wearing? You look like you just rolled out of bed!” Jolene pulls the stun gun out of her backpack and shoots Ashley. While Ashley is lying on the floor, Jolene takes out the scissors and cuts Ashley’s hair off at the scalp.

Jolene claims she is not guilty for assault and battery of Ashley by reason of insanity. If Jolene attacked Ashley in a jurisdiction that recognizes the irresistible impulse insanity defense, she probably will not be successful with her claim. Jolene has been diagnosed with paranoia, which is a mental defect or disease. However, Jolene seems aware that shooting someone with a stun gun and cutting off her hair is wrong because she spared Agnes based on pity. In addition, Jolene’s choice not to attack Agnes indicates she has control over her conduct. Thus Jolene is cognitive of the difference between right and wrong and has the will to suppress criminal behavior, defeating any claim of insanity under the irresistible impulse insanity defense.

Figure 6.2 Irresistible Impulse Insanity Defense

Irresistible Impulse Insanity Defense

The Substantial Capacity Test

The substantial capacity test is the insanity defense created by the Model Penal Code. The Model Penal Code was completed in 1962. By 1980, approximately half of the states and the federal government adopted the substantial capacity test (also called the Model Penal Code or ALI defense) (Rolf, C. A., 2010). However, in 1982, John Hinckley successfully claimed insanity using the substantial capacity test in his federal trial for the attempted murder of then-President Ronald Reagan. Public indignation at this not-guilty verdict caused many states and the federal government to switch from the substantial capacity test to the more inflexible M’Naghten standard (18 U.S.C., 2010). In addition, jurisdictions that switched to M’Naghten also shifted the burden of proving insanity to the defendant (Rolf, C. A., 2010). The defendant’s burden of proof for the insanity defense is discussed shortly.

The substantial capacity test is as follows: “A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality [wrongfulness] of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law” (Model Penal Code § 4.01(1)). The defense has two elements. The first element requires the defendant to have a mental disease or defect, like the M’Naghten and irresistible impulse insanity defenses. The second element combines the cognitive standard with volitional, like the irresistible impulse insanity defense supplementing the M’Naghten insanity defense.

In general, it is easier to establish insanity under the substantial capacity test because both the cognitive and volitional requirements are scaled down to more flexible standards. Unlike the M’Naghten insanity defense, the substantial capacity test relaxes the requirement for complete inability to understand or know the difference between right and wrong. Instead, the defendant must lack substantial, not total, capacity. The “wrong” in the substantial capacity test is “criminality,” which is a legal rather than moral wrong. In addition, unlike the irresistible impulse insanity defense, the defendant must lack substantial, not total, ability to conform conduct to the requirements of the law. Another difference in the substantial capacity test is the use of the word “appreciate” rather than “know.” As stated previously, appreciate incorporates an emotional quality, which means that evidence of the defendant’s character or personality is relevant and most likely admissible to support the defense.

Example of the Substantial Capacity Test

Loreen has been diagnosed with psychosis and spent most of her life in a mental hospital. While at the mental hospital, Loreen made friends with many of the patients and health-care personnel. From time to time, Loreen would play jokes on these friends. Most of these “jokes” consisted of putting her antidepressants into their food. Loreen was always reprimanded and often sternly punished for these escapades. After her release from the mental hospital at age twenty-one, Loreen falls in love with Aidan, a man who works in a bookstore near her apartment. Loreen decides to make Aidan fall in love with her by feeding him a magic potion, which she concocts out of a mixture of her antidepressants. Loreen buys a book from Aidan and casually asks if he would like her to buy him a coffee. Aidan shrugs and says, “Sure, but I don’t have a break for another two hours.” Loreen offers to bring him the coffee. Before bringing the drink to Aidan, she puts her “magic potion” in it. While Aidan is sipping the coffee, Loreen declares her love for him. She then states, “I know I shouldn’t have, but I put a love potion in your coffee. I hope it doesn’t hurt you.” Aidan becomes seriously ill after drinking the coffee and is hospitalized.

Loreen claims she is not guilty for battering Aidan by reason of insanity. If Loreen is in a jurisdiction that recognizes the substantial capacity test, she may be successful with her claim. Loreen has a mental disease or defect, psychosis. Loreen’s statement to Aidan indicates that she lacks the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of her conduct. Note that if Loreen were in a M’Naghten jurisdiction, her statement “I know I shouldn’t have” could prove her awareness that her conduct was wrong, defeating her claim. In addition, Loreen’s behavior at the mental hospital indicates that she lacks the substantial capacity to conform or control her conduct. Even after a lifetime of being punished over and over for mixing her meds together and putting them in other people’s food or drink, Loreen still does it. Lastly, in a substantial capacity jurisdiction, testimony from Loreen’s friends at the mental hospital may be admissible to support her claim of insanity, and her lack of ability to “appreciate” the criminality of her conduct.

Figure 6.3 Substantial Capacity Insanity Defense

Substantial Capacity Insanity Defense

The Durham Insanity Defense

The Durham insanity defense is used only in New Hampshire and has been the established insanity defense in New Hampshire since the late 1800s. The Durham defense, also called the Durham rule or the product test, was adopted by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the case of Durham v. U.S., 214 F.2d 862 (1954). The defense set forth in that case is as follows: “[A]n accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect” (Durham v. U.S., 2010). However, the court failed to give definitions for product, mental disease, or mental defect. Thus the Durham insanity defense is extremely difficult to apply, and the D.C. Circuit rejected it in 1972 in the case of U.S. v. Brawner, 471 F.2d 969 (1972), which was later superseded by federal statute (18 U.S.C., 2010).

In general, the Durham insanity defense relies on ordinary principles of proximate causation. The defense has two elements. First, the defendant must have a mental disease or defect. Although these terms are not specifically defined in the Durham case, the language of the judicial opinion indicates an attempt to rely more on objective, psychological standards, rather than focusing on the defendant’s subjective cognition. The second element has to do with causation. If the criminal conduct is “caused” by the mental disease or defect, then the conduct should be excused under the circumstances.

Example of the Durham Insanity Defense

Arianna has been diagnosed with paranoia. Most psychiatric experts agree that individuals afflicted with paranoia unreasonably believe that the human population is “out to get them.” Arianna works under the direct supervision of Nora, who has a physical condition called “walleye.” Nora’s walleye makes it appear that she is looking to the side when she addresses people. Arianna gradually becomes convinced that Nora is communicating secret messages to their coworkers when she is speaking to Arianna. Arianna is genuinely frightened that Nora is telling their coworkers to kill her, and she decides she needs to defend herself. Arianna brings a gun to work one day, and when Nora begins talking to her about her tendency to take overlong lunches, Arianna pulls the gun out of her cubicle and shoots and kills Nora.

Arianna claims she is not guilty for killing Nora by reason of insanity. If Arianna killed Nora in New Hampshire, she might be successful with her claim. Arianna has a mental disease or defect, paranoia. Arianna can probably produce evidence, such as psychiatric expert testimony, that her paranoia “caused” or “produced” her criminal conduct, which was shooting Nora. Thus a trier of fact could acquit Arianna on the grounds that her conduct is excusable under these circumstances.

Figure 6.4 Durham Insanity Defense

Durham Insanity Defense

Proving Insanity

There is generally a presumption that criminal defendants are sane, just as there is a presumption that they are innocent. Therefore, at a minimum, a defendant claiming insanity must produce evidence that rebuts this presumption. Some states require the prosecution to thereafter prove sanity beyond a reasonable doubt or to a preponderance of evidence (Elkins, J.R., and students, 2010).

Post-Hinckley, many states have converted the insanity defense into an affirmative defense. Thus as discussed in Chapter 5 “Criminal Defenses, Part 1”, the defendant may also have the burden of persuading the trier of fact that he or she is insane to a preponderance of evidence (New Jersey Jury Instruction on Insanity, 2010). The federal government and some other states require the defendant to prove insanity by clear and convincing evidence, which is a higher standard than preponderance of evidence (Tenn. Code Ann., 2010).

Diminished Capacity

A claim of diminished capacity differs from the insanity defense. Diminished capacity is an imperfect failure of proof defense recognized in a minority of jurisdictions. Diminished capacity could reduce a first-degree murder charge to second-degree murder or manslaughter if the defendant lacks the mental capacity to form the appropriate criminal intent for first-degree murder.

In California, diminished capacity was abolished as an affirmative defense after San Francisco Supervisor Dan White used it successfully in his trial for the murder of fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk. A jury convicted White of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree premeditated murder after reviewing evidence that proved his diet of junk food (Twinkies) created a chemical imbalance in his brain. In the aftermath of this highly publicized trial, California passed legislation eliminating the diminished capacity defense and limiting the admissibility of evidence of diminished capacity only to sentencing proceedings (Cal. Penal Code, 2010).

Similar to diminished capacity is the syndrome defense. A syndrome that negates the requisite intent for the crime could function as a failure of proof defense in a minority of jurisdictions. Some common examples of syndromes the American Psychiatric Association recognizes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV), are antisocial personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder. Some common examples of syndromes identified but not recognized in DSM-IV are battered woman or battered wife syndrome (discussed in Chapter 5 “Criminal Defenses, Part 1”) and caffeine withdrawal. Although successful use of the syndrome defense is rare, at least one case has excused a defendant’s drunken driving and assault and battery against a police officer because of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (Baltimore.com, 2011).

Mental Competence to Stand Trial

The insanity defense is different from mental competence to stand trial. The insanity defense pertains to the defendant’s mental state when he or she commits the crime. If the insanity defense is successful, it exonerates the defendant from guilt. Mental competence to stand trial is analyzed at the time the trial is to take place. If the defendant is mentally incompetent to stand trial, the trial is delayed until the defendant regains competency. Although a detailed discussion of mental competence to stand trial is beyond the scope of this book, in general, a criminal defendant must be able to understand the charges against him or her, and be able to assist in his or her defense. As the Model Penal Code provides, “[n]o person who as a result of mental disease or defect lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense shall be tried, convicted or sentenced for the commission of an offense so long as such incapacity endures” (Model Penal Code § 4.04). A defendant who is mentally incompetent at the time of trial is subject to mental health treatment or even involuntary medication until competence is regained.

Guilty but Mentally Ill

Post-Hinckley, some states adopted the guilty but mentally ill verdict. A defendant who is found guilty but mentally ill is not acquitted but punished and treated for mental health simultaneously while in prison. Typically, the guilty but mentally ill verdict is available only when the defendant fails to prove legal insanity, and requires the defendant to prove mental illness at the time of the crime to a preponderance of evidence (725 ILCS, 2010).

Example of Guilty but Mentally Ill

Review the example with Jolene in Section 6 “Example of a Case Inappropriate for the Irresistible Impulse Insanity Defense”. In this example, Jolene has been diagnosed with paranoia, but shows an ability to control and understand the wrongfulness of her conduct, so she probably will not be successful with an irresistible impulse insanity defense. If Jolene is in a state that offers a guilty but mentally ill verdict, Jolene may be an appropriate candidate because she was mentally ill at the time she assaulted and battered her sorority sister. If Jolene is found guilty but mentally ill, she will be treated for her mental health simultaneously while serving any prison sentence.

Figure 6.5 Effects (Circular Diagram) of Mental Competency Claims

Effects (Circular Diagram) of Mental Competency Claims

Figure 6.6 Diagram of the Insanity Defense

Diagram of the Insanity Defense

Hasan Fort Hood Shooting Video

Does Hasan Have an Insanity Defense? The Judge Rules!

In this news story on the legal implications of the Fort Hood shootings, Judge Napolitano discusses the upcoming prosecution of Nidal Hasan and the possibility of an insanity defense (Brown, A. K., 2011).

Disposition of the Legally Insane

The not guilty by reason of insanity verdict means that the defendant is absolved from criminal responsibility and devoid of any criminal record for the offense. However, it does not mean that the defendant is free to return to society.

In several states and federally, a defendant who is found not guilty by reason of insanity is automatically committed to a treatment facility until there is a determination that mental health has been restored (18 U.S.C., 2010). This is also the Model Penal Code approach. As the Model Penal Code states in § 4.08(1), “[w]hen a defendant is acquitted on the ground of mental disease or defect excluding responsibility, the Court shall order him to be committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Mental Hygiene [Public Health] to be placed in an appropriate institution for custody, care and treatment.”

Other states have a hearing on sanity after the judgment or verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is returned. If the defendant is deemed mentally competent at the hearing, he or she is released. If the defendant is found mentally ill at the hearing, he or she is committed to the appropriate treatment facility (Ohio Rev. Code Ann., 2010).

Temporary Insanity

Many states also recognize temporary insanity, which does not differ in analysis from permanent insanity except for the duration of the mental illness (Malo, A., Barach, M. P., & Levin, J. A., 2010). In a state that recognizes temporary insanity, the elements of the state’s insanity defense, either M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, substantial capacity, or Durham, must be present at the time the crime was committed. If the defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity for the criminal offense, but regains mental competence at the time of prosecution, the defendant is released after the verdict is rendered. The trial court will order release based on the commitment procedure discussed in Section 6.1.9 “Disposition of the Legally Insane”.

Example of Temporary Insanity

In Virginia in 1994, Lorena Bobbitt was tried for the crime of slicing off her husband’s penis. Bobbitt pleaded not guilty to malicious wounding by reason of insanity. Bobbitt successfully established the irresistible impulse insanity defense by presenting evidence of years of spousal abuse, a forced abortion, and rape on the night of the incident (Bell, R., 2010; law.jrank.org, 2010). After the jury returned the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, Bobbitt was evaluated, deemed mentally competent, and released (Bell, R., 2010).

Lorena Bobbitt Trial Video

Lorena Bobbitt Trial, Day One

This news story discusses the first day of the Lorena Bobbitt trial (Simon, R., 2011).

Key Takeaways

  • The four states that do not recognize the insanity defense are Montana, Utah, Kansas, and Idaho.
  • The four versions of the insanity defense are M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, substantial capacity, and Durham.
  • The two elements of the M’Naghten insanity defense are the following:

    • The defendant must be suffering from a mental defect or disease at the time of the crime.
    • The defendant did not know the nature or quality of the criminal act he or she committed or that the act was wrong because of the mental defect or disease.
  • The two elements of the irresistible impulse insanity defense are the following:

    • The defendant must be suffering from a mental defect or disease at the time of the crime.
    • The defendant could not control his or her criminal conduct because of the mental defect or disease.
  • The substantial capacity test softens the second element of the M’Naghten and irresistible impulse insanity defenses. Under the substantial capacity test, the defendant must lack substantial, not total, capacity to appreciate the criminality of conduct or to control or conform conduct to the law.
  • The Durham insanity defense excuses criminal conduct when it is caused by a mental disease or defect.
  • The criminal defendant pleading not guilty by reason of insanity must produce evidence to rebut the presumption that criminal defendants are sane. Thereafter, either the prosecution has the burden of disproving insanity to a certain evidentiary standard or the defendant has the burden of proving insanity to a preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence.
  • The diminished capacity defense is a failure of proof imperfect defense that may reduce a first-degree murder to second-degree murder or manslaughter if the defendant did not have the mental capacity to form first-degree murder criminal intent. The insanity defense is generally a perfect affirmative defense in many jurisdictions.
  • The insanity defense exonerates the defendant from criminal responsibility. Mental incompetence to stand trial delays the criminal trial until mental competency is regained.
  • The guilty but mentally ill verdict finds the criminal defendant guilty but orders him or her to undergo mental health treatment while incarcerated. The insanity defense is generally a perfect affirmative defense in many jurisdictions.
  • The federal government and some states automatically commit a criminal defendant to a mental health facility after an acquittal based on insanity. Other states have a postverdict hearing to rule on commitment.
  • A claim of temporary insanity is the same as a claim of insanity except for the duration of the mental illness.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Jeffrey is diagnosed with schizophrenia. For fifteen years, Jeffrey kidnaps, tortures, kills, and eats human victims. Jeffrey avoids detection by hiding his victims’ corpses in various locations throughout the city. If the jurisdiction in which Jeffrey commits these crimes recognizes the M’Naghten insanity defense, can Jeffrey successfully plead and prove insanity? Why or why not?
  2. Read State v. Guido, 191 A.2d 45 (1993). In Guido, the defendant killed her husband and claimed insanity in a jurisdiction that recognizes the M’Naghten insanity defense. Psychiatric experts examined the defendant and deemed her legally sane at the time of the killing. The experts thereafter met with the defendant’s attorney and changed their opinion to state that the defendant was legally insane at the time of the killing. The jury found the defendant sane after being made aware of this discrepancy. Did the New Jersey Supreme Court uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://lawschool.courtroomview.com/acf_cases/8791-state-v-guido.
  3. Read State v. Hornsby, 484 S.E.2d 869 (1997). In Hornsby, the defendant sought to reverse his convictions for burglary and murder after jury verdicts of guilty but mentally ill. The defendant wanted to invalidate South Carolina’s statute recognizing the verdict of guilty but mentally ill as unconstitutional. The defendant claimed that defendants incarcerated after guilty but mentally ill verdicts receive the same mental health treatment as defendants incarcerated under regular guilty verdicts, violating the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause. Did the Supreme Court of South Carolina uphold the statute? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13615864613799310547&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Law and Ethics: The Elizabeth Smart Case

Two Prosecutions—Two Different Results

In 2002, Brian David Mitchell and his accomplice and wife, Wanda Barzee, kidnapped fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart from her home. Mitchell, a so-called street preacher, and Barzee held Smart captive for nine months, tethering her to a metal cable, subjecting her to daily rapes, and forcing her to ingest alcohol and drugs (Dobner, J., 2010). At one point, they transported Smart across state lines to California. Mitchell was put on trial for kidnapping and sexual assault in the state of Utah. The trial court found Mitchell incompetent to stand trial, and did not make a ruling forcing him to submit to medication to remedy the incompetency (Dobner, J., 2010). Unlike Mitchell, Barzee was involuntarily medicated pursuant to a state court order (by the same judge that heard Mitchell’s incompetency claim), and pleaded guilty to federal and state kidnapping, sexual assault, and illegal transportation of a minor for sex, receiving two fifteen-year sentences, to be served concurrently (Dobner, J., 2010). The federal government also instituted a prosecution against Mitchell for kidnapping and taking Smart across state lines for sex. The US District Court judge held a competency hearing and found that Mitchell was competent to stand trial (Winslow, B., 2010). Mitchell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Throughout the trial, Mitchell was often removed from the courtroom for loudly singing Christmas carols and hymns. A serious of experts testified regarding Mitchell’s psychological ailments, including a rare delusional disorder, schizophrenia, pedophilia, and antisocial personality disorder. Nonetheless, the jury rejected the insanity defense and convicted Mitchell of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of illegal sex (Dobner, J., 2010).

If Mitchell had not committed federal crimes, he might still be awaiting trial in Utah.

  1. What is the purpose of putting Mitchell on trial rather than delaying the trial for mental incompetency? Is this purpose ethical?

Check your answer using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

Read about Mitchell’s sentencing at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/05/elizabeth-smarts-kidnapper-sentenced-to-xx-years-in-prison/1.

Brian David Mitchell Video

Suspect Deemed Competent in Elizabeth Smart Case

This video is a news story on the federal court’s ruling that Brian David Mitchell was mentally competent to stand trial in the Elizabeth Smart case:

References

Ala. Code § 13A-3-1, accessed November 30, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/alabama/criminal-code/13A-3-1.html.

Baltimore.com website, “Successful PMS Defense in Virginia Case Revives Debate,” accessed June 16, 2011, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-06-16/news/1991167033_1_pms-richter-defense.

Bell, R., “Crimes Below the Belt: Penile Removal and Castration,” TruTV website, accessed December 3, 2010, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/sexual_assault/severed_penis/index.html

Brown, A. K., “Fort Hood Shooting Suspect Major Nidal Hasan to Be Arraigned,” Huffingtonpost.com website, accessed August 26, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/20/fort-hood-shooting-suspect-in-court_n_904274.html.

Cal. Penal Code § 25, accessed November 30, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/25.html.

Dobner, J., “Elizabeth Smart Kidnapper Convicted, Jury Rejects Insanity Defense,” the Christian Science Monitor website, accessed December 11, 2010, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/1210/Elizabeth-Smart-kidnapper-convicted-jury-rejects-insanity-defense.

Dobner, J., “Wanda Barzee, Elizabeth Smart Kidnapper, Gets Fifteen Years, Including Seven Already Served,” the Huffington Post website, accessed December 11, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/21/wanda-barzee-elizabeth-smart_n_584787.html.

Durham v. U.S., 214 F.2d 862, 875 (1954), accessed December 2, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1244686235948852364&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Elkins, J. R., and students at the West Virginia University College of Law, “Insanity Defense,” West Virginia Homicide Jury Instructions Project, accessed December 2, 2010, http://myweb.wvnet.edu/~jelkins/adcrimlaw/insanity.html.

Findlaw.com, “The Insanity Defense among the States,” findlaw.com website, accessed November 29, 2010, http://criminal.findlaw.com/crimes/more-criminal-topics/insanity-defense/the-insanity-defense-among-the-states.html.

Iowa Code § 701.4, accessed November 30, 2010, http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/cool-ice/default.asp?category=billinfo&service=iowacode&ga=83&input=701.

law.jrank.org website, “John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt Trials: 1993 and 1994—Lorena Bobbitt’s Trial Begins,” accessed December 3, 2010, http://law.jrank.org/pages/3594/John-Wayne-Lorena-Bobbitt-Trials-1993-1994-Lorena-Bobbitt-s-Trial-Begins.html.

Malo, A., Matthew P. Barach, and Joseph A. Levin, “The Temporary Insanity Defense in California,” hastings.edu website, accessed December 3, 2010, http://www.uchastings.edu/public-law/docs/tempinsanity.pdf.

New Jersey Jury Instruction on Insanity, Based on N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C: 4-1, accessed November 30, 2010, http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/criminal/charges/respons1.pdf.

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2945.40, accessed December 3, 2010, http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2945.40.

Queen v. M’Naghten, 10 Clark & F.200, 2 Eng. Rep. 718 (H.L. 1843), accessed November 29, 2010, http://users.phhp.ufl.edu/rbauer/forensic_neuropsychology/mcnaghten.pdf.

Rolf, C. A., “From M’Naghten to Yates—Transformation of the Insanity Defense in the United States—Is It Still Viable?” Rivier College Online Academic Journal 2 (2006), accessed December 1, 2010, http://www.rivier.edu/journal/ROAJ-2006-Spring/J41-ROLF.pdf.

Simon, R., “Was Lorena Bobbitt’s Act ‘an Irresistible Impulse?’” Baltimoresun.com website, accessed August 26, 2011, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1994-01-12/news/1994012071_1_lorena-bobbitt-insanity-defense-reason-of-insanity.

State v. Crenshaw, 659 P.2d 488 (1983), accessed November 30, 2010, http://lawschool.courtroomview.com/acf_cases/8790-state-v-crenshaw.

State v. Skaggs, 586 P.2d 1279 (1978), accessed November 30, 2010, http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=1978587120Ariz467_1470.xml&docbase=CSLWAR1-1950-1985.

State v. White, 270 P.2d 727 (1954), accessed November 30, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15018626933471947897&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

State v. Worlock, 569 A.2d 1314 (1990), accessed November 30, 2010, http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=1990713117NJ596_1172.xml&docbase=CSLWAR2-1986-2006.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-501, accessed December 2, 2010, http://law.justia.com/tennessee/codes/2010/title-39/chapter-11/part-5/39-11-501.

Winslow, B., “Mitchell Ruled Competent to Stand Trial for Kidnapping Elizabeth Smart,” Fox13now.com website, accessed December 11, 2010, http://www.fox13now.com/news/kstu-mitchell-competent-trial-kidnapping-smart,0,4261562.story.

18 U.S.C. § 17, accessed November 28, 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/usc_sec_18_00000017—-000-.html.

725 ILCS § 5/115-4(j), accessed December 3, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/illinois/725ilcs5/115-4.html.

6.2 Infancy, Intoxication, Ignorance, and Mistake

31

Learning Objectives

  1. Define the infancy defense.
  2. Distinguish a juvenile court adjudication from a criminal prosecution.
  3. Ascertain four criteria that could support a juvenile court waiver of jurisdiction.
  4. Identify a situation where voluntary intoxication may provide a defense.
  5. Define involuntary intoxication.
  6. Compare the defenses of voluntary and involuntary intoxication.
  7. Identify a situation where mistake of law may provide a defense.
  8. Identify a situation where mistake of law is not a valid defense.
  9. Identify a situation where mistake of fact may provide a defense.
  10. Identify a situation where mistake of fact is not a valid defense.

Infancy

Many states recognize the defense of infancy. Infancy asserts that the defendant is not subject to criminal prosecution because he or she is too young to commit a crime. The policy supporting the infancy defense is the belief that juvenile defendants are too immature to form criminal intent. The infancy defense is typically statutory and can be perfect or imperfect, depending on the jurisdiction.

States divide up the jurisdiction of criminal defendants between juvenile courts and adult courts. Juvenile court systems generally retain jurisdiction over criminal defendants under the age of sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, with exceptions. The Model Penal Code position is that “[a] person shall not be tried for or convicted of an offense if: (a) at the time of the conduct charged to constitute the offense he was less than sixteen years of age, [in which case the Juvenile Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction]” (Model Penal Code § 4.10(1)(a)).

The primary purpose of a juvenile court adjudication is rehabilitation. The goal is to reform the minor before he or she becomes an adult. In most states, the infancy defense protects a youthful defendant from criminal prosecution as an adult; it does not prohibit a juvenile adjudication. Most minor defendants are adjudicated in juvenile court, so the infancy defense is rarely used.

Juveniles can be prosecuted as adults under certain specified circumstances. At early common law, criminal defendants were divided into three age groups. Those under the age of seven were deemed incapable of forming criminal intent, and could not be criminally prosecuted. Defendants between the ages of seven and fourteen were provided a rebuttable presumption that they lacked the mental capacity to form criminal intent. Once a defendant turned fourteen, he or she was subject to an adult criminal prosecution. Modern statutes codify the adult criminal prosecution standard for different age groups. Some states follow the early common law and set up rebuttable and irrebuttable presumptions based on the defendant’s age (RCW 9A.04.050, 2010). Other states set forth a minimum age, such as fourteen or sixteen, and defendants who have reached that age are prosecuted as adults (N.Y. Penal Law § 30.00, 2010).

When a juvenile court has jurisdiction, the jurisdiction must be forfeited if the juvenile is to be prosecuted as an adult. This process is called waiver. Juvenile courts can have exclusive jurisdiction over minors under eighteen, or concurrent or simultaneous jurisdiction with adult courts, depending on the state.

States vary as to the waiver procedure. Some states allow judges to use discretion in granting the waiver, while others vest this power in the legislature or the prosecutor (Sickmund, M., 2010). A few factors serve as criteria supporting the waiver to adult criminal court: the nature of the offense, the sophistication it requires, the defendant’s criminal history, and the threat the defendant poses to public safety (Kent v. United States, 2010).

Example of the Infancy Defense

Mario is ten years old. Mario shoplifts some candy from the local market and is arrested. The newly elected district attorney decides to make an example of Mario, and begins an adult criminal prosecution against him for theft. In Mario’s state, the juvenile court has exclusive jurisdiction over individuals under the age of eighteen. Mario can probably claim infancy as a perfect defense to the theft charge. Mario should be adjudicated in juvenile court, not prosecuted as an adult. Therefore, the juvenile court has jurisdiction in this case and Mario’s criminal prosecution should be dismissed.

Intoxication

Intoxication is another defense that focuses on the defendant’s inability to form the requisite criminal intent. In general, intoxication can be based on the defendant’s use of alcohol, legal drugs, or illegal drugs. The Model Penal Code defines intoxication as “a disturbance of mental or physical capacities resulting from the introduction of substances into the body” (Model Penal Code § 2.08(5) (a)). The intoxication defense could be perfect or imperfect, statutory or common law, depending on the jurisdiction.

Intoxication is a state that is achieved either voluntarily or involuntarily. Most states frown on the use of voluntary intoxication as a defense, and allow it only to reduce the severity of the crime charged (N.Y. Penal Law § 15.25, 2010). Recall from Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime” that if a defendant voluntarily undertakes action, such as drinking or ingesting drugs, the voluntary act requirement is met. Conduct that occurs after the voluntary intoxication probably is not excused unless the intoxication prevents the defendant from forming the criminal intent required for the offense (Or. Rev. Stat., 2010). If the crime charged is a reckless intent crime, voluntary intoxication rarely provides even an imperfect defense (Tenn. Code Ann., 2010).

Involuntary intoxication is more likely to provide a defense than voluntary intoxication. Generally, a defendant can claim involuntary intoxication if he or she ingested the drug or alcohol unknowingly or under force, duress, or fraud (California Jury Instructions No. 3427, 2010). Involuntary intoxication could affect the defendant’s ability to form criminal intent, thus negating specific intent, dropping murder a degree, or converting murder to manslaughter. The Model Penal Code equates involuntary intoxication with the substantial capacity test, providing “[i]ntoxication which (a) is not self-induced…is an affirmative defense if by reason of such intoxication the actor at the time of his conduct lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate its criminality [wrongfulness] or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law” (Model Penal Code § 2.08 (4)).

Example of the Intoxication Defense

Clint slips a date rape drug into Delilah’s drink at a fraternity party. Delilah is twenty-one and legally able to consume alcohol. The date rape drug produces a state of unconsciousness during which Delilah severely beats a sorority sister. Delilah can probably claim involuntary intoxication as a defense in this situation. Although Delilah voluntarily drank the alcohol, she became intoxicated from the date rape drug that she ingested unknowingly. Delilah could be acquitted or could have a charge of aggravated battery reduced, depending on the jurisdiction.

Figure 6.7 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Ignorance and Mistake

Occasionally, a defendant’s mistake negates the criminal intent required for an offense. Mistakes can be a mistake of law or a mistake of fact. Mistake of law and fact defenses can be statutory or common law, perfect or imperfect, depending on the jurisdiction.

Mistake of Law

The basis of the mistake of law defense is that the defendant believes his or her criminal conduct is legal. The defense could be a failure of proof defense or an affirmative defense of excuse, depending on the jurisdiction (Tex. Penal Code, 2010). The Model Penal Code provides, “Ignorance or mistake as to a matter of fact or law is a defense if: (a) the ignorance or mistake negatives the purpose, knowledge, belief, recklessness or negligence required to establish a material element of the offense; or (b) the law provides that the state of mind established by such ignorance or mistake constitutes a defense” (Model Penal Code § 2.04(1)).

Most states require that the mistake of law be founded on a statute or judicial decision that is later overturned (La. Rev. Stat. Ann, 2010). The Model Penal Code states, “A belief that conduct does not legally constitute an offense is a defense to a prosecution for that offense based upon such conduct when…the actor…acts in reasonable reliance upon an official statement of the law, afterward determined to be invalid…contained in…a statute or…judicial decision” (Model Penal Code § 2.04(3) (b)).

Incorrect advice from a licensed attorney cannot form the basis of a mistake of law defense (Hopkins v. State, 2010). Nor can mistake of law be rooted in ignorance of the law because all individuals are required to know the criminal laws effective in their jurisdiction. The Model Penal Code provides, “A belief that conduct does not legally constitute an offense is a defense to a prosecution for that offense based upon such conduct when: the statute or other enactment defining the offense is not known to the actor and has not been published or otherwise made available prior to the conduct” (Model Penal Code § 2.04(3) (a)).

Example of the Mistake of Law Defense

Shelby, an attorney, researches current case law and determines that it is legal to sell products over the Internet and not charge sales tax. Shelby starts selling designer clothing on eBay and does not charge her customers any sales tax. The case decision that Shelby relied on is overturned by a court of appeals. Shelby can probably assert mistake of law as a defense to the crime of evading payment of sales tax.

Example of a Case That Is Inappropriate for the Mistake of Law Defense

Review the mistake of law defense example given in Section 6 “Example of the Mistake of Law Defense”. Assume that in Shelby’s state, it is currently illegal to sell products over the Internet without charging sales tax. Jonathan meets with Shelby, and asks her to research whether he needs to charge sales tax when he sells products over the Internet. Shelby agrees to research the matter and get back to Jonathan the next day with an answer. After Jonathan leaves, Shelby is contacted by her friend Margaret, who wants to take an impromptu trip to New York City. Margaret asks Shelby if she would like to come along. Shelby agrees, rushes home, packs for the trip, and leaves with Margaret. The next day while Shelby is watching a Broadway play with Margaret, Jonathan calls Shelby on her cell phone and asks Shelby what her research revealed about the sales tax question. Even though she has not done any research on the matter, Shelby responds, “I just finished the research. You do not need to charges sales tax when you sell products over the Internet.” If Jonathan thereafter relies on Shelby’s incorrect advice, and sells products over the Internet without charging sales tax, he probably will not be able to assert mistake of law as a defense. Incorrect advice from an attorney cannot excuse criminal conduct, even if the crime is committed because of the faulty legal opinion. Therefore, Jonathan could be charged with tax evasion in this situation.

Mistake of Fact

Mistake of fact is more likely to provide a defense than mistake of law. If the facts as the defendant believes them to be negate the requisite intent for the crime at issue, the defendant can assert mistake of fact as a defense (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2010). Mistake of fact is generally not a defense to strict liability crimes because intent is not an element of a strict liability offense (People v. Olsen, 2010).

Example of the Mistake of Fact Defense

Mickie sees Rachel, his neighbor, riding his bicycle in her driveway. Mickie walks quickly up to Rachel and demands that she get off the bike and return it to his garage. Frightened, Rachel hops off and runs to her house, leaving the bike behind. Mickie walks the bike over to his garage. Once Mickie reaches the garage, he sees that his bike, which is an exact replica of Rachel’s, is already inside. Mickie may be able to use mistake of fact as a defense to theft. As is discussed in Chapter 11 “Crimes against Property”, the intent for theft is the intent to take the property of another person. Mickie believed Rachel’s bike was his. Thus Mickie’s mistake of fact negates the intent required for this offense.

Example of a Case That Is Inappropriate for the Mistake of Fact Defense

Tina is pulled over for speeding. Tina claims her speedometer is broken, so she was mistaken as to her speed. Tina probably cannot assert mistake of fact as a defense in this case. Speeding is generally a strict liability offense. Thus Tina’s mistaken belief as to the facts is not relevant because there is no intent required for this crime.

Figure 6.8 Comparison of Infancy, Intoxication, and Mistake

Infancy
Intoxication
Mistake

Key Takeaways

  • Infancy is a defense to an adult criminal prosecution if the defendant is too young to form the requisite criminal intent for the offense.
  • The purpose of an adult criminal prosecution is punishment; the purpose of a juvenile adjudication is rehabilitation of the minor before he or she becomes an adult.
  • Four criteria that could support a juvenile court waiver of jurisdiction are the nature of the offense, the sophistication it requires, the defendant’s criminal history, and the threat the defendant poses to public safety.
  • Voluntary intoxication may provide a defense if the intoxication prevents the defendant from forming the requisite criminal intent for the offense.
  • Involuntary intoxication is intoxication achieved unknowingly or pursuant to force, duress, or fraud.
  • Voluntary intoxication is frowned on as a defense and in many states does not provide a defense to certain crimes, such as reckless intent crimes. Involuntary intoxication is more likely to serve as a defense any time the defendant is incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent for the offense.
  • Mistake of law may provide a defense if the defendant believes his or her conduct is legal because of reliance on a statute or judicial opinion that is later overturned.
  • Mistake of law is not a defense when the defendant believes his or her conduct is legal because of reliance on the incorrect advice of an attorney.
  • If the facts as the defendant believes them to be prevent the defendant from forming the requisite intent for the crime, mistake of fact could be a valid defense.
  • Mistake of fact is not a defense to strict liability crimes because intent is not an element.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Burt, a sixteen-year-old, consumes alcohol for the first time at a party. Unaware of alcohol’s effect, Burt drinks too much, attempts to walk home, and is cited for being drunk in public. In Burt’s state, the juvenile court has concurrent jurisdiction over minors ages seventeen and under, with a waiver to adult court available at the judge’s discretion. Burt has not broken any laws before. Is it likely that the judge will waive juvenile court jurisdiction in this case and allow the adult criminal prosecution of Burt? Why or why not?
  2. Read People v. Register, 60 N.Y.2d 270 (1983). In Register, the defendant shot and killed an individual in a bar after drinking heavily for many hours. The defendant thereafter sought a jury instruction on the intoxication defense to a charge of depraved mind murder. The trial court refused, and the defendant was convicted. Did the Court of Appeals of the State of New York uphold the conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9019321014077082981&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=.
  3. Read Garnett v. State, 632 A.2d 797 (1993). In Garnett, the defendant, an intellectually disabled twenty-year-old, had sexual intercourse with a thirteen-year-old girl whom he believed to be sixteen, and was prosecuted for statutory rape. Did the Court of Appeals of Maryland reverse the trial court and allow the defendant to assert mistake of fact (the victim’s age) as a defense? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9331824442522694687&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

California Jury Instructions No. 3427, accessed December 7, 2010, http://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/3400/3427.html.

Hopkins v. State, 69 A.2d 456 (1949), accessed December 9, 2010, http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=1949682193Md489_1637.xml&docbase=CSLWAR1-1950-1985.

Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), accessed December 7, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5405024647930835755&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:17, accessed December 7, 2010, http://law.justia.com/louisiana/codes/2009/rs/title14/rs14-17.html.

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 626:3I (a), accessed December 9, 2010, http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/lxii/626/626-mrg.htm.

N.Y. Penal Law § 30.00, accessed December 6, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN030.00_30.00.html.

N.Y. Penal Law § 15.25, accessed December 7, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN015.25_15.25.html.

Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.125, accessed December 7, 2010, https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/161.125.

People v. Olsen, 685 P.2d 52 (1984), accessed December 9, 2010, http://lawschool.courtroomview.com/acf_cases/8639-people-v-olsen.

RCW 9A.04.050, accessed December 6, 2010, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.04.050.

Sickmund, M., OJJDP National Report Series Bulletin, “Juveniles in Court,” National Center for Juvenile Justice website, accessed December 7, 2010, http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/195420/page4.html.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-503(b), accessed December 7, 2010, http://www.lawserver.com/law/state/tennessee/tn-code/tennessee_code_39-11-503.

Tex. Penal Code § 8.03, accessed December 7, 2010, http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/docs/PE/htm/Pe.8.htm.

6.3 Entrapment

32

Learning Objective

  1. Compare the subjective and objective entrapment defenses.

Historically, no legal limit was placed on the government’s ability to induce individuals to commit crimes. The Constitution does not expressly prohibit this governmental action. Currently, however, all states and the federal government provide the defense of entrapment. The entrapment defense is based on the government’s use of inappropriately persuasive tactics when apprehending criminals. Entrapment is generally a perfect affirmative statutory or common-law defense.

Entrapment focuses on the origin of criminal intent. If the criminal intent originates with the government or law enforcement, the defendant is entrapped and can assert the defense. If the criminal intent originates with the defendant, then the defendant is acting independently and can be convicted of the offense. The two tests of entrapment are subjective entrapment and objective entrapment. The federal government and the majority of the states recognize the subjective entrapment defense (Connecticut Jury Instruction on Entrapment, 2010). Other states and the Model Penal Code have adopted the objective entrapment defense (People v. Barraza, 2010).

Subjective Entrapment

It is entrapment pursuant to the subjective entrapment defense when law enforcement pressures the defendant to commit the crime against his or her will. The subjective entrapment test focuses on the defendant’s individual characteristics more than on law enforcement’s behavior. If the facts indicate that the defendant is predisposed to commit the crime without law enforcement pressure, the defendant will not prevail on the defense.

The defendant’s criminal record is admissible if relevant to prove the defendant’s criminal nature and predisposition. Generally, law enforcement can furnish criminal opportunities and use decoys and feigned accomplices without crossing the line into subjective entrapment. However, if it is clear that the requisite intent for the offense originated with law enforcement, not the defendant, the defendant can assert subjective entrapment as a defense.

Example of Subjective Entrapment

Winifred regularly attends Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for her heroin addiction. All the NA attendees know that Winifred is a dedicated member who has been clean for ten years, Marcus, a law enforcement decoy, meets Winifred at one of the meetings and begs her to “hook him up” with some heroin. Winifred refuses. Marcus attends the next meeting, and follows Winifred out to her car pleading with her to get him some heroin. After listening to Marcus explain his physical symptoms of withdrawal in detail, Winifred feels pity and promises to help Marcus out. She agrees to meet Marcus in two hours with the heroin. When Winifred and Marcus meet at the designated location, Marcus arrests Winifred for sale of narcotics. Winifred may be able to assert entrapment as a defense if her state recognizes the subjective entrapment defense. Winifred has not used drugs for ten years and did not initiate contact with law enforcement. It is unlikely that the intent to sell heroin originated with Winifred because she has been a dedicated member of NA, and she actually met Marcus at an NA meeting while trying to maintain her sobriety. Thus it appears that Marcus pressured Winifred to sell heroin against a natural predisposition, and the entrapment defense may excuse her conduct.

Objective Entrapment

The objective entrapment defense focuses on the behavior of law enforcement, rather than the individual defendant. If law enforcement uses tactics that would induce a reasonable, law-abiding person to commit the crime, the defendant can successfully assert the entrapment defense in an objective entrapment jurisdiction. The objective entrapment defense focuses on a reasonable person, not the actual defendant, so the defendant’s predisposition to commit the crime is not relevant. Thus in states that recognize the objective entrapment defense, the defendant’s criminal record is not admissible to disprove the defense.

Example of Objective Entrapment

Winifred has a criminal record for prostitution. A law enforcement decoy offers Winifred $10,000 to engage in sexual intercourse. Winifred promptly accepts. If Winifred’s jurisdiction recognizes the objective entrapment defense, Winifred may be able to successfully claim entrapment as a defense to prostitution. A reasonable, law-abiding person could be tempted into committing prostitution for a substantial sum of money like $10,000. The objective entrapment defense focuses on law enforcement tactics, rather than the predisposition of the defendant, so Winifred’s criminal record is irrelevant and is not admissible as evidence. Thus it appears that law enforcement used an excessive inducement, and entrapment may excuse Winifred’s conduct in this case.

Figure 6.9 Comparison of Subjective and Objective Entrapment

Subjective Entrapment
Objective Entrapment

Figure 6.10 Diagram of Defenses, Part 2

Diagram of Defenses, Part 2

Key Takeaway

  • The subjective entrapment defense focuses on the individual defendant, and provides a defense if law enforcement pressures the defendant to commit the crime against his or her will. If the defendant is predisposed to commit the crime without this pressure, the defendant will not be successful with the defense. Pursuant to the subjective entrapment defense, the defendant’s criminal record is admissible to prove the defendant’s predisposition. The objective entrapment defense focuses on law enforcement behavior, and provides a defense if the tactics law enforcement uses would convince a reasonable, law-abiding person to commit the crime. Under the objective entrapment defense, the defendant’s criminal record is irrelevant and inadmissible.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Allen has a criminal record for burglary. Roger, a law enforcement decoy, approaches Allen and asks if he would like to purchase methamphetamine. Allen responds that he would and is arrested. This interaction takes place in a jurisdiction that recognizes the subjective entrapment defense. If Allen claims entrapment, will Allen’s criminal record be admissible to prove his predisposition to commit the crime at issue? Why or why not?
  2. Read Sosa v. Jones, 389 F.3d 644 (2004). In Jones, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied the defendant’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus after he was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to sell and sale of cocaine. The defendant claimed he had been deprived of due process and was subjected to sentencing entrapment when federal agents delayed a sting operation to increase the amount of cocaine sold with the intent of increasing the defendant’s sentencing to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Did the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reverse the district court and grant the defendant’s petition? The case is available at this link: http://openjurist.org/389/f3d/644/sosa-v-jones.
  3. Read Farley v. State, 848 So.2d 393 (2003). In Farley, the government contacted the defendant, who had no criminal record, in a reverse sting operation with a mass e-mail soliciting individuals to purchase hard-core pornography. The defendant responded to the e-mail and was thereafter sent a questionnaire asking for his preferences. The defendant responded to the questionnaire, and an e-mail exchange ensued. In every communication by the government, protection from governmental interference was promised. Eventually, the defendant purchased child pornography and was arrested and prosecuted for this offense. The defendant moved to dismiss based on subjective and objective entrapment and the motion to dismiss was denied. The defendant was thereafter convicted. Did the Court of Appeal of Florida uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://www.lexisone.com/lx1/caselaw/freecaselaw?action=OCLGetCaseDetail&format=FULL&sourceID=bdjgjg&searchTerm= eiYL.TYda.aadj.ecCQ&searchFlag=y&l1loc=FCLOW.

References

Connecticut Jury Instruction on Entrapment, Based on Conn. Gen. Stats. Ann. § 53a-15, accessed December 10, 2010, http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part2/2.7-4.htm.

People v. Barraza, 591 P.2d 947 (1979), accessed December 10, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4472828314482166952&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

6.4 End-of-Chapter Material

33

Summary

The federal government and every state except Montana, Utah, Kansas, and Idaho recognize the insanity defense. A not guilty by reason of insanity verdict is an acquittal for the offense. The policy supporting the insanity defense is the lack of deterrent effect when punishing the legally insane. Four insanity defenses are recognized in the United States: M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, substantial capacity, and Durham. The M’Naghten insanity defense is cognitive and excuses criminal conduct when the defendant is suffering from a mental defect or disease that prevents the defendant from knowing the nature or quality of conduct or from knowing that conduct is wrong. The irresistible impulse insanity defense adds a volitional component and excuses conduct the defendant cannot control because of a mental defect or disease. The substantial capacity test was created by the Model Penal Code and softens the requirements to substantial, rather than total, capacity to appreciate the criminality of conduct or to conform conduct to the law. The Durham insanity defense is recognized only in New Hampshire, and excuses conduct that is the product of or caused by a mental disease or defect. Jurisdictions vary as to the burden of proving insanity. All jurisdictions require the defendant to rebut a presumption that he or she is sane; some also require the defendant to persuade the trier of fact that he or she is legally insane to a preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence (which is a higher standard than preponderance of evidence).

A minority of jurisdictions recognizes diminished capacity and the syndrome defense when the defendant cannot form the requisite criminal intent for the offense because of a mental impairment. The criminal defendant must also be mentally competent to stand trial, which means the defendant can understand the charges brought against him or her and can assist in any defense. Some jurisdictions recognize a guilty but mentally ill verdict, which does not exonerate the defendant, but provides for mental health treatment while incarcerated. Temporary insanity is also a defense in some jurisdictions and does not differ from the insanity defense except for the duration of the mental defect or disease.

The infancy defense excuses conduct when the defendant is too young to form criminal intent for the offense. The infancy defense is generally not available in juvenile adjudications, so it is rarely asserted because most youthful defendants are under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. Juvenile courts can waive this jurisdiction and allow for an adult criminal prosecution under certain circumstances, considering the criteria of the nature of the offense, the sophistication it requires, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and the threat the defendant poses to public safety.

Other excuse defenses are intoxication, ignorance, and mistake. Voluntary intoxication is frowned on as a defense, but will occasionally excuse conduct if it negates certain high-level criminal intent requirements. Involuntary intoxication, which is intoxication achieved unknowingly, or under duress or fraud, is more likely to provide a defense if it affects the defendant’s capacity to form criminal intent. Ignorance of the law is not a defense because individuals are expected to know the laws of their jurisdiction. Mistake of law, which means the defendant does not know conduct is illegal, functions as a defense if the mistake is based on a judicial opinion or statute that is later overturned. Mistake of law is not a defense if the mistake is rooted in incorrect legal advice from an attorney. Mistake of fact is a defense if the facts as the defendant believes them to be negate the intent required for the offense.

Entrapment is also a defense in every jurisdiction. Most states and the federal government recognize the subjective entrapment defense, which focuses on the defendant’s predisposition, and does not excuse conduct if the defendant would have committed the crime without law enforcement pressure. In a subjective entrapment jurisdiction, the defendant’s criminal record is admissible to prove predisposition to commit the crime at issue. Objective entrapment is the Model Penal Code approach and excuses conduct if the pressure by law enforcement would induce a reasonable, law-abiding person to commit the crime. The defendant’s criminal record is not admissible to show predisposition in an objective entrapment jurisdiction because the focus is on law enforcement tactics, not the defendant’s nature.

You Be the Defense Attorney

You are a well-known private defense attorney with a perfect record. Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide whether you would accept or reject it if you want to maintain your level of success. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. The defendant shot and killed a police officer and then escaped on foot. He was thereafter charged with first-degree murder. The defendant wants to claim that his diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia affected his ability to form the intent required for murder. In your state (Arizona), the defendant cannot introduce this argument to negate intent; he can only plead insanity under an abbreviated version of M’Naghten, which requires proof that the defendant did not know his conduct was wrong because of a mental defect or disease. Will you accept or reject the case? Read Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006), which is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5050526068124331217&q= Clark+v.+Arizona&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1.
  2. The defendant, an eleven-year-old boy, had sexual intercourse with a seven-year-old boy and was charged with two counts of first-degree rape of a child. Three experts questioned the defendant, and two concluded he lacked the capacity to form the intent for rape. This conclusion was based on the defendant’s response that the sexual contact was consensual and felt good. The defendant wants to present the infancy defense. Will you accept or reject the case? Read State v. Ramer, 86 P.3d 132 (2004), which is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14834415223416879505&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. The defendant, a diabetic, injected an abnormally large dose of insulin before his daughter’s birthday party. He and his estranged wife went to the store to buy party supplies. When they returned to the defendant’s vehicle, he hit her in the head with a hammer. She escaped the vehicle, and he caught up with her and ran her over. The defendant wants to claim involuntary intoxication as a defense to first-degree assault, domestic violence, and attempted first-degree murder. Will you accept or reject the case? Read People v. Garcia, 87 P.3d 159 (2003), which is available at this link: http://www.leagle.com/decision/200324687P3d159_1238/PEOPLE%20v.%20GARCIA.
  4. The defendant and a narcotics decoy have been acquainted for several years. The narcotics decoy set up a sale transaction between the defendant and a police officer, the defendant made the sale, and was thereafter charged with delivery of a controlled substance. The defendant claims that the decoy’s status as his friend, and numerous phone calls to set up the narcotics sale pressured him to commit the crime and he wants to claim entrapment. Your state (Texas) allows the defense of objective entrapment, focusing on law enforcement tactics. Will you accept or reject the case? Read Sebesta v. State, 783 S.W.2d 811 (1990), which is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7939192026130608711&hl=en&as_sdt=2002&as_vis=1.

Cases of Interest

Articles of Interest

Statistics of Interest

Answers to Exercises

From Section 6.1 “The Insanity Defense”

  1. Jeffrey will not be successful in a jurisdiction that recognizes the M’Naghten insanity defense. Although Jeffrey has a mental defect or disease, schizophrenia, Jeffrey’s behavior in hiding the victims’ corpses indicates that he knows his behavior is wrong. Thus Jeffrey cannot produce evidence establishing the second element of M’Naghten.
  2. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the experts changed their opinion after being educated as to the meaning of mental defect or disease under M’Naghten. Thus the change by the experts was not fraudulent and the defendant was entitled to a retrial.
  3. The Supreme Court of South Carolina upheld the convictions and the statute. The court held that the statute rationally accomplishes its goals, and guilty but mentally ill defendants receive immediate rather than delayed treatment, which complies with due process.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 6.2 “Infancy, Intoxication, Ignorance, and Mistake”

  1. It is unlikely that the judge will waive juvenile court jurisdiction in this case. Some of the criteria a judge will analyze when waiving jurisdiction are the nature of the offense, the sophistication it requires, the defendant’s criminal history, and the threat the defendant poses to public safety. This is Burt’s first offense, and it did not involve violence or require much sophistication. Thus the judge will probably allow Burt to be adjudicated in juvenile court.
  2. The Court of Appeals of the State of New York upheld the defendant’s conviction and the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury on intoxication. The court based its holding on the depraved mind murder statute, which requires reckless criminal intent, and the intoxication defense statute, which disallows evidence of intoxication as a defense to a reckless intent crime.
  3. The Court of Appeals of Maryland upheld the trial court’s decision to disallow the mistake of age defense. The court based its holding on the plain meaning of the statutory rape statute, which is a strict liability offense.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 6.3 “Entrapment”

  1. Allen’s criminal record for burglary is not admissible to prove his predisposition to commit the crime of purchasing contraband. The fact that Allen committed a burglary in the past does not indicate that he is predisposed to purchase contraband. Thus Allen’s criminal record for burglary is irrelevant and inadmissible, even though he is claiming entrapment in a jurisdiction that recognizes the subjective entrapment defense.
  2. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the petition. The court held that the defendant did not have a constitutional right to assert entrapment and that the rejection of the defendant’s sentencing entrapment claim was appropriate, albeit unfortunate, under the circumstances.
  3. The Court of Appeal of Florida reversed the defendant’s conviction under both theories of entrapment. The court based its holding on the defendant’s lack of predisposition to commit the crime and the government’s assurance that there would be no governmental interference, which was false under the circumstances.

Answers to Law and Ethics Question

  1. Whether Mitchell is put on trial, or held indefinitely because of his mental incompetency, he is incapacitated and prevented from harming other victims. The difference is retribution. The federal judge permitted Mitchell to be put on trial, which resulted in a conviction providing retribution. Barzee’s sentencing also provided retribution. The state court judge allowed only for the incapacitation of Mitchell, which did not resolve the case for the Smart family or the general public. Whether or not retribution is ethical has been debated for centuries. However, retribution does restore public confidence in the judicial system, which can have a positive deterrent effect.

Answers to You Be the Defense Attorney

  1. In this case, the US Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s abbreviated M’Naghten statute, and also confirmed Arizona’s constitutional right to preclude a defense based on the defendant’s inability to form criminal intent because of a mental defect or disease. Thus you would not be able to strike down Arizona’s insanity defense statute, and you could not introduce evidence that the defendant lacked the capacity to form criminal intent, so you should reject the case.
  2. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling that the defendant was incapable of forming the intent to commit rape of a child, reversing the appellate court. The court based its holding on the Washington infancy statute, which requires the prosecution to rebut a presumption of infancy for defendants under the age of twelve by clear and convincing evidence. Thus you would prevail on the infancy defense, and you should accept the case.
  3. In this case, the trial court rejected the defendant’s involuntary intoxication claim, and the defendant had to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He was thereafter found guilty. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Colorado reversed, holding that the defendant had the right to claim intoxication and present evidence of this claim to the trier of fact. Thus you would be able to assert intoxication as a defense, and should accept the case.
  4. The Court of Appeals of Texas upheld the trial court’s rejection of a motion to dismiss the charge based on entrapment. The court held that friendship and numerous phone calls are not enough to pressure an unwilling person to commit a crime. Thus you would lose on the entrapment defense and should reject the case.

Chapter 7: Parties to Crime

VII

Congress can impute to a corporation the commission of certain criminal offenses and subject it to criminal prosecution therefor.

   —New York Central R. Co. v. U.S., cited in Section 7.2.1 “Corporate Liability”

7.1 Parties to Crime

34

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the four parties to crime at early common law.
  2. Identify the parties to crime in modern times.
  3. Define the criminal act element required for accomplice liability.
  4. Define the criminal intent element required for accomplice liability.
  5. Define the natural and probable consequences doctrine.
  6. Discuss the consequences of accomplice liability.
  7. Determine whether an accomplice can be prosecuted when the principal is not prosecuted or acquitted.

Often more than one criminal defendant plays a role in the commission of a crime. Defendants working together with a common criminal purpose or design are acting with complicity. When the participation and criminal conduct varies among the defendants, an issue arises as to who is responsible for which crime and to what degree. This chapter analyzes different parties to crime, along with their accompanying criminal liability. Chapter 8 “Inchoate Offenses” examines crimes that necessarily involve more than one person such as conspiracy and solicitation, as well as another inchoate or incomplete crime, attempt.

Accomplice Liability

At early common law, parties to crime were divided into four categories. A principal in the first degree actually committed the crime. A principal in the second degree was present at the scene of the crime and assisted in its commission. An accessory before the fact was not present at the scene of the crime, but helped prepare for its commission. An accessory after the fact helped a party to the crime after its commission by providing comfort, aid, and assistance in escaping or avoiding arrest and prosecution or conviction.

In modern times, most states and the federal government divide parties to crime into two categories: principal, and accessories (Idaho Code Ann., 2010). The criminal actor is referred to as the principal, although all accomplices have equal criminal responsibility as is discussed in Section 7.1 “Parties to Crime”.

Accomplice Elements

An accomplice under most state and federal statutes is responsible for the same crime as the criminal actor or principal (18 U.S.C., 2010). However, accomplice liability is derivative; the accomplice does not actually have to commit the crime to be responsible for it. The policy supporting accomplice liability is the idea that an individual who willingly participates in furthering criminal conduct should be accountable for it to the same extent as the criminal actor. The degree of participation is often difficult to quantify, so statutes and cases attempt to segregate blameworthy accomplices based on the criminal act and intent elements, as is discussed in Section 7.1 “Parties to Crime”.

Accomplice Act

In the majority of states and federally, an accomplice must voluntarily act in some manner to assist in the commission of the offense. Some common descriptors of the criminal act element required for accomplice liability are aid, abet, assist, counsel, command, induce, or procure (K.S.A., 2010). Examples of actions that qualify as the accomplice criminal act are helping plan the crime, driving a getaway vehicle after the crime’s commission, and luring a victim to the scene of the crime. The Model Penal Code defines the accomplice criminal act element as “aids…or attempts to aid such other person in planning or committing [the offense]” (Model Penal Code § 2.06(3) (a) (ii)).

In many states, words are enough to constitute the criminal act element required for accomplice liability (N.Y. Penal Law, 2010). On the other hand, mere presence at the scene of the crime, even presence at the scene combined with flight, is not sufficient to convert a bystander into an accomplice (Commonwealth v. Hargrave, 2010). However, if there is a legal duty to act, a defendant who is present at the scene of a crime without preventing its occurrence could be liable as an accomplice in many jurisdictions (People v. Rolon, 2010). As the Model Penal Code provides, “[a] person is an accomplice of another person in the commission of an offense if…having a legal duty to prevent the commission of the offense, fails to make proper effect so to do” (Model Penal Code § 2.06(3)(a)(iii)).

Example of a Case Lacking Accomplice Act

Review the criminal law issues example in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”, Section 1.2.1 “Example of Criminal Law Issues”. In that example, Clara and Linda go on a shopping spree. Linda insists that they browse an expensive department store. After they enter the lingerie department, Linda surreptitiously places a bra into her purse. Clara watches, horrified, but does not say anything, even though a security guard is standing nearby. As Linda and Clara leave the store, an alarm is activated. Linda and Clara run away with the security guard in pursuit. In this case, Clara has probably not committed the criminal act element required for accomplice liability. Although Clara was present at the scene of the crime and did not alert the security guard, mere presence at the scene is not sufficient to constitute the accomplice criminal act. Clara fled the scene when the alarm went off, but presence at the scene of a crime combined with flight is still not enough to comprise the accomplice criminal act. Thus Clara has probably not committed theft as an accomplice, and only Linda is subject to a criminal prosecution for this offense.

Example of Accomplice Act

Phoebe, the parent of a two-year-old named Eliza, watches silently as her live-in boyfriend Ricky beats Eliza. In Phoebe’s state, parents have a duty to come to the aid of their children if their safety is threatened. Ricky severely injures Eliza, and both Phoebe and Ricky are arrested and charged with battery and child endangerment. Phoebe probably has committed the criminal act element required for accomplice liability in many jurisdictions. Phoebe does not personally act to physically harm her child. However, her presence at the scene combined with a legal duty to act could be enough to make her an accomplice. Thus Phoebe has most likely committed battery and child endangerment as an accomplice, and both she and Ricky are subject to a criminal prosecution for these offenses.

Accomplice Intent

The criminal intent element required for accomplice liability varies, depending on the jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, the accomplice must act with specific intent or purposely when aiding or assisting the principal (Or. Rev. Stat., 2010). Specific intent or purposely means the accomplice desires the principal to commit the crime. The Model Penal Code follows this approach and requires the accomplice to act “with the purpose of promoting or facilitating the commission of the offense” (Model Penal Code § 2.06(3) (a)). In other jurisdictions, if the crime is serious and the accomplice acts with general intent or knowingly or has awareness that the principal will commit the crime with his or her assistance, intent to further the crime’s commission could be inferred (People v. Lauria, 2010). In a minority of jurisdictions, only general intent or acting knowingly that the crime will be promoted or facilitated is required, regardless of the crime’s seriousness (Washington Rev. Code Ann., 2010).

Example of Accomplice Intent

Joullian, a hotel owner, rents a hotel room to Winnifred, a prostitute. In a state that requires an accomplice to act with specific intent or purposely, Joullian must desire Winnifred to commit prostitution in the rented room to be Winnifred’s accomplice. Evidence that Joullian stands to benefit from Winnifred’s prostitution, such as evidence that he will receive a portion of the prostitution proceeds, could help prove this intent. If Joullian’s state allows for an inference of specific intent or purposely with serious crimes when an accomplice acts with general intent or knowingly, it is unlikely that prostitution is a felony that would give rise to the inference. If Joullian’s state requires only general intent or knowingly for accomplice liability regardless of the crime’s seriousness, to be deemed an accomplice Joullian must simply be aware that renting Winnifred the room will promote or facilitate the act of prostitution.

The Natural and Probable Consequences Doctrine

Accomplice liability should be imputed only to blameworthy, deserving defendants. However, in some jurisdictions, if the crime the defendant intentionally furthers is related to the crime the principal actually commits, the defendant is deemed an accomplice. As with legal causation, discussed in Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime”, foreseeability is the standard. Under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, if the defendant assists the principal with the intent to further a specific crime’s commission, and the principal commits a different crime that is foreseeable at the time of the defendant’s assistance, the defendant could be liable as an accomplice (ME Rev. Stat. Ann., 2010). Several jurisdictions have rejected this doctrine as an overly harsh extension of accomplice liability (Bogdanov v. People, 2010).

Example of the Natural and Probable Consequences Doctrine

José shows up drunk and unruly at his friend Abel’s house and tells Abel he wants to “beat the hell” out of his girlfriend Maria. José asks Abel to drive him to Maria’s house, and Abel promptly agrees. Abel drives José to Maria’s house and waits in the car with the engine running. José forces his way into Maria’s house and then beats and thereafter rapes her. If José and Abel are in a jurisdiction that recognizes the natural and probable consequences doctrine, the trier of fact could find that Abel is an accomplice to the battery, burglary, and rape of Maria. Abel appears to have the criminal intent required to be an accomplice to battery because he assisted José in his quest to beat Maria. If burglary and rape were foreseeable when Abel drove a drunk and angry José to Maria’s house, the natural and probable consequences doctrine would extend Abel’s accomplice liability to these crimes. If Abel is not in a natural and probable consequences jurisdiction, the trier of fact must separately determine that Abel had the criminal intent required to be an accomplice to battery, burglary, and rape; Abel’s intent will be ascertained according to the jurisdiction’s accomplice intent requirement—either specific intent or purposely or general intent or knowingly.

Figure 7.1 Diagram of Accomplice Liability

Diagram of Accomplice Liability. Criminal act: aid, abet, assist the principal; words are enough. Criminal intent: specific or purposely (wants the principal to commit the crime) or general or knowingly (is aware that the principal will commit the crime). Natural and probable consequences doctrine: criminally responsible for the commission of all foreseeable crimes (some jurisdictions).

Consequences of Accomplice Liability

An accomplice is criminally responsible for the crime(s) the principal commits. Although the sentencing may vary based on a defendant-accomplice’s criminal record or other extenuating circumstances related to sentencing, such as prior strikes, in theory, the accomplice is liable to the same degree as the principal. So if accomplice liability is established in the examples given in Section 7.1.2 “Accomplice Elements”; Phoebe is criminally responsible for battery and child endangerment, Joullian is criminally responsible for prostitution, and Abel is criminally responsible for battery and possibly burglary and rape. The principal should also be criminally responsible for his or her own actions. However, occasionally a situation arises where the principal is not prosecuted or acquitted because of a procedural technicality, evidentiary problems, or a plea bargain, as is discussed in Section 7 “Prosecution of an Accomplice When the Principal Is Not Prosecuted or Is Acquitted”.

Prosecution of an Accomplice When the Principal Is Not Prosecuted or Is Acquitted

Although accomplice liability is derivative, in many jurisdictions the trier of fact can determine that a defendant is an accomplice even if the criminal actor or principal is not prosecuted or has been tried and acquitted for the offense (Standefer v. U.S., 2010). Thus a defendant can be liable for a crime even though he or she did not commit it and the defendant who did was spared prosecution or found not guilty. While this situation appears anomalous, if a defendant helps another commit a crime with the intent to further the crime’s commission, punishment for the completed crime is appropriate. As the Model Penal Code states, “[a]n accomplice may be convicted on proof of the commission of the offense and of his complicity therein, though the person claimed to have committed the offense has not been prosecuted or convicted or has been convicted of a different offense or degree of offense…or has been acquitted” (Model Penal Code § 2.06(7)).

Example of Prosecution of an Accomplice When the Principal Is Not Prosecuted

Review the example in Section 7 “Example of the Natural and Probable Consequences Doctrine” with José and Abel. Assume that after José burglarizes, beats, and rapes Maria, local police arrest José and Abel. The police transport José and Abel to the police station and take them to separate rooms for interrogation. The police officer who interrogates José is a rookie and forgets to read José his Miranda rights. Thereafter, the police contact Maria, but she refuses to cooperate with the investigation because she fears reprisal from José. The district attorney decides not to prosecute José because of the tainted interrogation. In this case, Abel could still be prosecuted for battery and possibly rape and burglary as an accomplice in some jurisdictions. Although José is the principal and actually committed the crimes, it is not necessary for José to suffer the same criminal prosecution and punishment as Abel. If the elements required for accomplice liability are present, Abel can be fully responsible for the crimes committed by José, whether or not José is prosecuted for or convicted of these offenses.

Garrido Sentencing Video

Attorney: Nancy Garrido in Tears during Sentencing

Phillip Garrido, with his wife Nancy’s help, kidnapped Jaycee Dugard, an eleven-year-old girl, and held her captive for eighteen years. During that time, Dugard was repeatedly raped, became pregnant twice, and gave birth to two children. Phillip Garrido pleaded guilty to multiple charges of rape and kidnapping and received a sentence of four hundred years to life in prison. Nancy was prosecuted as an accomplice, pleaded guilty and received a sentence of thirty-six years to life in prison (Martinez, M., 2011). Nancy Garrido’s attorney discusses her sentencing as an accomplice in this video:

Ghailani Verdict Video

Ghailani Guilty of One Count

Ahmed Ghailani, an alleged terrorist, was transferred from a military prison in Guantanamo Bay and tried as a civilian in a federal district court in New York. Ghailani was indicted for accomplice liability and conspiracy for the deaths of hundreds of citizens killed during Al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Tanzania. At trial, the prosecution failed to convince the jury that Ghailani had the criminal intent required for accomplice liability. He was acquitted of the murders and attempted murders as an accomplice and convicted of one conspiracy charge. However, he received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the conspiracy charge, the same sentence he would have received if convicted of all the murder and attempted murder charges (Weiser, B., 2011). A news story on the conviction of Ghailani is shown in this video:

Key Takeaways

  • The four parties to crime at early common law were principals in the first degree, principals in the second degree, accessories before the fact, and accessories after the fact. These designations signified the following:

    • Principals in the first degree committed the crime.
    • Principals in the second degree were present at the crime scene and assisted in the crime’s commission.
    • Accessories before the fact were not present at the crime scene, but assisted in preparing for the crime’s commission.
    • Accessories after the fact helped a party to the crime avoid detection and escape prosecution or conviction.
  • In modern times, the parties to crime are principals and their accomplices, and accessories.
  • The criminal act element required for accomplice liability is aiding, abetting, or assisting in the commission of a crime. In many jurisdictions, words are enough to constitute the accomplice criminal act element, while mere presence at the scene without a legal duty to act is not enough.
  • The criminal intent element required for accomplice liability is either specific intent or purposely or general intent or knowingly.
  • The natural and probable consequences doctrine holds an accomplice criminally responsible if the crime the principal commits is foreseeable when the accomplice assists the principal.
  • The consequences of accomplice liability are that the accomplice is criminally responsible for the crimes the principal commits.
  • In many jurisdictions, an accomplice can be prosecuted for an offense even if the principal is not prosecuted or is tried and acquitted.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Justin asks his girlfriend Penelope, a bank teller, to let him know what time the security guard takes his lunch break so that he can successfully rob the bank. Penelope tells Justin the security guard takes his break at 1:00. The next day, which is Penelope’s day off, Justin successfully robs the bank at 1:15. Has Penelope committed robbery? Why or why not?
  2. Read State v. Ulvinen, 313 N.W.2d 425 (1981). In Ulvinen, the defendant sat guard and then helped her son clean up and dispose of evidence after he strangled and dismembered his wife. Thereafter, the defendant was convicted of murder as an accomplice. The defendant was asleep when the killing occurred, but before the killing her son told her that he planned to kill the victim. The defendant reacted with passive acquiescence by demurring and expressing disbelief that he would go through with his plans. Did the Supreme Court of Minnesota uphold the defendant’s murder conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5558442148317816782&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Joubert v. State, 235 SW 3d 729 (2007). In Joubert, the defendant was convicted and sentenced to death based on his participation in an armed robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer and employee. The jury convicted the defendant after hearing testimony from his accomplice and reviewing a video of the defendant confessing to the offense. The defendant appealed the conviction because in Texas, accomplice testimony must be corroborated by other evidence, and the defendant claimed that the other corroborating evidence was lacking in this case. Did the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas uphold the defendant’s conviction? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10119211983865864217&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

Bogdanov v. People, 941 P.2d 247, 251 n. 8 (1997), accessed December 21, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13910767150180460511&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr#[8].

Cal. Penal Code § 31, accessed December 20, 2010,http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/31.html. and their accomplices.

Commonwealth v. Hargrave, 745 A.2d 20 (2000), accessed December 20, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14481330811091769472&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Idaho Code Ann. § 18-205, accessed December 20, 2010, http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/idstat/Title18/T18CH2SECT18-205.htm.

K.S.A. § 21-3205, accessed December 20, 2010, http://kansasstatutes.lesterama.org/Chapter_21/Article_32/#21-3205.

Martinez, M., “Phillip, Nancy Garrido sentenced in Jaycee Dugard Kidnapping,” CNN website, accessed August 15, 2011, http://articles.cnn.com/2011-06-02/justice/california.garridos.sentencing_1_jaycee-dugard-terry-probyn-phillip-garrido?_s=PM:CRIME.

ME Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17-A § 57 (3) (A), accessed December 21, 2010, http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/17-a/title17-Asec57.html.

N.Y. Penal Law § 20.00, accessed December 26, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN020.00_20.00.html.

Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.155, accessed December 20, 2010, https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/161.155.

People v. Lauria, 251 Cal. App. 2d 471 (1967), accessed December 21, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=686539897745974621&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

People v. Rolon, 160 Cal. App. 4th 1206 (2008), accessed December 20, 2010, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1308666.html.

Standefer v. U.S., 447 U.S. 10 (1980), accessed December 22, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=11715693283858901517&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Washington Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.08.020 (3) (a), accessed December 21, 2010, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.08.020.

Weiser, B., “Ex-Detainee Gets Life Sentence in Embassy Blasts,” New York Times website, accessed January 26, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/nyregion/26ghailani.html.

18 U.S.C. § 2, accessed December 20, 2010, http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/1/2.

7.2 Vicarious Liability

35

Learning Objectives

  1. Distinguish between accomplice liability and vicarious liability.
  2. Distinguish between corporate criminal vicarious liability and individual criminal vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability, a concept discussed in Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime”, also transfers liability from one defendant to another. However, vicarious liability should not be confused with accomplice liability. Accomplice liability is based on the defendant’s participation in a criminal enterprise and complicity with the criminal actor or principal, but vicarious liability transfers a defendant’s criminal responsibility for the crime to a different defendant because of a special relationship. With vicarious liability, the acting defendant also is criminally responsible for his or her conduct. Similar to the civil law concept of respondeat superior discussed in Chapter 1 “Introduction to Criminal Law”, vicarious liability in criminal law is common between employers and employees. It is also the basis of corporate liability, which is discussed in Section 7.2.1 “Corporate Liability”.

Corporate Liability

At early common law, corporations were not criminally prosecutable as separate entities, which was most likely because in England, corporations were owned and operated by the government. In modern times, American corporations are private enterprises whose actions can seriously injure other individuals and the economy. Thus a corporation can be criminally responsible for conduct apart from its owners, agents, or employees (New York Central R. Co. v. U.S., 2010). In general, this is a vicarious liability, transferring criminal responsibility for an offense from an agent or employee of the corporation to the corporation itself, based on the employment relationship. Of course, the agent or employee also is responsible for the crime he or she commits.

A corporation is vicariously liable only if an agent or employee commits a crime during the agent or employee’s scope of employment (720 ILCS, 2010). As the Model Penal Code states, “[a] corporation may be convicted of the commission of an offense if…the conduct is performed by an agent of the corporation acting in behalf of the corporation within the scope of his office or employment” (Model Penal Code § 2.07(1)(a)). The criminal punishment for a corporation is generally payment of a fine.

Example of Corporate Liability

Harry, an employee of Burger King Corporation, shreds corporate documents in his office when Burger King is sued civilly for sexual harassment in a multimillion-dollar class action suit. Under modern theories of corporate liability, both Harry and Burger King could be criminally prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Note that Burger King’s liability is vicarious and depends on its relationship with Harry as an employer and the fact that Harry is acting within the scope of employment. Vicarious liability is distinguishable from accomplice liability, where the accomplice must be complicit with the criminal actor. The owners of Burger King, who are the corporate shareholders, did not actively participate in Harry’s conduct, although they will share in the punishment if the corporation is fined.

Figure 7.2 Vicarious and Corporate Liability

Vicarious and Corporate Liability

Individual Criminal Vicarious Liability

Generally speaking, criminal law disfavors criminal vicarious liability, the exception being corporate liability discussed in Section 7.2.1 “Corporate Liability”. Criminal vicarious liability violates the basic precept that individuals should be criminally accountable for their own conduct, not the conduct of others (State v. Akers, 2010). Although accomplice liability appears to hold an accomplice responsible for principals’ conduct, in reality the accomplice is committing a criminal act supported by criminal intent and is punished accordingly. In addition, other statutes that appear to impose criminal liability vicariously are actually holding individuals responsible for their own criminal conduct. Some examples are statutes holding parents criminally responsible when their children commit crimes that involve weapons belonging to the parents, and offenses criminalizing contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In both of these examples, the parents are held accountable for their conduct, such as allowing children to access their guns or be truant from school. The law is evolving in this area because the incidence of juveniles committing crimes is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Key Takeaways

  • Accomplice liability holds an accomplice accountable when he or she is complicit with the principal; vicarious liability imposes criminal responsibility on a defendant because of a special relationship with the criminal actor.
  • In many jurisdictions, corporations are vicariously liable for crimes committed by employees or agents acting within the scope of employment. Individual criminal vicarious liability is frowned on, but the law in this area is evolving as the incidence of juveniles committing crimes increases.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Brad, the president and CEO of ABC Corporation, recklessly hits and kills a pedestrian as he is driving home from work. Could ABC Corporation be held vicariously liable for criminal homicide? Why or why not?
  2. Read People v. Premier House, Inc., 662 N.Y.S 2d 1006 (1997). In Premier House, the defendant, a housing cooperative that was incorporated, and members of the housing cooperative board of directors were ordered to stand trial for violating a New York law requiring that window guards be installed on apartment buildings. A child died after falling out of one of the windows. The members of the board of directors appealed on the basis that their positions were merely honorary, and they had no personal involvement in the crime. Did the Criminal Court of the City of New York uphold the order as to the members of the board of directors? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6854365622778516089&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read Connecticut General Statute § 53a-8(b), which criminalizes the sale or provision of a firearm to another for the purpose of committing a crime. The statute is available at this link: http://law.justia.com/connecticut/codes/2005/title53a/sec53a-8.html. Does this statute create accomplice liability or vicarious liability? Read the Connecticut Criminal Jury Instruction 3.1-4 for an explanation of the statute. The jury instruction is available at this link: http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part3/3.1-4.htm.

Law and Ethics: Life Care Centers of America, Inc.

Is a Corporation Criminally Accountable When Its Employees Are Not?

Read Commonwealth v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc., 456 Mass. 826 (2010). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12168070317136071651&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr. In Life Care Centers, a resident of the Life Care Center nursing home died in 2004 from injuries sustained when she fell down the front stairs while attempting to leave the facility in her wheelchair. The resident could try to leave the facility because she was not wearing a prescribed security bracelet that both set off an alarm and temporarily locked the front doors if a resident approached within a certain distance of those doors. The defendant, Life Care Centers of America, Inc., a corporation that operates the nursing home, was indicted for involuntary manslaughter and criminal neglect (Gillespie, G. G. & Scammon, K. S., 2011). The criminal intent element required for involuntary manslaughter and criminal neglect in Massachusetts is reckless intent. The evidence indicated that the order requiring the victim to wear a security bracelet was negligently edited out of the victim’s treatment sheet, based on the actions of more than one employee. The individual employee who left the victim near the stairs without the security bracelet relied on the orders that did not indicate a need for the bracelet. There was no evidence that any individual employee of Life Care Centers of America, Inc. was reckless. The prosecution introduced a theory of “collective knowledge” of the actions or failure to act of the corporation’s employees. The prosecution’s premise was that the several individual instances of negligent conduct combined to create reckless conduct that could be imputed to the corporation vicariously. The Massachusetts Supreme Court unanimously held that the corporation could not be held criminally responsible unless one individual employee could be held criminally responsible (Commonwealth v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc., 2011).

  1. Do you think it is ethical to allow a corporation to escape criminal responsibility for reckless involuntary manslaughter and criminal neglect when several employees’ negligent conduct caused the death, rather than one employee’s reckless conduct? Why or why not?

Check your answer using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

References

Commonwealth v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc., 456 Mass. 826 (2010), accessed January 24, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12168070317136071651&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Gillespie, G. G. & Kristen S. Scammon, “SJC Limits Corporate Criminal Liability,” Martindale.com website, accessed January 24, 2011, http://www.martindale.com/corporate-law/article_Mintz-Levin-Cohn-Ferris-Glovsky-Popeo-PC_1047124.htm.

New York Central R. Co. v. U.S., 212 U.S. 481 (1909), accessed December 21, 2010, http://supreme.justia.com/us/212/481.

State v. Akers, 400 A.2d 38 (1979), accessed December 26, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12639244883487184852&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

720 ILCS § 5/5-4, accessed December 26, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/illinois/720ilcs5/5-4.html.

7.3 Accessory

36

Learning Objectives

  1. Distinguish between accomplice liability and the crime of accessory.
  2. Define the criminal act element required for an accessory.
  3. Define the criminal intent element required for an accessory.
  4. Compare various approaches to grading the crime of accessory.

As stated in Section 7.1.1 “Accomplice Liability”, at early common law, a defendant who helped plan the offense but was not present at the scene when the principal committed the crime was an accessory before the fact. A defendant who helped the principal avoid detection after the principal committed the crime was an accessory after the fact. In modern times, an accessory before the fact is an accomplice, and an accessory after the fact is an accessory, which is a separate and distinct offense. Some states still call the crime of accessory “accessory after the fact” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 274, 2011) or “hindering prosecution” (Haw. Rev. Stat., 2011).

The difference between an accomplice and an accessory is crucial. An accomplice is responsible for the offense the principal commits. An accessory, on the other hand, is guilty of a separate crime that is almost always a misdemeanor.

Accessory Act

The criminal act element required for an accessory in the majority of jurisdictions is aiding or assisting a principal in escape, concealment, or evasion of arrest and prosecution or conviction after the principal commits a felony (Va. Code Ann., 2010). In most states, a defendant cannot be an accessory to a misdemeanor, although in some states a defendant can be an accessory to a high-level or gross misdemeanor (N.R.S., 2010). In a minority of states, the defendant can be an accessory to any crime (Haw. Rev. Stat., 2011).

In many states, words are enough to constitute the accessory criminal act element (Minn. Stat. Ann., 2010). Often special categories of individuals are exempted from liability as an accessory, typically family members by blood or marriage (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, 2010).

Example of Accessory Act

Jim wakes up late at night to the sound of someone pounding on his door. He gets out of bed, walks down the stairs, and opens the door. His father James is on the doorstep. James’s eyes are bloodshot and he is swaying slightly on his feet. He tells Jim that he just got into a car accident and needs to come inside before the police find out about it and begin an investigation. Jim steps aside and lets his father enter the house. The smell of alcohol on his father’s breath is apparent. He thereafter allows his father to spend the night without contacting the police about the accident.

Jim has probably committed the criminal act element required for an accessory in many jurisdictions. Jim allowed his father to escape arrest and evade an alcohol screening after leaving the scene of a car accident, which is most likely felony drunk driving and hit and run. He also sheltered his father for the night, concealing him from law enforcement. If Jim is in a state that exempts family members from accessory liability, he may not be subject to prosecution because the principal to the crime(s) is his father. If Jim is not in a state that relieves family members from accessory liability, he could be fully prosecuted for and convicted of this offense.

Figure 7.3 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Accessory Intent

The criminal intent element required for an accessory has two parts. First, the defendant must act with general intent or knowingly or awareness that the principal committed a crime. Second, the defendant must help or assist the principal escape or evade arrest or prosecution for and conviction of the offense with specific intent or purposely (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 274, 2010).

Example of Accessory Intent

Review the example with Jim and James given in Section 7 “Example of Accessory Act”. In this case, Jim is aware that James committed a crime because James told Jim he got into an accident and James’s intoxicated condition was apparent. Nonetheless, Jim purposely helped James evade arrest and an alcohol screening by sheltering him in his home while the effects of the alcohol dissipated. Thus Jim probably has the criminal intent required for liability as an accessory in most jurisdictions. If Jim is not in a state that exempts family members from accessory liability, he could be fully subject to prosecution for and conviction of this offense.

Accessory Grading

As stated in Section 7.3 “Accessory”, in many jurisdictions accessory is an offense that is graded less severely than the crime committed by the principal. Accessory is typically graded as a misdemeanor (Haw. Rev. Stat., 2011), although in some jurisdictions it is graded as a felony (Idaho Code Ann., 2011).

Table 7.1 Comparison of Accomplice, Accessory, and Vicarious Liability

Type of Liability Criminal Act Criminal Intent
Accomplice Aid, assist commission of a crime Specific or purposely, or general or knowingly, depending on the jurisdiction
Accessory Aid, assist evasion of prosecution or conviction for a felony, high-level misdemeanor, or any crime General or knowingly (crime committed) plus specific or purposely (principal evades prosecution or conviction)
Vicarious Committed by an individual in a special relationship with the defendant Belongs to an individual in a special relationship with the defendant

Figure 7.4 Diagram of Parties to Crime

Diagram of Parties to Crime

Key Takeaways

  • Accomplice liability holds a complicit defendant accountable for the crime the principal commits; accessory is a separate crime that is typically a misdemeanor.
  • The criminal act element required for an accessory is aiding or assisting the principal escape or evade arrest, prosecution for, or conviction of a felony, high-level misdemeanor, or any crime, depending on the jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions words are enough to constitute the accessory criminal act element.
  • The criminal intent element required for an accessory has two parts. The defendant must act

    • with general intent or knowingly that the principal committed the crime,
    • with specific intent or purposely to help the principal escape or evade arrest, prosecution for, or conviction of the offense.
  • In many jurisdictions, the crime of accessory is graded lower than the crime the principal committed; typically, it is graded as a misdemeanor, although in some jurisdictions, it is graded as a felony.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Cory watches as her sister Amanda breaks into a parking meter across the street and starts scooping change into her purse. Amanda thereafter runs into a nearby alley and hides behind a dumpster. A police officer arrives on the scene and asks Cory if she witnessed the crime. Cory responds, “No, I didn’t notice anything.” The police officer does a search, does not find Amanda, and leaves. Has Cory committed a crime? If your answer is yes, which crime has Cory committed, and does Cory have a possible defense?
  2. Read U.S. v. Hill, 268 F.3d 1140 (2001). In Hill, the defendant was convicted of harboring a fugitive and being an accessory when she helped her husband escape the country to avoid prosecution for a failure to pay child support. The defendant claimed that her convictions were unconstitutional because they contravened her right to privacy, association, marriage, and due process. Did the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit uphold the defendant’s convictions? The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1215479.html.
  3. Read State v. Truesdell, 620 P.2d 427 (1980). In Truesdell, the prosecution appealed the dismissal of the defendant’s case that was a prosecution for accessory to her twelve-year-old son’s felony shooting of her ex-husband. The lower court held that the defendant could not be an accessory to a felony because her son was not an adult who could be charged with a felony. Did the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reverse the lower court and permit the defendant to be tried as an accessory? Why or why not? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14038267185437754114&q= State+v.+Truesdell+620+P.2d+427+%281980%29&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.

References

Haw. Rev. Stat. § 710-1030, accessed January 26, 2011, http://law.justia.com/codes/hawaii/2009/volume-14/title-37/chapter-710/hrs-0710-1030-htm/.

Idaho Code Ann. § 18-206, accessed January 9, 2011, http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/idstat/Title18/T18CH2SECT18-206.htm.

Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 274 § 4, accessed January 16, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/massachusetts/274/4.html.

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.495, accessed December 23, 2010, https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=609.495&year=2010.

N.R.S. § 195.030, accessed December 26, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/nevada/crimes/195.030.html.

Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-19, accessed December 26, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/virginia/crimes-and-offenses-generally/18.2-19.html.

Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13 § 5, accessed December 23, 2010, http://www.leg.state.vt.us/statutes/fullchapter.cfm?Title=13&Chapter=001.

7.4 End-of-Chapter Material

37

Summary

Often more than one criminal defendant participates in the commission of a crime. Defendants working together with a common criminal purpose are acting with complicity and are responsible for the same crimes, to the same degree.

At early common law, there were four parties to a crime. A principal in the first degree actually committed the crime. A principal in the second degree was present at the crime scene and assisted in the crime’s commission. An accessory before the fact was not present at the crime scene but helped prepare for the crime’s commission. An accessory after the fact helped a party after he or she committed a crime by providing aid in escaping or avoiding arrest and prosecution or conviction. In modern times, there are only two parties to a crime: a principal, who is in the same category with his or her accomplice(s), and accessory(ies). Principals actually commit the crime, and they and their accomplices are criminally responsible for it. Accessories play the same role as accessories after the fact at common law.

The criminal act element required to be an accomplice in most jurisdictions is assistance in the commission of a crime. Words are enough to constitute the accomplice criminal act. Mere presence at the scene, even presence at the scene combined with flight after the crime’s commission, is not enough to constitute the accomplice criminal act unless there is a legal duty to act.

The criminal intent element required for accomplice liability in many jurisdictions is specific intent or purposely to commit the crime at issue. In some states, general intent or knowingly that the principal will commit the crime creates an inference of intent if the offense is serious. In a minority of jurisdictions, general intent or knowingly that the principal will commit the crime is sufficient.

The natural and probable consequences doctrine holds accomplices criminally responsible for all crimes the principal commits that are reasonably foreseeable. In many jurisdictions an accomplice can be prosecuted for a crime the principal commits even if the principal is not prosecuted or acquitted.

Vicarious liability transfers criminal responsibility from one party to another because of a special relationship. Vicarious liability is common between employers and employees and is the basis for corporate criminal liability. Pursuant to modern corporate criminal liability, a corporation can be fined for a crime(s) a corporate agent or employee commits during the scope of employment. The corporate agent or employee also is criminally responsible for his or her conduct. In general, the law disfavors individual criminal vicarious liability. The law in this area is evolving as the incidence of juveniles committing crimes increases.

In modern times, an accessory is the equivalent of an accessory after the fact at common law. The criminal act element required for an accessory is providing assistance to a principal in escape, avoiding detection, or arrest and prosecution, or conviction for the commission of a felony, high-level misdemeanor, or any crime, depending on the jurisdiction. Words are enough to constitute the accessory criminal act. Several jurisdictions exempt family members from criminal responsibility for acting as an accessory.

The criminal intent element required for an accessory in most jurisdictions is general intent or knowingly that the principal committed a crime, and specific intent or purposely that the principal escape, avoid detection, or arrest and prosecution, or conviction for the offense. Accessory is a separate crime that is usually graded as a misdemeanor, although some jurisdictions grade accessory as a felony.

You Be the Law Professor

You are a law professor searching for cases to illustrate certain legal concepts for your students. Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide which legal concept it represents. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. The defendant’s vehicle matched the description of a vehicle seen in the vicinity of a burglary before the burglary, during the burglary, and after the burglary. The defendant claimed that the evidence was insufficient to prove he was an accomplice to the burglary. Does this case illustrate the legal concept of accomplice act, accomplice intent, or both? Read Collins v. State, 438 So. 2d 1036 (1983). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8573128029213310764&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1.
  2. The defendants, foster parents, were found guilty as accomplices to the felony murder of their two-year-old foster daughter. Although both defendants testified that the victim died from injuries experienced after a fall from a swing, medical experts reported that the victim’s injuries were inconsistent with that testimony and appeared to be the result of child abuse. The jury convicted the defendants as accomplices to felony murder after a jury instruction stating that an omission to act could constitute the criminal act element for accomplice liability when there is a duty to act, and parents have a legal duty to come to the aid of their children. Does this case illustrate the legal concept of omission to act, statutory interpretation, or both? Read State v. Jackson, 137 Wn. 2d 712 (1999). The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1412039.html.
  3. The defendant, an electrical contracting company, was found guilty of violating OSHA regulations that led to an employee’s death. The victim, an apprentice in training, touched a live electrical wire and died from electrocution. The OSHA statute in question required “willful” conduct on behalf of the company. The jury instruction on willful stated that a company acted willfully or knowingly if individual employees of that company acted knowingly. The evidence indicated that some employees knew or were aware of live wiring in the vicinity of the accident. The defendant appealed and claimed that the jury instruction should have stated that a company acted willfully or knowingly if individual employees acted knowingly and had a duty to report that knowledge to the company. Does this case illustrate the legal concept of criminal intent, vicarious liability, or both? Read U.S. v. L.E. Meyers Co., 562 F.3d 845 (2009). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=2854285863509787279&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  4. The defendant was convicted of both first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to that murder. The trial court did not instruct the jury that the offenses were mutually exclusive and that they could only convict the defendant of one or the other. The defendant appealed on the basis that he was entitled to a jury instruction that prevented a conviction on both murder and accessory after the fact to murder. Does this case illustrate the legal concept of the criminal elements required for accessory after the fact, the criminal elements required for murder, or both? Read State v. Melvin, No. 382PA09 (North Carolina 2010). The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nc-supreme-court/1549865.html.

Cases of Interest

Articles of Interest

Statistics of Interest

Answers to Exercises

From Section 7.1 “Parties to Crime”

  1. Penelope could be charged with and convicted of robbery as an accomplice in many jurisdictions. Penelope assisted Justin by telling him what time the security guard took his break. Although Penelope was not present at the scene, if the trier of fact determines that Penelope had the proper criminal intent required for accomplice liability (specific intent or purposely or general intent or knowingly, depending on the jurisdiction) then Penelope can be held accountable for this crime. Note that Penelope assisted Justin with words and that words are enough to constitute the criminal act element required for accomplice liability.
  2. The Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed the defendant’s murder conviction, holding that the Minnesota Accomplice Liability Statute required more than passive acquiescence as a criminal act element. The court held that evidence of conduct occurring after the crime could raise an inference of participation before or during the crime’s commission, but in this case, the evidence was insufficient to uphold the verdict.
  3. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas upheld the defendant’s conviction because the video of the defendant’s confession corroborated the accomplice’s testimony. The court specifically held that corroborating evidence does not have to be enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime; it only has to “tend to connect him to the offense” (Joubert v. State, 2011).

Answers to Exercises

From Section 7.2 “Vicarious Liability”

  1. ABC Corporation probably is not vicariously liable for criminal homicide because Brad’s reckless conduct did not occur during the scope of employment; the criminal homicide occurred as Brad was driving home. However, if Brad were required to work while driving home (by making work-related phone calls, for example), vicarious liability could be present in this instance.
  2. The Criminal Court of the City of New York upheld the order to stand trial, holding that the prosecution was within its rights to charge the members of the board of directors under the statute. The court stated that whether the board of directors could be held vicariously liable was a question of fact to be determined by the judge or jury at trial.
  3. The jury instruction explains that the statute criminalizes vicarious liability, not accomplice liability. The defendant could also be charged as a principal or accessory under section (a) of the statute.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 7.3 “Accessory”

  1. Cory has probably committed the crime of accessory in most jurisdictions. Cory’s response to the police officer’s question was false, and it appears to be made with the intent to help Amanda escape detection. Note that Cory renders assistance using words, but words are enough to constitute the criminal act element required for accessory. Cory is not an accomplice to Amanda’s crime because she did not act to assist Amanda with the parking meter destruction and theft; she only acted after the crime was committed. Her failure to report the crime is probably not an “omission to act” because it is extremely unlikely that a statute exists requiring individuals to report theft committed in their presence, creating a legal duty to act. A potential defense to accessory would be the family relationship, which creates an exemption to accessory in some jurisdictions.
  2. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the defendant’s conviction for harboring a fugitive because the statute at issue was justified by the compelling government interest in apprehending deadbeat parents. The court reversed the accessory conviction on separate grounds (an improperly drafted indictment).
  3. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower court and allowed the defendant to be prosecuted for accessory. The court held that it is not necessary for the principal to be charged with or convicted of a felony to prosecute another for accessory to that felony, so the child’s age or prosecutability is irrelevant.

Answer to Law and Ethics Question

  1. Insisting that at least one individual employee of the corporation commit a crime with the requisite intent before imposing vicarious liability upon the corporation is ethical, and it promotes justice. Aggregating intent could have far-reaching consequences outside the arena of vicarious corporate liability. For example, it could create unfair and overly harsh sentencing if extended to accomplice liability. When accomplices work together, at least one accomplice must possess the intent for the crime to hold other accomplices responsible. Imagine the possibilities if the accomplices’ intent could be aggregated and raised to a more sinister level. Accomplices working together to commit a misdemeanor could be prosecuted for a serious and unforeseeable felony if their intents could be combined and elevated. Vicarious corporate liability is already a legal fiction because it transfers criminal responsibility for conduct from an individual to a business entity. This transfer of liability punishes the owners of the corporation for crimes they did not commit. If prosecutors could stretch the fiction further by combining the intents of various corporate employees and elevating them, this would not comport with notions of fairness.

Answers to You Be the Law Professor

  1. In this case, the District Court of Appeal of Florida held that the evidence was insufficient to support either the criminal act element or the criminal intent element required to be an accomplice. First, the court held that the identification of the vehicle proved “mere presence at the scene,” which is not sufficient to constitute the accomplice criminal act. The court thereafter held that an inference of intent to commit burglary was inappropriate when the prosecution did not prove the criminal act that was the basis of the inference. Thus you can use this case to illustrate the legal concepts of accomplice criminal act and intent.
  2. In this case, the Supreme Court of Washington reviewed the accomplice liability statute and noted that it did not include omission to act. The statute was predicated on the Model Penal Code § 2.06(3)(a)(iii), which expressly includes omission to act as sufficient for accomplice liability when there is a legal duty to act, so the court held that the Washington State Legislature’s rejection of omission to act in the accomplice liability statute was deliberate. The court reversed the felony murder convictions because the jury instruction did not comport with the statute (RCW 9A.08.020 (3)) as they interpreted it. The court also expressly stated that in Washington, omission to act cannot create accomplice liability. Thus you can use this case to illustrate the legal concepts of statutory interpretation and omission to act.
  3. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the jury instruction should include the individual employee’s duty to report knowledge or awareness of dangerous conditions when defining “willful” conduct under the OSHA statute. The court held that an individual employee’s knowledge or awareness could not be imputed to the company unless the individual employee had a duty to report that knowledge. The court’s holding focused on when a court should impute criminal intent to an employer or company and the definition of criminal intent under the statute. Thus you can use this case to illustrate the legal concepts of vicarious liability and criminal intent.
  4. The North Carolina Supreme Court discussed the elements of first-degree murder, aiding and abetting first-degree murder, and accessory after the fact to murder. The court reached the conclusion that first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to that murder are mutually exclusive, based on the criminal elements required for each offense. Thus you can use this case to illustrate the legal concepts of the elements of first-degree murder and the elements of accessory after the fact.

References

Joubert v. State, 235 SW3d 729, 731 (2007), accessed January 22, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10119211983865864217&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Chapter 8: Inchoate Offenses

VIII

8.0.0

And so long as the partnership in crime continues, the partners act for each other in carrying it forward.

   —Pinkerton v. U.S., cited in Section 8.2.4 “Consequences of Conspiracy”

8.1 Attempt

38

Learning Objectives

  1. Define an inchoate crime.
  2. Distinguish between general and specific attempt statutes.
  3. Identify and describe the four tests jurisdictions use to ascertain the criminal act element required for attempt.
  4. Define preparatory crimes.
  5. Define the criminal intent element required for attempt.
  6. Identify two potential defenses to attempt.
  7. Distinguish between factual and legal impossibility.
  8. Define voluntary abandonment.
  9. Describe merger and explain the way it affects attempt crimes.
  10. Analyze the relationship between transferred intent and attempt.
  11. Distinguish between the grading of attempt and the completed crime.

Attempt, conspiracy, and solicitation are considered inchoate crimes. Inchoate means “just begun, incipient, in the early stages” (Yourdictionary.com, 2010). Inchoate crimes can be left unfinished, or incomplete. Although attempt never results in the finished criminal offense, both conspiracy and solicitation could give rise to separate completed crimes.

The rationale supporting punishment for an inchoate crime is prevention and deterrence. If a defendant could not be apprehended until a crime is finished, law enforcement would not be able to intervene and avert injury to victim(s) or property. In addition, a defendant who is unable to complete a crime would try again and again, free from any criminal consequences.

The difficulty in holding a defendant accountable for an inchoate or incomplete crime is ascertaining the level of progress necessary to impute criminal responsibility, which is especially daunting with attempt, because in every instance the crime is left unfinished, as is discussed in Section 8.1 “Attempt”.

Synopsis of the History of Attempt

At early English common law, attempt was not a crime (Schulhofer, S. J. and Kahan, D. M., 2010). Gradually, the law evolved, and a defendant who committed attempt resulting in severe harm was punished for a minor crime, typically a misdemeanor. One of the first documented cases of attempt was Rex v. Scofield, Cald. 397 (1784) (Schulhofer, S. J. and Kahan, D. M., 2010). In Scofield, a servant was convicted of a misdemeanor for attempting to burn down his master’s house with a lighted candle. A subsequent case, Rex v. Higgins, 102 Eng. Rep. 269 (K.B. 1801), upheld an indictment for attempted theft and firmly established the crime of attempt in English jurisprudence. In modern times, most states criminalize attempt, the majority in statutes, except in some states that permit common-law crimes. However, even in statutes, the word “attempt” is often left undefined, forcing courts to derive the meaning from common-law principles.

Attempt Statutes

In general, there are two types of attempt statutes. Some states have general attempt statutes that set forth attempt elements and apply them to any criminal offense (Tex. Penal Code, 2010). Other states and the federal government have specific attempt statutes that define attempt according to specified crimes, such as murder, robbery, or rape (18 U.S.C., 2011). Keep in mind that several states do not criminalize attempt in a statute and consider it a common-law crime (Grill v. State, 2010).

Attempt Act

The criminal act element required for attempt varies, depending on the jurisdiction. As Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime” stated, thoughts are not criminal acts. Thus a defendant does not commit attempt by plotting or planning an offense. An extension of this rule dictates that mere preparation is not enough to constitute the attempt criminal act element (People v. Luna, 2010). However, the crux of any attempt case is how close to completing the offense the defendant must get to fulfill the attempt criminal act requirement. In many statutes and cases, the attempt act is loosely defined to allow the trier of fact the flexibility needed to separate true criminal attempt from noncriminal preparation.

Jurisdictions use four tests to ascertain whether the defendant has committed the attempt criminal act: proximity test, res ipsa loquitur test, probable desistance test, and the Model Penal Code’s substantial steps test.

Proximity Test

The proximity test measures the defendant’s progress by examining how close the defendant is to completing the offense. The distance measured is the distance between preparation for the offense and successful termination. It is the amount left to be done, not what has already been done, that is analyzed (Commonwealth v. Hamel, 2010). In some jurisdictions, if the defendant’s criminal intent is clear, the defendant does not need to come as close to completion of the offense (People v. Dillon, 2010). Generally, the defendant does not have to reach the last step before completion (People v. Dillon, 2010), although many defendants do.

Example of the Proximity Test

Melissa and Matthew decide they want to poison their neighbor’s dog because it barks loudly and consistently every night. Melissa buys some rat poison at the local hardware store. Matthew coats a raw filet mignon with the poison and throws it over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Fortuitously, the neighbors are on an overnight camping trip, and the dog is with them. The next day, after a night of silence, Melissa feels regret and climbs over the fence to see what happened to the dog. When she sees the filet untouched on the ground, she picks it up and takes it back over the fence, later disposing of it in the trash. If Melissa and Matthew are in a jurisdiction that follows the proximity test, Melissa and Matthew have probably committed the criminal act element required for attempt. Melissa and Matthew finished every act necessary to commit the crime of destruction of property or animal cruelty (poisoning the dog). The only reason the crime was not successfully consummated was the absence of the dog, which is a circumstance outside their control. Thus Melissa and Matthew could most likely be charged with and convicted of this offense. If Melissa bought the rat poison but thereafter changed her mind and talked Matthew out of poisoning the dog, her actions would be a preparation, not a positive step toward commission of the crime. If Matthew coated the filet with poison but then changed his mind and threw the filet away, he would still be “too far” away from completing the offense. However, once the filet is thrown over the fence, the crime is proximate to completion; the only step left is the victim’s (dog’s) participation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur Test

Res ipsa loquitur means “the thing speaks for itself” (USLegal.com, 2010). The res ipsa loquitur test, also called the unequivocality test, analyzes the facts of each case independently. Under res ipsa loquitur or unequivocality, the trier of fact must determine that at the moment the defendant stopped progressing toward completion of the offense, it was clear that the defendant had no other purpose than commission of the specific crime at issue. This determination is based on the defendant’s act—which manifests the intent to commit the crime (Hamiel v. Wisconsin, 2010).

Example of the Res Ipsa Loquitur Test

Harry wants to kill his wife Ethel for the proceeds of her life insurance policy. Harry contacts his friend Joe, who is reputed to be a “hit man,” and sets up a meeting for the next day. Harry meets with Joe and asks him if he will murder Ethel for one thousand dollars. Joe agrees, and Harry pulls out a wad of cash and pays him. Unfortunately for Harry, Joe is a law enforcement decoy. If the state in which Harry paid Joe recognizes the res ipsa loquitur or unequivocality test, Harry has most likely committed attempted murder (along with solicitation to commit murder, which is discussed shortly). Harry’s actions in contacting and thereafter hiring and paying Joe to kill Ethel indicate that he has no other purpose than the commission of Ethel’s murder. Hiring and paying a hit man is more than just preparation. Note that evidence of Ethel’s life insurance policy is not needed to prove the attempt act. Harry’s conduct “speaks for itself,” which is the essence of res ipsa loquitur or unequivocality.

Probable Desistance Test

The probable desistance test examines how far the defendant has progressed toward commission of the crime, rather than analyzing how much the defendant has left to accomplish. Pursuant to this test, a defendant commits attempt when he or she has crossed a line beyond which it is probable he or she will not desist unless there is an interruption from some outside source, law enforcement, or circumstances beyond his or her control (U.S. v. Mandujano, 2010).

Example of the Probable Desistance Test

Judy, who works at Zales jewelry store, tells her Facebook friends that she is going to steal a diamond necklace out of the safe that evening. Judy drives to Zales at eleven o’clock after the store has closed. She enters the building using her key and quickly disables the store alarm. She then turns off the store security camera. As she crouches down by the safe and begins to enter the combination, all the lights go on and she blinks, startled by the sight of several police officers pointing their guns at her. If the state in which Judy lives follows the probable desistance test, Judy has most likely committed attempted larceny, along with burglary. Judy informed others of her plan, drove to the crime scene, entered the building unlawfully, disabled the store alarm, and turned off the store security camera. This series of actions indicate that Judy crossed a point of no return. It is unlikely that Judy would have desisted without the law enforcement interruption, which fulfills the attempt act requirement pursuant to the probable desistance test.

Model Penal Code Substantial Steps Test

The Model Penal Code developed the substantial steps test in response to the large variance between different jurisdictions in evaluating the criminal act element required for attempt. The substantial steps test is intended to clarify and simplify the attempt act analysis, to prevent arbitrary application. It is also a test that is more likely to result in a conviction because it classifies as “substantial” those acts the other tests might consider only “preparatory” (People v. Dillon, 2011).

The substantial steps test has two parts. First, the defendant must take substantial steps toward completion of the crime. As the Model Penal Code states, “[a] person is guilty of an attempt to commit a crime if…he…does…anything which…is an act or omission constituting a substantial step in a course of conduct planned to culminate in his commission of the crime” (Model Penal Code § 5.01(1)(c)). Second, the defendant’s actions must be “strongly corroborative of the actor’s criminal purpose” (Model Penal Code § 5.01(2)). To further elucidate the test, the Model Penal Code provides seven examples of actions that constitute substantial steps, as long as they are corroborative of the defendant’s intent. The seven examples are lying in wait; enticing the victim to go to the scene of the crime; investigating the potential scene of the crime; unlawfully entering a structure or vehicle where the crime is to be committed; possessing materials that are specially designed for unlawful use; possessing, collecting, or fabricating materials to be used in the crime’s commission; and soliciting an innocent agent to commit the crime (Model Penal Code § 5.01(2)).

Example of the Substantial Steps Test

Kevin wants to rob an armored car that delivers cash to the local bank. After casing the bank for two months and determining the date and time that the car makes its delivery, Kevin devises a plan that he types on his computer. On the date of the next delivery, Kevin hides a weapon in his jacket pocket and makes his way on foot to the bank. Thereafter, he hides in an alley and waits for the truck to arrive. When the truck drives up and parks in front of the bank, Kevin walks over to the driver’s door and reaches for his weapon. He is immediately apprehended by a security guard who saw him emerge from the alley. If Kevin is in a substantial steps jurisdiction, he has probably committed the criminal act element required for attempt. Kevin cased the bank, planned the robbery, showed up on the appointed date and time with a concealed weapon, and hid in an alley to wait for the truck to appear. These actions are (1) investigating the potential scene of the crime, (2) possessing materials to be used in the crime’s commission, and (3) lying in wait. Thus Kevin has completed three substantial steps that corroborate his intent as expressed in the plan he typed, which is most likely sufficient to constitute the attempt criminal act element under the Model Penal Code.

Figure 8.1 Various Tests for Attempt Act

Various Tests for Attempt Act

Figure 8.2 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Preparatory Crimes

Some states have statutes criminalizing behavior that would be considered preparatory under any of the four attempt act tests. For example, some statutes prohibit the mere possession of burglar’s tools (N.Y. Penal Law, 2010) or even the manufacture of burglar’s tools (Conn. Gen. Stat., 2010). A defendant could be convicted of a preparatory crime and attempt if the criminal act element for both is present under the circumstances.

Example of a Preparatory Crime and Attempt

Hal manufactures a lock pick and takes it to the local coin shop, which is closed. Hal takes the lock pick out and begins to insert it into the coin shop doorknob. A security guard apprehends Hal before he is able to pick the lock. If Hal is in a jurisdiction that prohibits the manufacture of burglar’s tools, he probably could be charged with and convicted of manufacture of burglar’s tools and attempted burglary because he has committed the criminal act element required for both of these offenses.

Attempt Intent

The criminal intent element required for attempt in the majority of jurisdictions is the specific intent or purposely to commit the crime at issue (N.Y. Penal Law, 2010). Generally, no such thing exists as reckless or negligent attempt. Thus if the prosecution fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted purposefully with intent to commit the crime attempted, this could operate as a failure of proof defense.

Example of a Case Lacking Attempt Intent

Eric is hiking in a jurisdiction that criminalizes reckless burning. Eric pauses in front of a sign that states “Fire Danger Today: High.” Eric reads the sign, pulls out a cigarette, lights it, and throws the lit match into some dry brush near the sign. He starts hiking and when he finishes his cigarette, he tosses the lit cigarette butt into some arid grass. Neither the brush nor the grass burns. Eric probably does not have the requisite criminal intent for attempted reckless burning. Attempt requires purposeful conduct. Eric’s conduct is reckless because he is aware of a risk and disregards it. If Eric takes the match or lit cigarette and tries to ignite a fire with them, it is likely that he has the appropriate criminal intent for attempted arson. However, in this case Eric’s actions demonstrate careless behavior that probably is not sufficient for the crime of attempt.

Defenses to Attempt

Along with failure of proof defenses to the criminal act and criminal intent elements, legal impossibility and voluntary abandonment can also function as affirmative defenses to attempt in many jurisdictions.

Impossibility as a Defense to Attempt

Two types of impossibility defenses exist: legal impossibility, which can function as a defense to attempt, and factual impossibility, which generally cannot. Legal impossibility means that the defendant believes what he or she is attempting to do is illegal, when it is not. Factual impossibility means that the defendant could not complete the crime attempted because the facts are not as he or she believes them to be. The Model Penal Code disallows factual impossibility as a defense by stating that conduct is an attempt when the defendant “purposely engages in conduct which would constitute the crime if the attendant circumstances were as he believes them to be” (Model Penal Code § 5.01(1) (a)).

Example of Legal Impossibility

Review the example given in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test” with Melissa and Matthew and the attempted poisoning of the neighbor’s dog. Assume that Melissa is eighteen. Melissa believes that an individual must be twenty-one to purchase rat poison because that is the law in the state where she lived five years ago. Actually, the state in which Melissa currently resides allows the purchase of rat poison by those who are eighteen or older. The first store Melissa enters asks for identification when she tries to pay for the rat poison, so Melissa makes an excuse and leaves. The second store Melissa enters does not ask for identification, and she successfully makes the rat poison purchase. Melissa has probably not attempted to purchase rat poison illegally in the first store she entered. Melissa’s act in attempting to purchase the rat poison is legal under the circumstances. Thus her mistaken belief that she is attempting to commit a crime does not transform this legal act into an illegal one.

Example of Factual Impossibility

Recall from the example given in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test” that Matthew threw a filet coated with rat poison over the fence into the neighbor’s yard with the intent to poison the neighbor’s dog. Both Melissa and Matthew are under the mistaken belief that the dog is present and will eat the filet. However, the dog is on an overnight camping trip with its owners. This mistake of fact probably will not excuse Melissa and Matthew’s attempt. Melissa and Matthew purposely engaged in conduct that would result in the poisoning of the dog if the facts were as Melissa and Matthew believed them to be. Thus Melissa and Matthew have most likely committed attempted destruction of property or animal cruelty regardless of the fact that their plan could not succeed under the circumstances.

Voluntary Abandonment as a Defense to Attempt

Many jurisdictions allow a defendant who voluntarily abandons the planned offense to use this abandonment as an affirmative defense to attempt (Fla. Stat. Ann., 2010). The defense has two parts. First, the defendant must have a change of heart that is not motivated by an increased possibility of detection, or a change in circumstances that make the crime’s commission more difficult. As the Model Penal Code states, “it is an affirmative defense that he abandoned his effort to commit the crime…under circumstances manifesting a complete and voluntary renunciation of his criminal purpose…[R]enunciation of criminal purpose is not voluntary if it is motivated…by circumstances…which increase the probability of detection…or which make more difficult the accomplishment of the criminal purpose” (Model Penal Code § 5.01(4)). Second, the abandonment must be complete and cannot simply be a postponement. Under the Model Penal Code, “[r]enunciation is not complete if it is motivated by a decision to postpone the criminal conduct until a more advantageous time or to transfer the criminal effort to another but similar…victim” (Model Penal Code § 5.01(4)). The voluntary abandonment defense gives defendants incentive to stop progressing toward consummation of the offense and prevents the crime from occurring without the need for law enforcement intervention.

Example of Voluntary Abandonment as a Defense to Attempt

Review the example with Melissa and Matthew in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test”. If Melissa changes her mind after purchasing the rat poison and talks Matthew out of poisoning the neighbor’s dog, Melissa has voluntarily abandoned the crime and cannot be charged with attempt. If Matthew changes his mind after coating the filet with rat poison and throws the filet away, Matthew has voluntarily abandoned the crime and cannot be charged with attempt. Note that both Melissa’s and Matthew’s actions are in the very early stages of the crime of destruction of property or animal cruelty and probably will be considered preparatory, rather than constituting the criminal act element required for attempt. When Melissa climbs over the fence, picks up the filet, and takes it back to her house for disposal, it is most likely too late to voluntarily abandon the crime. At this point, the crime of attempt has already been committed, and neither voluntary abandonment nor factual impossibility can function as defenses.

Merger

Attempt merges into the crime if the crime is completed in many jurisdictions, which means that the defendant cannot be charged with attempt and the completed crime (Ga. Code tit. 16, 2011).

Example of Merger

Review the example with Melissa and Matthew in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test”. Change the facts, and assume that the neighbor’s dog eats the poisoned filet and dies. Melissa and Matthew probably cannot be charged with attempted destruction of property or animal cruelty and destruction of property or animal cruelty in many jurisdictions. Once the crime is complete, the attempt crime merges into the consummated offense, and Melissa and Matthew may be charged only with destruction of property or animal cruelty.

Figure 8.3 Defenses to Attempt

Impossibility
Voluntary Abandonment
Merger

Attempt and Transferred Intent

Recall from Chapter 4 “The Elements of a Crime” that a defendant’s criminal intent can transfer from the intended victim to the actual victim in some jurisdictions. If the intent is transferred, the defendant may be criminally responsible for the consummated offense against the eventual victim and for attempt against the intended victim.

Example of Attempt and Transferred Intent

Review the example with Melissa and Matthew in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test”. Change the facts, and assume that the neighbor’s cat licks the poison off the filet and thereafter dies. If Melissa and Matthew are in a jurisdiction that recognizes transferred intent, they may be charged with attempted destruction of property or animal cruelty for trying to poison the neighbor’s dog and destruction of property or animal cruelty for actually poisoning and killing the neighbor’s cat.

Attempt Grading

Jurisdictions vary as to how they grade attempt. Some jurisdictions follow the common law and grade attempt lower than the completed offense (Mo. Ann. Stat., 2010). Other jurisdictions punish attempt the same as the attempted offense, with exceptions for certain specified crimes (Conn. Gen. Stat., 2010).

Figure 8.4 Diagram of Attempt

Diagram of Attempt

Key Takeaways

  • An inchoate crime is a crime that might not be completed.
  • General attempt statutes set forth the elements of attempt and apply them to any crime. Specific attempt statutes define attempt according to specified crimes, such as attempted murder, robbery, or rape.
  • The four tests jurisdictions use to ascertain the criminal act element required for attempt are proximity, res ipsa loquitur, probable desistance, and substantial steps.
  • The proximity test determines how close the defendant is to committing the crime by analyzing how much is left to accomplish after preparation for the offense.
  • The res ipsa loquitur test, also called the unequivocality test, examines the defendant’s actions at a moment in time to determine whether the defendant has no other purpose than committing the crime at issue.
  • The probable desistance test analyzes whether the defendant has progressed so far that it is probable he or she will not desist without interruption from law enforcement or other intervening circumstances.
  • The substantial steps test is the Model Penal Code test and ascertains whether the defendant has completed substantial steps toward commission of the crime that are corroborative of the defendant’s criminal intent.
  • Preparatory crimes criminalize preparing to commit a crime, which would be a stage that is too premature to constitute the criminal act element required for attempt.
  • The criminal intent element required for attempt is specific intent or purposely to commit the crime at issue.
  • Aside from failure of proof defenses to attempt act and intent, two potential defenses to attempt are legal impossibility and voluntary abandonment.
  • Factual impossibility means the defendant cannot complete the crime because the facts are not as the defendant believes them to be. Factual impossibility is generally not a defense to attempt. Legal impossibility means the defendant believes he or she is attempting to commit a crime, but the defendant’s actions are actually legal. Legal impossibility is generally a defense to attempt.
  • Voluntary abandonment is when the defendant voluntarily and completely withdraws from commission of the offense before it is consummated.
  • In many jurisdictions, attempt merges into the offense if it is completed, which means that a defendant cannot be charged with attempt and the completed crime.
  • In a jurisdiction that allows for transferred intent, a defendant’s intent can transfer from the intended victim to the actual victim. The defendant can thereafter be criminally responsible for the completed crime against the actual victim and attempt against the intended victim.
  • Some jurisdictions grade attempt lower than the completed offense; others grade attempt the same as the completed offense, with exceptions.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Carol shoots her father Carl with malice aforethought. He thereafter lingers in a coma for two months and then dies. Carol is in a jurisdiction that recognizes merger for attempt and that also requires a victim to die within one year and a day if the defendant is to be charged with murder. Can Carol be charged with attempted murder and murder? Why or why not?
  2. Read State v. Withrow, 8 S.W.3d 75 (1999). In Withrow, the defendant made frequent visits to a house that was under law enforcement surveillance. While searching the house pursuant to a search warrant, law enforcement officers saw the defendant emerging from a bedroom that had a locked closet containing a jar with pills dissolving in it, which is the first step of methamphetamine production. The defendant was convicted of attempted methamphetamine production and received a sentence of eighteen years in prison. Did the Supreme Court of Missouri uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17239945130468444353&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.
  3. Read People v. Strand, 539 N.W.2d 739 (1995). In Strand, the defendant was convicted of assault with intent to commit attempted kidnapping. Did the Michigan Court of Appeals uphold this conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1507705469884283003&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

References

Commonwealth v. Hamel, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 250 (2001), accessed December 29, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3222223363179578849&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-106, accessed December 31, 2010, http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/pub/chap952.htm#Sec53a-106.htm.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 777.04(5) (a), accessed December 31, 2010, http://law.justia.com/florida/codes/2003/TitleXLVI/chapter777/777_04.html.

Ga. Code tit. 16 § 16-4-2, accessed January 28, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/georgia/16/16-4-2.html.

Grill v. State, 337 Md. 91 (1995), accessed December 27, 2010, http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=1995428337Md91_1422.xml&docbase=CSLWAR2-1986-2006.

Hamiel v. Wisconsin, 285 N.W.2d 639 (1979), accessed December 30, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3730801887783687670&hl=en&as_sdt=2002&as_vis=1.

Mo. Ann. Stat. § 564.011, accessed December 31, 2010, http://law.justia.com/missouri/codes/2005/t38/5640000011.html.

N.Y. Penal Law § 140.35, accessed December 31, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN0140.35_140.35.html.

People v. Dillon, 668 P.2d 697 (1983), accessed December 29, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16336126005486548570&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.

People v. Luna, 170 Cal. App. 4th 535 (2009), accessed December 27, 2010, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=11148942163253518924&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Schulhofer, S. J. and Dan M. Kahan, “Attempt,” encyclopedia.com website, accessed December 26, 2010, http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Attempt.aspx.

Tex. Penal Code § 15.01, accessed December 27, 2010, http://law.onecle.com/texas/penal/15.01.00.html.

U.S. v. Mandujano, 499 F.2d 370, 373 fn. 5 (1974), accessed December 30, 2010, http://ftp.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/499/499.F2d.370.74-1445.html.

USLegal.com, “Definition of Res Ipsa Loquitur,” accessed December 29, 2010, http://definitions.uslegal.com/r/res-ipsa-loquitur.

Yourdictionary.com, accessed December 28, 2010, “Definition of Inchoate,” http://www.yourdictionary.com/inchoate.

18 U.S.C. § 1113, accessed June 28, 2011, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/718/usc_sec_18_00001113—-000-.html.

8.2 Conspiracy

39

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain why conspiracy is an inchoate crime.
  2. Define the criminal act element required for conspiracy.
  3. Compare the conspiracy overt act requirement with the criminal act element required for attempt.
  4. Define the criminal intent element required for conspiracy.
  5. Ascertain whether a coconspirator can be criminally responsible when another coconspirator is not prosecuted or acquitted.
  6. Ascertain whether a coconspirator must know every other coconspirator to be guilty of conspiracy.
  7. Distinguish between a wheel and chain conspiracy.
  8. Define the Pinkerton rule.
  9. Define Wharton’s rule.
  10. Identify an affirmative defense to conspiracy.
  11. Ascertain whether merger applies to conspiracy.
  12. Compare various approaches to conspiracy grading.
  13. Define federal RICO.

Conspiracy punishes defendants for agreeing to commit a criminal offense. Conspiracy is an inchoate crime because it is possible that the defendants never will commit the planned offense. However, a conspiracy is complete as soon as the defendants become complicit and commit the conspiracy act with the conspiracy intent. The rationale for punishing defendants for planning activity, which generally is not sufficient to constitute the crime of attempt, is the increased likelihood of success when defendants work together to plot and carry out a criminal offense (Dennis v. U.S., 2011). If the defendants commit the crime that is the object of the conspiracy, the defendants are responsible for the conspiracy and the completed crime, as is discussed in Section 8.2.4 “Consequences of Conspiracy”.

Conspiracy Act

In many jurisdictions, the criminal act element required for conspiracy is an agreement to commit any criminal offense (Fla. Stat. Ann., 2011). The agreement does not need to be formal or in writing (State v. Bond, 2011). Some states also criminalize as conspiracy the agreement to falsely indict another for a crime and the agreement to falsely maintain any lawsuit, even a civil lawsuit (Cal. Penal Code, 2011). Other states only criminalize as conspiracy the agreement to commit a felony (Tex. Penal Code, 2011).

In some states and federally, an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy is also required (18 U.S.C., 2011). The Model Penal Code requires an overt act only when the planned crime is “other than a felony of the first or second degree” (Model Penal Code § 5.03(5)). The overt act does not have to be criminal and may be planning or preparatory activity that would be insufficient to constitute the criminal act element required for attempt (State v. Verive, 2011).

Example of Conspiracy Act

Review the example with Melissa and Matthew in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test”. In this example, Melissa and Matthew agree to poison the neighbor’s dog because it barks every night. After deciding they will poison the dog, Melissa buys rat poison, and Matthew thereafter coats a filet mignon with it and throws it over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. In a jurisdiction that defines the criminal act element for conspiracy as an agreement between two or more to commit a criminal offense, Melissa and Matthew probably committed the conspiracy criminal act as soon as they agreed to poison the dog. Their agreement could be verbal and does not need to be formal or in writing. If Melissa and Matthew are in a jurisdiction that requires an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy, Melissa and Matthew probably have not committed the conspiracy criminal act until Melissa buys the rat poison. Note that the purchase of the rat poison is not sufficient to constitute the criminal act element required for attempted destruction of property or animal cruelty, as discussed in Section 8 “Res Ipsa Loquitur Test”. However, it would likely be enough to support the conspiracy to commit destruction of property or animal cruelty.

Conspiracy Intent

The essence of conspiracy is agreement, which requires two or more parties. However, the modern approach is that a conspiracy may be formed as long as one of the parties has the appropriate intent (Ind. Code, 2011). Pursuant to this unilateral view of conspiracy, a conspiracy may exist between a defendant and a law enforcement decoy who is pretending to agree.

In the majority of jurisdictions, the criminal intent element required for conspiracy is specific intent or purposely to agree with another to commit the crime at issue (Connecticut Criminal Jury Instructions 3.3-1, 2011). As the Model Penal Code states, “[a] person is guilty of conspiracy…if with the purpose of promoting or facilitating its commission he: (a) agrees with such other person…that they…will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime” (Model Penal Code § 5.03(1) (a)). This intent has two components. The prosecution must prove that the conspirator intended to agree and also intended to commit the underlying offense (State v. Lewis, 2011).

Example of Conspiracy Intent

Shelley and Sam meet at a bar and discuss their lack of finances. Shelley mentions that she and her friend Steffy work at a convenience store. Sam asks Shelley if she would like to help him rob the convenience store when Steffy is working. Shelley agrees. The two plan the robbery. Shelley and Sam agree that Shelley will drive the getaway car on the appointed date and time. Shelley informs Sam that Steffy is extremely meek and fearful and will readily hand over cash out of the cash register if Sam uses a fake handgun. Shelley and Sam probably have the criminal intent element required for conspiracy. Shelley and Sam have the intent to agree to work together because they both need each other to successfully complete the convenience store robbery. In addition, Shelley and Sam have the intent to successfully commit the robbery because they both want the money the robbery will produce. Thus if no overt act is required in their jurisdiction, Shelley and Sam most likely have completed the crime of conspiracy and may be prosecuted for this offense whether or not the robbery actually takes place.

Conspiracy Parties

Similar to accomplice liability, the acquittal of or failure to prosecute one party to the conspiracy does not relieve a coconspirator from criminal responsibility in many states (Tex. Penal Code, 2011). In addition, a coconspirator does not need to know every other coconspirator to be accountable as a member of the conspiracy (Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2011). As long as the conspiracy defendant is aware that other coconspirators exist, the mens rea for conspiracy is present. As the Model Penal Code states, “[i]f a person guilty of conspiracy…knows that a person with whom he conspires to commit a crime has conspired with another person or persons to commit the same crime, he is guilty of conspiring with such other person or persons, whether or not he knows their identity” (Model Penal Code § 5.03(2)). Large-scale conspiracies, such as conspiracies to distribute contraband or illegal firearms, may result in each member sharing criminal responsibility for the conspiracy and every separate conspiracy transaction.

A conspiracy that has more than one criminal objective still can be just one conspiracy. Under the Model Penal Code, “[i]f a person conspires to commit a number of crimes, he is guilty of only one conspiracy so long as such multiple crimes are the object of the same agreement or continuous conspiratorial relationship” (Model Penal Code § 5.03(3)).

It is useful to understand two basic large-scale conspiracy organizational formats: wheel and chain conspiracies. A wheel conspiracy consists of a single conspirator, generally the ringleader who is interconnected to every other coconspirator. The ringleader is the hub; the other coconspirators are the spokes of the wheel. An example of a wheel conspiracy would be a mob boss linked to individual members of the mob following his or her commands. A chain conspiracy consists of coconspirators connected to each other like links in a chain but without a central interconnected ringleader. An example of a chain conspiracy is a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute a controlled substance, with the manufacturer linked to the transporter, who sells to a large-quantity dealer, who thereafter sells to a smaller-quantity dealer, who sells to a customer. Whether the conspiracy is wheel, chain, or otherwise, if the jurisdiction has a statute or common-law rule that each member does not need to personally know every other member as discussed previously, the coconspirators may be criminally responsible for the conspiracy and the crime(s) it furthers.

Figure 8.5 Comparison of Wheel and Chain Conspiracies

Comparison of Wheel and Chain Conspiracies

Consequences of Conspiracy

In some states and federally, individuals who enter into a conspiracy are criminally responsible for every reasonably foreseeable crime committed in furtherance of the conspiracy (U.S. v. Castaneda, 2011). This rule is called the Pinkerton rule, based on the US Supreme Court case that created it (Pinkerton v. U.S., 328 U.S. 640 (1946).). One factor used to determine foreseeability is the degree of the defendant’s involvement in the conspiracy. A defendant who plays a minor role is less likely to be criminally responsible than a defendant who has a more substantive involvement (U.S. v Castaneda, 2011).

Example of the Pinkerton Rule

Review the example in Section 8 “Example of Conspiracy Intent” with Shelley and Sam. Assume that on the night of the convenience store robbery, Lucy, an armed, off-duty police officer, wanders into the store to purchase cigarettes at the moment Sam pulls out his fake handgun. Lucy yanks her concealed handgun out of her waistband and tells Sam to drop the weapon. Jolene, another customer in the store, observes the two pointing guns at each other and suffers a fatal heart attack. In many jurisdictions, both Shelley and Sam probably could be criminally responsible for conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted robbery, and the murder of Jolene. Shelley and Sam attempted to commit the robbery in furtherance of the conspiracy. Both played a major role in the conspiracy and the attempted robbery. Thus both are accountable for the foreseeable consequences. Robbery is a crime of violence, so a death that occurs during a robbery is foreseeable, even though Sam is armed with only a pretend handgun. Thus Shelley and Sam may be charged with and convicted of Jolene’s murder, which is most likely felony murder. Felony murder is discussed in detail in Chapter 9 “Criminal Homicide”.

Wharton’s Rule

A criminal offense that requires two parties cannot be the object of a conspiracy that consists of two parties. This rule is called Wharton’s rule, or the concert of action rule (USLegal, 2011). However, a statute can expressly criminalize a conspiracy to commit any crime, abrogating the rule. Currently, Wharton’s rule can operate as a judicial presumption, to be applied in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary (Ianelli v. U.S., 2011).

Example of a Case Where Wharton’s Rule Is Inapplicable

Joanne and Robert conspire with Don, Joanne’s pimp, to engage in prostitution. Joanne and Robert get caught in the act of engaging in prostitution by Edward, a police officer. Wharton’s rule probably does not apply in this case. Although engaging in prostitution requires two parties, the conspiracy to engage in prostitution has three members—Don, Joanne, and Robert. Thus Wharton’s rule is likely inapplicable, and Don, Joanne, and Robert might have committed conspiracy to engage in prostitution. Note that if only Joanne and Robert conspire to engage in prostitution, Wharton’s rule may act as a judicial presumption that they cannot commit conspiracy and the crime it furthers.

Renunciation as a Defense to Conspiracy

One potential affirmative defense to conspiracy is renunciation. Similar to voluntary abandonment in attempt, renunciation can operate as a defense to conspiracy in some jurisdictions if the defendant completely and voluntarily renounces the conspiracy (N.J. Stat., 2011). The renunciation must also thwart the crime that is the object of the conspiracy. The Model Penal Code allows the defense and provides, “It is an affirmative defense that the actor, after conspiring to commit a crime, thwarted the success of the conspiracy, under circumstances manifesting a complete and voluntary renunciation of his criminal purpose” (Model Penal Code § 5.03(6)).

Example of Renunciation

Review the example with Shelley and Sam in Section 8 “Example of Conspiracy Intent”. In this example, Shelley and Sam agree to commit a robbery at the convenience store where Steffy is a cashier. Adjust the example so that Shelley has a change of heart and contacts law enforcement about the robbery before she drives Sam to the convenience store in the getaway car. Law enforcement officers ask Shelley to help them apprehend Sam, and she agrees. Shelley drives Sam to the convenience store as planned. Two law enforcement officers dress in plainclothes and pretend to be shopping in the convenience store when Sam arrives. As soon as Sam pulls out his fake handgun, they arrest him. If Shelley is in a jurisdiction that recognizes the renunciation defense, she probably will have a valid defense to a charge of conspiracy. Although Shelley committed the criminal act for conspiracy with the requisite criminal intent, she voluntarily and completely renounced the conspiracy and thwarted the crime that was its object. Thus Shelly has likely met the requirements of renunciation, and only Sam may be charged with a crime or crimes in this scenario.

Merger

At early common law, conspiracy, which was a misdemeanor, merged into the completed felony that was its object. The merger was based on the significant procedural differences between misdemeanor and felony trials. As the differences diminished, so did the merger concept. In modern times, conspiracy does not merge into the completed offense (Callanan v. U.S., 2011). Thus a defendant can be charged with and convicted of conspiracy and any crime the conspiracy furthers, as is discussed more fully in Section 8.2.4 “Consequences of Conspiracy”.

Figure 8.6 Defenses to Conspiracy

Renunciation
Wharton’s Rule
Not: Merger

Conspiracy Grading

Some states grade conspiracy the same as the most serious offense that is the conspiracy’s object (18 Pa. Cons. Stat., 2011). Others grade conspiracy lower than the most serious conspired offense and do not criminalize the conspiracy to commit a simple, low-level misdemeanor (Tenn. Code Ann., 2011). Another view is to set a separate penalty for the conspiracy to commit specific crimes (Cal. Penal Code, 2011). It is not unconstitutional to punish conspiracy more severely than the crime conspired (Clune v. U.S., 2011).

Federal RICO

In response to an increase in organized crime, the federal government enacted the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) (18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968)). RICO provides extensive criminal penalties and also a civil cause of action for organized crime and includes all offenses that are criminal under state or federal law. Although RICO was originally intended to focus on sophisticated criminal businesses such as loan sharking, mafia, and high-stakes gambling operations (Blakey, G. R., 2011), its modern application is much broader and encompasses many white-collar crimes and small-time conspiracies. A criminal organization always involves more than one member, and at the very least rudimentary planning, so conspiracy is a common RICO charge and is often easier to prove than a completed criminal offense. Recently, RICO has been criticized as being overused and applied in a manner inconsistent with its original purpose, especially when it targets smaller, low-member criminal “organizations.” Some examples of highly publicized RICO defendants are Hell’s Angels (Zimmerman, Keith and Zimmerman, Kent, 2011), Catholic priests in sex abuse cases (Smith, G., 2011), and Major League Baseball (Sportsbusinessdaily.com, 2011).

Table 8.1 Comparison of Conspiracy and Accomplice Liability

Type of Liability Criminal Act Criminal Intent
Conspiracy Agreement to commit a crime, false criminal indictment, false lawsuit, or felony; some jurisdictions require an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy Specific intent or purposely to agree to commit the specified offense(s)
Accomplice Aid, assist commission of a crime Specific intent or purposely or general intent or knowingly, depending on the jurisdiction

Figure 8.7 Diagram of Conspiracy

Diagram of Conspiracy

Tom DeLay Convicted of Conspiracy and Money Laundering Video

Judge Sentences Tom DeLay to Three Years in Prison

Tom DeLay, former US House Majority Leader, was convicted of conspiracy and money laundering (Meyer, P., 2011). His verdict is shown in this video:

Key Takeaways

  • Conspiracy is an inchoate crime because the defendants might never complete the offense that is the conspiracy’s object.
  • The criminal act element required for conspiracy is an agreement to commit any crime, commit a felony, falsely indict another for a crime, or falsely maintain any lawsuit, depending on the jurisdiction.
  • The overt act required for conspiracy can be preparatory activity; the criminal act element required for attempt must be more than mere preparation.
  • The criminal intent element required for conspiracy is specific intent or purposely to agree to commit the offense that is the conspiracy’s object.
  • The acquittal of or failure to prosecute one coconspirator does not prohibit the prosecution of other coconspirators in some jurisdictions.
  • A coconspirator does not need to know every other coconspirator; as long as a coconspirator is aware that there are other members, he or she can be criminally responsible for conspiracy.
  • A wheel conspiracy connects all members to one central member. A chain conspiracy interconnects the members in a linear fashion.
  • The Pinkerton rule holds conspiracy members criminally responsible for every foreseeable crime committed in furtherance of the conspiracy.
  • Wharton’s rule could create a judicial presumption that a defendant cannot be criminally responsible for conspiracy and the crime that is its object if the conspiracy has only two members, and the crime that is its object requires two defendants.
  • Renunciation is an affirmative defense to conspiracy in some jurisdictions if the defendant voluntarily and completely renounces the conspiracy and thwarts the crime that is its object.
  • Generally, conspiracy does not merge like attempt; a defendant can be convicted of conspiracy and the crime conspired.
  • Some jurisdictions grade conspiracy the same as the conspired offense; other jurisdictions grade conspiracy lower than the conspired offense. It is not unconstitutional to grade conspiracy higher than the offense that is its object.
  • Federal RICO is a statute that is designed to punish organized crime.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Gail and Roger conspire to commit a misdemeanor. In Gail and Roger’s state, conspiracy is punishable as a felony. Can Gail and Roger be convicted of a felony for conspiring to commit a misdemeanor? Why or why not?
  2. Read State v. Blackmer, 816 A.2d 1014 (2003). In Blackmer, the defendant appealed his conviction for conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to sell because the individual with whom he was conspiring was a police decoy who did not have conspiracy intent. Did the Supreme Court of New Hampshire uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10340846332108789820&q= State+v.+Blackmer&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5.
  3. Read Commonwealth v. Roux, 350 A.2d 867 (1976). In Roux, the defendant was convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder after a barroom brawl resulted in a victim’s death. The defendant and others beat the victim with their fists. Thereafter the criminal actor took a knife from a defendant who then walked away. The criminal actor stabbed the victim, who died as a result. The defendant who walked away claimed that he “abandoned” the conspiracy by leaving before the stabbing, and this should be an affirmative defense to the conspiracy and murder charges. Did the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania uphold the defendant’s convictions? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1692554406000599210&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Law and Ethics: The Han Murder Conspiracy

Did the Coconspirators Intend to Commit Murder?

Read People v. Han, 78 Cal. App. 4th 797 (2000). The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/californiastatecases/g023433.pdf.

In Han, a lurid California case involving twins, three defendants were convicted of burglary, false imprisonment, and conspiracy to commit murder (Beloit Daily News, 2011). Two of the codefendants appealed on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict of conspiracy to commit murder. The codefendants claimed that the only direct evidence of intent to commit murder were statements made by the defendant Jeen Han before the conspiracy was formed, and defendant Han could not conspire with herself.

The defendant Jeen Han and her twin sister Sunny had a long history of violence against each other (People v. Han, 2011). Defendant Han became enraged when Sunny pressed charges against her for theft. Testimonial evidence presented at trial showed that she expressed the intent to kill her twin before any conspiracy was formed (People v. Han, 2011). She actively sought out individuals to help her with her sister’s murder (People v. Han, 2011). Thereafter, she met up with her teenaged cousin and a friend, the other two codefendants. The three broke into Sunny Han’s apartment, tied up Sunny and her roommate at gunpoint and placed them in the bathtub, and then ransacked Sunny’s purse. Receipts produced at trial indicated a purchase of garbage bags, twine, utility tape, and Pine Sol previous to the incident. The Court of Appeal of California held that although circumstantial, the evidence supported the verdict. The court reasoned that the purchase of the twine, garbage bags, utility tape, and Pine Sol, combined with the actions of the defendants in breaking into the apartment, tying up the two roommates at gunpoint, and putting them in the bathtub, could be interpreted as circumstantial evidence of intent to kill, and the trier of fact did not err in making that conclusion (People v. Han, 2011).

  1. Do you think it is ethical to impute Jeen Han’s intent to murder her twin to the two other coconspirators, based on the circumstantial evidence presented at trial?

Check your answer using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

References

Beloit Daily News, “‘Evil Twin’ Found Guilty of Plotting to Kill Sister,” Beloit Daily News website, accessed January 28, 2011, http://www.beloitdailynews.com/articles/1997/11/21/export7262.txt.

Blakey, G. R., “RICO: The Genesis of an Idea,” Abstract, Social Science Research Network website, accessed January 4, 2011, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1142930.

Cal. Penal Code § 182(a) (2), (3), accessed January 2, 2011, http://law.justia.com/california/codes/2009/pen/182-185.html.

Callanan v. U.S., 364 U.S. 587 (1961), accessed January 4, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=10261023883092961366&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Clune v. U.S., 159 U.S. 590 (1895), accessed January 4, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14126191414675975192&q= Clune+v.+US&hl=en&as_sdt=2002&as_vis=1.

Connecticut Criminal Jury Instructions 3.3-1, accessed January 1, 2011, http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/part3/3.3-1.htm.

Dennis v. U.S., 341 U.S. 494 (1951), accessed January 3, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13576454585730441281&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Fla. Stat. Ann. § 777.04(3), accessed January 1, 2011, http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0700-0799/0777/Sections/0777.04.html.

Ianelli v. U.S., 420 U.S. 770, 785 (1975), accessed January 3, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16942118715212641737&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Ind. Code § 35-41-5-2(5), accessed January 1, 2011, http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/2010/title35/ar41/ch5.html.

Meyer, P., “Tom DeLay is sentenced to three years,” Los Angeles Times website, accessed August 15, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/11/nation/la-na-tom-delay-20110111.

Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-202(2), accessed January 3, 2011, http://law.justia.com/nebraska/codes/2006/s28index/s2802002000.html.

N.J. Stat. § 2c: 5-2e, accessed January 4, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/new-jersey/2c-the-new-jersey-code-of-criminal-justice/5-2.html.

People v. Han, 78 Cal. App. 4th 797, 802 (2000), accessed January 28, 2011, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/californiastatecases/g023433.pdf.

Smith, G., “Courts: Lawsuit Accuses Diocese of Hiding Sex Abuse,” Norwich Bulletin website, accessed January 4, 2011, http://www.norwichbulletin.com/lifestyles/spirituality/x497774422/Courts-Lawsuit-accuses-diocese-of-hiding-sex-abuse.

Sportsbusinessdaily.com website, “Arbitration Ruling Effectively Ends Loria RICO Suit,” accessed June 28, 2011, http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2004/11/Issue-46/Franchises/Arbitration-Ruling-Effectively-Ends-Loria-Rico-Suit.aspx.

State v. Bond, 49 Conn. App. 183 (1998), accessed January 1, 2011, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ct-court-of-appeals/1255702.html.

State v. Lewis, 220 Conn. 602 (1991), accessed January 2, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6997065715061309373&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

State v. Verive, 627 P.2d 721 (1981), accessed January 1, 2011, http://wings.buffalo.edu/law/bclc/web/azverive.htm.

Tenn. Code Ann. §39-12-107(c), accessed January 4, 2011, http://law.justia.com/tennessee/codes/2010/title-39/chapter-12/part-1/39-12-107.

Tex. Penal Code § 15.02, accessed January 3, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/texas/penal/15.02.00.html.

U.S. v. Castaneda, 9 F.3d 761 (1993), accessed January 3, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13576116398000833345&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

USLegal, “Definition of Wharton’s Rule,” USLegal.com website, accessed January 3, 2011, http://definitions.uslegal.com/w/whartons-rule.

Zimmerman, K., Kent Zimmerman, “Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club,” accessed January 4, 2011, http://www.organized-crime.de/revbar01sonnybarger.htm.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 905, accessed January 4, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/crimes-and-offenses/00.009.005.000.html.

18 U.S.C. § 371, accessed January 1, 2011, http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/19/371.

8.3 Solicitation

40

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain why solicitation is an inchoate crime.
  2. Define the criminal act element required for solicitation.
  3. Define the criminal intent element required for solicitation.
  4. Determine whether the defense of renunciation is available for solicitation.
  5. Discuss various approaches to solicitation grading.

Solicitation can be a precursor to conspiracy because it criminalizes the instigation of an agreement to commit a criminal offense. Solicitation is an inchoate crime because it is possible that the conspiracy will never be formed, and the crime that is its object will not be committed. Many of the rules that apply to attempt and conspiracy also apply to solicitation, as is discussed in Section 8.3 “Solicitation”.

Solicitation Act

The criminal act element required for solicitation is generally words that induce another to commit a capital felony, first-degree felony (Tex. Penal Code, 2011), or any crime (N.Y. Penal Law, 2011). Typical words of inducement are request, command, encourage, hire, procure, entice, and advise. The Model Penal Code defines solicitation as follows: “[a] person is guilty of solicitation to commit a crime if with the purpose of promoting or facilitating its commission he commands, encourages or requests another person to engage in specific conduct which would constitute such crime” (Model Penal Code § 5.02(1)). However, the Model Penal Code does not require direct communication, if “conduct was designed to effect such communication.” (Model Penal Code § 5.02(2)).

Example of Solicitation Act

Jimmy calls his friend Choo, who is reputed to be a “fence,” and asks Choo to help him sell some stolen designer shoes. If Jimmy is in a jurisdiction that criminalizes the “request” to commit any crime, Jimmy probably has committed the criminal act element required for solicitation. If Jimmy is in a jurisdiction that only criminalizes solicitation to commit a capital felony or first-degree felony, then Jimmy probably has not committed the criminal act element required for solicitation because selling stolen property is not generally graded that severely. If Jimmy is in a jurisdiction that follows the Model Penal Code, and Jimmy and Choo had a long-standing arrangement whereby Jimmy puts stolen items in a storage facility so that Choo can sell them, Jimmy will not have to communicate his request to Choo. He simply will have to place the shoes in the storage facility to commit the criminal act element required for solicitation.

Solicitation Intent

The criminal intent element required for solicitation is specific intent or purposely to promote the crime’s commission in most jurisdictions and under the Model Penal Code, as set forth in Section 8.3.1 “Solicitation Act” (Or. Rev. Stat., 2011).

Example of Solicitation Intent

Review the solicitation act example in Section 8 “Example of Solicitation Act”. In this example, Jimmy desires Choo to commit the crime of selling stolen property so that he can reap a benefit from his stolen designer shoes. Thus Jimmy probably has the criminal intent required for solicitation. If Jimmy is in a jurisdiction that criminalizes solicitation to commit any crime, Jimmy could be charged with and convicted of this offense.

Renunciation as a Defense to Solicitation

Similar to conspiracy, many jurisdictions allow renunciation as an affirmative defense to solicitation (Ariz. Rev. Stat., 2011). The renunciation must be voluntary and complete and must thwart the crime that is solicited. As the Model Penal Code states, “it is an affirmative defense that the actor, after soliciting another person to commit a crime, persuaded him not to do so or otherwise prevented the commission of the crime, under circumstances manifesting a complete and voluntary renunciation of his criminal purpose” (Model Penal Code § 5.02(3)).

Solicitation Grading

Jurisdictions vary as to how they grade solicitation. Some jurisdictions grade solicitation according to the crime solicited, with more serious crimes accorded a more severe solicitation punishment (Ala. Code, 2011). Others grade solicitation the same as the crime solicited, with exceptions (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann., 2011). Some states grade solicitation as a misdemeanor, regardless of the crime solicited (Commonwealth v. Barsell, 2011).

Figure 8.8 Diagram of Solicitation

Diagram of Solicitation

Key Takeaways

  • Solicitation is an inchoate crime because the crime that is solicited may not be completed.
  • The criminal act element required for solicitation is words or conduct that induces another to commit any crime, a capital felony, or first-degree felony.
  • The criminal intent element required for solicitation is specific intent or purposely to induce another to commit any crime, a capital felony, or first-degree felony.
  • Renunciation is an affirmative defense to solicitation if the defendant voluntarily and completely renounces his or her criminal purpose and thwarts the commission of the solicited crime.
  • Jurisdictions vary in their approach to grading solicitation. Some jurisdictions grade solicitation on a sliding scale according to the crime solicited, some grade solicitation the same as the crime solicited, and some grade solicitation as a misdemeanor, regardless of the crime solicited.

Exercises

Answer the following questions. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. Nancy asks Jennifer to help her counterfeit twenty-dollar bills. Jennifer refuses. Has a crime been committed in this situation?
  2. Read Planter v. State, 9 S.W. 3d 156 (1999). In Planter, the defendant told a former police officer wearing a wire that he would kill his estranged son-in-law for ten thousand dollars. The defendant was convicted of solicitation to commit murder. The defendant appealed on the basis that he did not solicit the former police officer to commit murder; he solicited the former police officer to pay him to commit murder. Did the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-criminal-appeals/1007515.html.
  3. Read People v. Dennis, 340 N.W.2d 81 (1983). In Dennis, the defendant was convicted of incitement to murder, which is the Michigan equivalent of solicitation to murder. The defendant appealed based on the fact that she solicited a police officer posing as a hit man, so the police officer did not have the intent to murder, and thus the murder was not possible. Did the Michigan Court of Appeals uphold the defendant’s conviction? The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4173359376569096786&hl=en&as_sdt=2002&as_vis=1.

References

Ala. Code § 13A-4-1(f), accessed January 7, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/alabama/criminal-code/13A-4-1.html.

Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1005, accessed January 7, 2011, http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/13/01005.htm&Title=13&DocType=ARS.

Commonwealth v. Barsell, 424 Mass. 737 (1997), accessed January 7, 2011, http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8677391463974362410&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr (accessed January 7, 2011).

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 629:2(IV), accessed January 7, 2011, http://law.justia.com/codes/new-hampshire/2009/TITLELXII/CHAPTER629/629-2.html.

N.Y. Penal Law § 100.00, accessed January 6, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN0100.00_100.00.html.

Or. Rev. Stat. § 161.435, accessed January 6, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/oregon/161-general-provisions/161.435.html.

Tex. Penal Code § 15.03, accessed January 6, 2011, http://law.onecle.com/texas/penal/15.03.00.html (accessed January 6, 2011).

8.4 End-of-Chapter Material

41

Summary

An inchoate crime might never be completed. The rationale of punishing a defendant for an inchoate crime is prevention and deterrence. The three inchoate crimes are attempt, conspiracy, and solicitation.

The criminal act element required for attempt must be more than thoughts or mere preparation. Modern jurisdictions use four tests to ascertain attempt. The proximity test analyzes how close the defendant is to completing the offense by examining how much is left to be done. The defendant may have to come dangerously close to completion but generally does not have to reach the last act before completion. The res ipsa loquitur test looks at the moment in time when the defendant stopped progressing toward completion to see if the defendant’s acts indicate that the defendant has no other purpose than commission of the offense. The probable desistance test focuses on how far the defendant has progressed to see if it is probable that the defendant won’t desist until the crime is complete. The Model Penal Code substantial steps test has two parts. First, the defendant must take substantial steps toward completion of the crime. Second, the defendant’s actions must strongly corroborate the defendant’s criminal purpose.

Some jurisdictions also criminalize preparatory crimes such as the manufacture or possession of burglar’s tools. Preparatory crimes can be combined with attempt under the appropriate circumstances.

The criminal intent element required for attempt is the specific intent or purposely to commit the crime attempted. Legal impossibility can be a defense to attempt if the defendant mistakenly believes that a legal act attempted is illegal. Factual impossibility is not a defense to attempt if the crime cannot be completed because the facts are not as the defendant believes them to be. Voluntary abandonment is also a defense to attempt in some jurisdictions if the defendant voluntarily and completely renounces the attempted crime.

If a jurisdiction recognizes transferred intent, a defendant can be criminally responsible for attempt against the intended victim and the completed offense against the actual victim. In many jurisdictions, attempt merges into the crime if the crime is completed. Jurisdictions vary as to how they grade attempt; either attempt is graded the same or lower than the completed offense.

The criminal act element required for conspiracy is an agreement to commit any crime, commit a felony, falsely indict another for a crime, or falsely maintain any lawsuit, depending on the jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions also require an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy that could be a legal or preparatory act.

The criminal intent element required for conspiracy in many jurisdictions is the specific intent or purposely to agree and to commit the crime at issue. In some states, a coconspirator can be prosecuted even if another coconspirator is not prosecuted or acquitted. Coconspirators do not need to know every other coconspirator, as long as they are aware that other coconspirators exist. A wheel conspiracy connects all members to one central member. A chain conspiracy connects members to each other in a linear fashion.

The Pinkerton rule holds coconspirators criminally responsible for every foreseeable crime committed in furtherance of the conspiracy. Wharton’s rule creates a judicial presumption that a crime requiring two parties merges into a conspiracy made up of two parties.

Renunciation can be a defense to conspiracy if a coconspirator voluntarily and completely abandons the conspiracy and thwarts the crime that is its object. Conspiracy generally does not merge into the conspired offense. Jurisdictions vary as to how they grade conspiracy. Usually it is graded the same or lower than the crime that is the conspiracy’s object, but it is not unconstitutional to punish conspiracy more severely than the conspired offense. The federal RICO statute is targeted at organized crime, including conspiracy.

Solicitation is the instigation of an agreement to commit any crime or, in some jurisdictions, a capital or first-degree felony. The criminal act element required for solicitation is words or conduct of inducement. The criminal intent element required for solicitation is specific intent or purposely to promote the crime solicited.

Renunciation is a defense to solicitation if it is voluntary and complete and thwarts the solicited offense. Jurisdictions vary as to how they grade solicitation. Some grade solicitation the same as the crime solicited, others vary the grading depending on the crime solicited, and still others grade solicitation as a misdemeanor.

You Be the Prosecutor

You are a prosecutor seeking a promotion. You want to win your next case so that you can make a good impression on your superior. Read the prompt, review the case, and then decide whether you would accept or reject it from a pool of cases available to junior prosecutors. Check your answers using the answer key at the end of the chapter.

  1. The defendant is charged with witness tampering by attempting to kill the witness. A witness identified the defendant, a police officer, as someone who sexually assaulted her at gunpoint. The defendant met with two individuals, one of them an FBI informant, and told them that he wanted to kill the witness before trial. He was thereafter apprehended with a gun he had recently test-fired in the vicinity of the witness’s house, which he had located with the FBI informant on a previous occasion. The jurisdiction in which you prosecute cases follows the “substantial steps” test for the attempt act element. Will you accept or reject the case? Read U.S. v. Contreras, 950 F.2d 232 (1991). The case is available at this link: http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/950/232/110462/.
  2. The defendant, a substitute teacher, is charged with two counts of attempted child sexual abuse for blocking the door of his residence and refusing to allow his thirteen-year-old student to leave. The defendant also asked the student for a kiss, was told “no,” and moved his face in the proximity of the student’s face. Will you accept or reject the case? Read People v. Miller, 856 N.Y.S. 2d 443 (2008). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13341924462190148625&q= %22Stan+Miller%22+%22People+v+Miller%22&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_ylo=2007&as_vis=1.
  3. The defendant is charged with conspiracy to commit manslaughter and various other crimes (including manslaughter). The defendant and an acquaintance agreed to shoot at some individuals near a housing project and walked over carrying guns. The defendant fired shots at a dumpster with people standing nearby, and one of the people was hit and killed. In your state, the criminal intent required for conspiracy is the specific intent or purposely to agree, and the specific intent or purposely to commit the crime that is the conspiracy’s object. Will you accept or reject the case? Read State v. Montgomery, 22 Conn. App. 340 (1990). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=355479416909506104&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
  4. The defendant is charged with solicitation to traffic narcotics. The defendant was in a vehicle with other individuals, and a drug dealer approached them. The defendant gave the drug dealer twenty dollars to examine the drugs, gave the drugs back, and got his twenty dollars back. Thereafter, a police officer who had witnessed the transaction arrested everyone in the car. Will you accept or reject the case? Read State v. Pinson, 895 P.2d 274 (1995). The case is available at this link: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1966550891971070482&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

Cases of Interest

Websites of Interest

Answers to Exercises

From Section 8.1 “Attempt”

  1. Carol can be charged with murder because her father died within the jurisdiction’s requisite time limit. If her father did not die within one year and a day, Carol could only be charged with attempted murder. Carol cannot be charged with attempted murder and murder because attempt merges into the offense if it is completed in Carol’s jurisdiction.
  2. The Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the defendant’s conviction. Following a substantial steps analysis, the court determined that in the absence of evidence that the defendant placed the pills inside the jar, the defendant must be in possession of the jar to be guilty of attempted methamphetamine production, and the facts did not indicate that possession.
  3. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction, reasoning that assault with intent to commit attempted kidnapping is a nonexistent offense because it would require the specific intent to commit an uncompleted crime.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 8.2 “Conspiracy”

  1. Gail and Roger can be convicted of felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor because it is not unconstitutional to punish conspiracy more severely than the crime that is its object.
  2. The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the defendant’s conviction because under New Hampshire law it is not necessary for both parties to the conspiracy to possess conspiracy criminal intent.
  3. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld the defendant’s convictions, determining that it was too late for him to abandon the conspiracy, and also that the evidence indicated he was holding the knife “at the ready” for the criminal actor to grab and use.

Answers to Exercises

From Section 8.3 “Solicitation”

  1. Nancy has committed solicitation to commit counterfeiting, which is criminal if Nancy’s jurisdiction criminalizes the solicitation to commit this type of offense. It is of no import that Jennifer refuses Nancy’s request because the criminal act element of solicitation is requesting another to commit a crime, not a mutual understanding or agreement (like conspiracy).
  2. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reversed the defendant’s conviction, agreeing with the defendant that he solicited a payment, not a murder.
  3. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction, based on the plain meaning of the statute that does not require the individual solicited to have the intent to commit the crime solicited.

Answer to Law and Ethics Question

  1. One of the biggest concerns about the crime of conspiracy is that it is easier to prove than many substantive crimes. In Chapter 7 “Parties to Crime”, an example is given in Section 7.1 “Parties to Crime” where an alleged terrorist was acquitted of over two hundred counts of accomplice to murder, but he was convicted of one count of conspiracy. The Han case also illustrates this principle. The circumstantial evidence presented at trial may not have been enough to prove attempted murder, but it was clearly enough to convince the jury that there was a conspiracy to murder. However, the rationale supporting conspiracy—that it is more likely that a crime will be completed if it is a group effort—is also illustrated by the Han case. A thorough review of the facts as detailed in that case reveals that Jeen Han approached more than one individual about attacking and killing her sister. She seemed unwilling or possibly incapable of committing this crime alone. Once she had the support of the other two codefendants, she was able to move forward with the offense. The circumstantial evidence presented at trial was not overwhelming. However, appellate courts give the trier of fact the benefit of the doubt because the judge or jury views the evidence firsthand—rather than simply reading it in a court transcript. Also, the right to a jury trial must be preserved, regardless of whether the jury follows the law or acts ethically.

Answers to You Be the Defense Prosecutor

  1. In this case, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the defendant’s conviction for witness tampering by attempting to kill a witness. The court specifically held that the defendant’s expressed intent to kill, combined with his efforts to find the witness’s house, and his possession of a gun that had recently been test-fired in the vicinity of the witness’ house was enough to constitute a “substantial step” toward completion of the offense of killing the witness. Thus you would be successful on the witness tampering charge and you should accept the case.
  2. The Criminal Court, City of New York held that the criminal complaint for attempted child sexual abuse was sufficient on its face. The court stated that evidence indicating the defendant blocked the door and tried to kiss the student, coupled with physical and verbal coercive conduct, could constitute the criminal act element of attempted child sexual abuse. Thus the attempted child sexual abuse charges are sufficient and you should accept the case.
  3. In this case, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that manslaughter is a reckless intent crime, so there could be no conspiracy to commit it. A defendant cannot have the specific intent to commit a reckless intent crime. Thus you would lose on the conspiracy to commit manslaughter charge and you should reject the case.
  4. The Court of Appeals of New Mexico held that solicitation cannot be charged when it is incidental to the crime solicited. The court reasoned that trafficking narcotics criminalizes only the sale (not the purchase) of narcotics, and narcotics cannot be sold without a buyer. Thus you would lose on the solicitation charge and should reject the case.

Chapter 9: Criminal Homicide

IX

A bag full of evidence

[W]hether it is made for the purpose of destroying animal life, or whether it was not made by man at all, or whether it was made by him for some other purpose, if it is a weapon, or if it is a thing with which death can be easily and readily produced, the law recognizes it as a deadly weapon…

   —Acers v. U.S., cited in Section 9 “Inference of Intent”

9.1 Homicide

42

Learning Objectives

  1. Define homicide.
  2. Recognize that all homicides are not criminal.
  3. Identify the corpus delicti components in a criminal homicide.
  4. Compare the definition of fetus in criminal homicide and feticide statutes.
  5. Compare common-law feticide and suicide with modern views.
  6. Ascertain whether it is constitutional to criminalize assisted suicide.

In this section, you learn the definition of homicide and the meaning of human being, which vary from state to state. You also learn that suicide is not criminal, but assisted suicide might be, depending on the jurisdiction.

Synopsis of the History of Homicide

Homicide is the killing of one human being by another. Homicide is not always criminal. For example, a lawful execution pursuant to the death penalty is homicide, but it is not criminal homicide.

Homicide law in the United States has its origins in the English common law. Oxford professor Sir William Blackstone defined homicide as justifiable, excusable, or felonious. Justifiable homicides were not criminal because they did not include the concept of guilt. Excusable homicides were not criminal because they included minimal guilt. Felonious homicides were criminal and were considered the most heinous offenses known to man.

Initially at common law, every felonious or criminal homicide was punished by death. Gradually, as the law evolved, unlawful killings were divided into murder and manslaughter based on the defendant’s criminal intent. Murder had the criminal intent element of malice aforethought and remained a capital offense. Manslaughter was an unlawful killing without malice and was punished by incarceration.

In modern times, most states define criminal homicide and its elements in statutes, which often are interpreted by case law. Many jurisdictions continue to follow Blackstone’s philosophy and the common-law division between murder and manslaughter, as is discussed in this chapter.

Corpus Delicti in Criminal Homicide

An essential component of every criminal case, including criminal homicide, is corpus delicti. Corpus delicti is the substance of the crime at issue. The prosecution must prove corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt, with evidence other than a defendant’s confession (People v. Ochoa, 2011). Although a detailed discussion of corpus delicti is beyond the scope of this text, corpus delicti in a criminal homicide case consists of the death of a victim, caused by the defendant, in an unlawful manner.

Often the victim’s body is never discovered, which could make it more difficult for the prosecution to prove corpus delicti but not impossible. If there is sufficient circumstantial or direct evidence, such as bloodstains, surveillance footage, or witness testimony, the prosecution can prove corpus delicti without the victim’s body and can convict the defendant of criminal homicide.

Feticide

Feticide is the intentional destruction of a fetus. At common law, a human being could not be the victim of criminal homicide unless it was born alive (Keeler v. Superior Court, 2010). The Model Penal Code takes this approach and defines human being as “a person who has been born and is alive” (Model Penal Code § 210.0 (1)). The modern trend in many jurisdictions is to include the fetus as a victim in a criminal homicide or feticide statute, excepting abortion. The definition of fetus is either set forth in the criminal homicide or feticide statute or created by case law. Many states and the federal government consider an embryo a fetus from the time of conception (Ala. Code, 2010). Other states determine that a fetus is formed when the child has “quickened,” or is able to move within the womb—about four to five months after conception (Fla. Stat., 2010). A few states do not consider the fetus a victim of criminal homicide or feticide until it is viable and can survive outside the womb (Ind. Code, 2010).

Figure 9.1 Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Suicide

At common law, suicide was a crime. The punishment was forfeiture of the lands owned by the deceased. In modern times, most states do not criminalize suicide. However, almost all jurisdictions make it a crime to assist a suicide, and the US Supreme Court has held these statutes constitutional (Washington v. Glucksberg, 2010). Several states have special statutes that specifically punish assisted suicide less severely than their first- or second-degree murder statutes (Tex. Penal Code, 2010). A minority of states allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with the assistance of a physician (Or. Rev. Stat., 2010). The Model Penal Code provides that “[a] person who purposely aids or solicits another to commit suicide is guilty of a felony of the second degree if his conduct causes such suicide or an attempted suicide” (Model Penal Code § 210.5(2)).

Key Takeaways

  • Homicide is the killing of one human being by another.
  • Homicide is not always criminal. For example, a lawful execution pursuant to the death penalty is homicide, but it is not criminal homicide.
  • The corpus delicti components in a criminal homicide are the death of the victim, caused by the defendant, in an unlawful manner.
  • States that criminalize feticide consider an embryo a fetus at the moment of conception, when it quickens in the womb, or when it is viable and can survive outside the womb.
  • In modern times, in many jurisdictions feticide is a crime (excepting abortion), and suicide is not. At common law, the following applied:

    • Feticide was not a crime; only a person “born alive” could be the victim of criminal homicide.