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The General Principles of Criminal Liability: Mens Rea, Concurrence, Causation and Ignorance and Mistake.

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Presentation on theme: "The General Principles of Criminal Liability: Mens Rea, Concurrence, Causation and Ignorance and Mistake."— Presentation transcript:

1 The General Principles of Criminal Liability: Mens Rea, Concurrence, Causation and Ignorance and Mistake

2  Understand and appreciate that most serious crimes require criminal intent and a criminal act.  Understand the difference between criminal intent and motive.  Understand the difference between general and specific intent.  Understand and appreciate the differences in culpability among the Model Penal Codes’ four mental states—purposefully, knowingly, recklessly and negligently.  Understand that criminal liability is sometimes imposed without fault (also known as strict liability.)  To know the definition of concurrence and why it’s important in criminal behavior.  Understand that the element of causation applies only to “bad result” crimes and be able to differentiate factual cause from legal cause.  Understand that ignorance of facts and law can create a reasonable doubt that the prosecution has proved the element of criminal intent

3  Voluntary act (prior chapter)  Mens rea—criminal intent Most serious crimes require a mental element called mens rea (criminal intent) Required because of culpability or blameworthiness Most states and the Federal government follow common law principles about mens rea Mens rea is not one level of intent, it comprises a range of intent—generally broken down by the degree of blameworthiness  Concurrence—requirement that criminal intent trigger the criminal act in conduct crimes; criminal conduct must cause bad result in bad result crimes  Causation Criminal act must be both the cause in fact and the legal cause of the harm

4  Ancient requirement  Complex Difficult to prove in court Difficult to grasp and define in legislation  Several mental attitudes that range across spectrum  Different mental attitudes may apply to different elements of the crime

5  Mens rea is different than motive Ex. Man kills wife for money  Mens rea= intent to kill  Motive= get money  Motive is something that causes a person to act and is “irrelevant” to criminal liability  Motive may be important in establishing a defense  Motive may be an element of crime  Motive is also important in some defenses

6  Confessions are the only direct evidence of mental attitude  Proof of intent usually rests on indirect, circumstantial evidence  It is common in everyday life to infer people’s intent from what they do

7  Subjective fault—fault that requires a bad mind Ex. Receiving an iPod you know is stolen Bad state of mind is “knowingly accepting” Terms also used to express subjective fault  Ill will, depravity of will, depraved heart  Objective Fault—fault that requires no bad mind in the actor Ex. Buying an iPod for $10.00 thinking it is new Average person would have known that it was stolen

8  Criminal liability that does not require either subjective or objective fault Ex. Statute: whoever receives stolen property Notice: there is no requirement that person knowingly received stolen property

9  General intent: the intent to commit the criminal act defined in the statute Courts don’t always define general intent the same way  Specific intent: intent to cause the result (in bad result crimes) Generally has subjective fault component Deliberate, conscious, intended, planned, premeditated…etc.  General intent “plus”: intent to commit the criminal act plus some mental element most common definition of specific intent Ex. Burglary is specific intent. Burglar has to intend to break and enter and has to intend to commit some crime while inside

10  Facts: Harris and Tipton got into an argument while Tipton was driving Harris home. Harris pushed Tipton out of the vehicle and drove away. Tipton reported his car as stolen.  Issue: Did Harris intend to carjack his friends car?  Holding: Court held that the mens rea requirement for carjacking in Maryland was the general intent to obtain unauthorized possession or control of car from person in action possession by force

11 Review the link below. bite-victims-in-usa/statutory-strict-liability- states.html Does your state have a “Dog Bite Law”? If so, what are the requirements of the law? Do you agree with having a “Dog Bite Law”?

12  Purposefully  Knowingly  Recklessly  Negligently  Product of debate  Ranked according to degree of culpability

13  Actors conscious object is to engage in conduct or cause a result  Most blameworthy mental state  To do something on purpose  Having conscious object to commit the crime, cause the result

14  (conduct crime) actor is aware that his conduct is of a certain nature or that a circumstance exists  (bad result crime) actor is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result  Bad result crimes = practically certain that conduct will cause the bad result (don’t need to have a conscious objective) Example: surgeon removing cancerous uterus. Knows/practically certain the surgery will kill the fetus (but that’s not her intent)

15  Actor consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct  Awareness of the risk of causing criminal harm, then do the act anyway  Recklessness doesn’t apply to conduct crimes Have to be aware that you are committing a voluntary act Recklessness is the result  Create a risk of harm (don’t intend the harm)  Risk has to be substantial  Risk has to be unjustifiable  Disregarding the risk has to be a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would exercise under the circumstances

16  Actor should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct  Risk must be a nature and degree that actor’s failure to be aware of the risk….involves a gross deviation from the standard of care observed by a reasonable person in the actor’s circumstance  Unconsciously creating a risk of harm  Should have been aware of the risk  Failure to be aware of the risk is a gross deviation of the standard of care a reasonable person would have under the circumstances A reasonable person would have realized they were creating the risk  Risk has to be substantial  Risk has to be unjustifiable

17  Facts: Stark, the defendant, engaged in unprotected sex knowing he was HIV positive.  Issue: Did Stark intentionally expose his sexual partners to HIV?  Holding: Sufficient evidence from defendant’s actions that he purposefully intended to expose his partners with AIDS

18  Facts: Jantzi, the defendant, stabbed Anderson in the abdomen when Anderson jumped on him and grabbed his shirt. Jantzi argued he did not remember making thrusting or swinging motions.  Issue: Did Jantzi knowingly assault Anderson?  Holding : Trial court erred in finding that defendant acted knowingly. Trial judge described reckless behavior, so appellate court reversed and entered judgment on lesser charge.

19 John, a High school senior, worked from 5:00 am-1:00pm then took his girlfriend to McDonalds for lunch. On his way home, he approached a stalled car in the center lane. In order to avoid a collision, John swerved to the right into the curb lane of traffic. Although he succeeded in avoiding an accident with the other car, at least one of the tires on the passenger side of his vehicle drove off the roadway onto the gravel shoulder. Some of the gravel on the shoulder was tossed into the air. John applied his brakes and tried to keep his vehicle on the road. However, he lost control and the vehicle fishtailed, spun around 180 degrees, and only stopped after crossing the center line. John’s vehicle struck a motorcycle throwing the driver in the air, and seriously injuring him. Is John’s behavior reckless? Be sure to support your response.

20  Facts: Koppersmith, the defendant, and his wife were arguing on their porch. A physical confrontation ensued and the defendants wife fell off the porch and died.  Issue: Did Koppersmith kill his wife recklessly or negligently?  Holding: Court held that there was evidence that defendant could have failed to perceive the risk, so the jury instruction on negligence should have been given.

21  Liability without fault—based on the voluntary act alone  U.S. Supreme Court has upheld power of legislatures to make strict liability crimes To protect public health and safety Make clear they are imposing liability without fault

22  Support: Strong public interest in protecting public health and safety. These laws arose out of industrial revolution and aimed at protecting workers and citizens from ills of manufacturing, mining, commerce, etc. Penalty is usually (not always, however) mild

23  Criticism: Too easy to expand strict liability beyond offenses that endanger the public It “does no good” to punish people who don’t act purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently Criminal law without blameworthiness loses its appeal as a moral code

24  Facts: Loge, the defendant was cited for open bottle after officers found an empty can of beer in the vehicle he was driving. Loge argued the vehicle was his fathers and he did not know it was in the vehicle.  Issues: Is the “open bottle law” a strict liability offense?  Holding: Yes. P roof of knowledge was not required. 

25  Some mental fault has to trigger the conduct (conduct crimes)  Some mental fault has to trigger the conduct and the cause (in bad result crimes)  Rarely an issue in cases

26  Holding an actor accountable for the results of conduct  Applies only to bad result crimes  Distinguish between two types of causation—both are necessary in order to prove criminal liability Factual cause (aka “but for” causation, actual causation, “except for” causation Legal cause (aka proximate cause)

27  Did the actor set into motion a chain of events that ended in the result? If so, they are a factual cause of the result.  But for the actors conduct, the result would not have occurred.  MPC: Conduct is the cause of a result when it is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred.

28  Necessary to prove that actor was factual cause of the harm in order to show criminal liaiblity. BUT, it is not sufficient to prove criminal liability.  Taken to logical extreme, almost anything can be the factual cause of something if you go back far enough….E.g., “had his mother not given birth, the defendant would not have been in the place to hit the victim.”

29  Necessary to prove that defendant is legal cause of harm in order to show criminal liability  Legal cause asks whether it is fair to hold defendant responsible for the harm  Factors in the fairness determination include: Whether the result was forseeable from the conduct Whether some other factor contributed to the harm (Intervening harm) Whether the intervening factor was a a natural occurrence? (Natural occurrences don’t generally break off liability) When an intervening cause cuts off liability (because it is more fair to attribute the harm to it) it is said to be a superseding cause

30  Facts: Armitage, the defendant, had been drinking was driving a boat that capsized. Maskovich, the defendant’s friend, tried to swim to shore but drown.  Issue: Did Armitage’s conduct cause his friends death?  Holding: Yes. Court concluded that the victim’s attempt to swim ashore after defendant’s reckless boating resulted in a capsized boat was a natural and continuous sequence arise from defendant’s acts. Contributory negligence of the victim is not a defense.

31  Facts: Velazquez, the defendant, and Alverez engaged in a drag race. Both vehicles were unable to stop at the end of the road. Alverez was thrown from the vehicle and died.  Issue: Were Velazquez’s actions the legal cause of Alverez’s death ?  Holding: The court held that the defendant was not the proximate cause of victim’s death. Their participation in the mutually agreed on activity.

32  Facts: Kibbe, the defendant, and Krall, co- defendant, gave Stafford a ride with the intent to rob him. After finding he had no money, they threw him from the vehicle. While standing in the middle of the road, Blake, a college student stuck and killed Stafford.  Issue: Did Kibbe and Krall legally cause Stafford’s death?  Holding: Court held that Kibbe and Krall were the proximate cause of victim’s death. The death could have been foreseen as being reasonably related to the acts of the defendant and Krall.

33  Mistake is a defense when it negates the mens rea  Characterized as either A defense of excuse A failure of proof defense(can’t prove the requisite mental state) MPC- mistake matters when it prevents the formation of a mental attitude required by a criminal statute (refer to statute) Mistake cannot negate criminal liability for strict liability crimes (because they do not require mens rea)

34 Sue is working in a library and brought a laptop with her. When she leaves, she takes someone else's laptop, honestly believing it is hers. Is Sue guilty of a crime? Why or why not? Ben believes that you don't have to come to a complete stop at a "Stop" sign when there are no other cars at the intersection. He rolls through a stop sign, striking a child on a bike that was crossing the road. Is Ben guilty of a crime? Why or why not?

35  Facts: Sexton, the defendant, fired a gun killing Matthews. Sexton did not believe there were bullets in the gun.  Issue: Did Sexton shoot his friend by mistake?  Holding: Evidence of an actor’s mistaken belief relates to whether the State has failed to prove an essential element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.


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