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Chapter Three The Criminal Act Joel Samaha.

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1 Chapter Three The Criminal Act Joel Samaha

2 Learning Objectives To be able to identify the elements of, and to explain why, the voluntary act is the first principle of criminal liability. To be able to differentiate conduct crimes from bad result crimes To be able to distinguish between criminal conduct and criminal liability and therefore punishment. To understand and appreciate the importance of requiring a voluntary act before there can be a crime .To understand the legal definition of a voluntary act To identify the circumstances when, and to be able to explain why, status is treated, sometimes, as an affirmative act To be able to understand how the general principle of actus reus includes a voluntary act and how it is viewed by the constitution. To identify the circumstance when, and to be able to explain why, omissions are treated as acts. To understand and identify the circumstances when, and to be able to explain why, possession can be treated as an act. To know the different types of possession recognized by the law

3 Voluntary act is the first principle of criminal liability
In order to have criminal liability there must be criminal conduct Criminal conduct is conduct that is without justification or excuse Voluntary act is the “conduct” part of criminal conduct Many crimes don’t include a criminal intent or bad result, but only rarely does a crime not require a criminal act

4 Elements of Criminal Liability
Actus Reus—the criminal act Mens rea—the criminal intent Concurrence—the requirement that the criminal intent trigger the criminal act Attendant circumstances (when a crime does not require the mens rea, it generally requires some attendant circumstance) Bad result causing a criminal harm

5 Elements of Criminal Liability (cont.)
Corpus delicti = “body of crime” but it doesn’t necessarily mean a physical body. It refers, instead to the elements of a crime Criminal conduct = criminal act triggered by the criminal intent Criminal act = voluntary bodily movement. Conduct crimes = crimes which require a criminal act triggered by criminal intent

6 Elements of Criminal Liability (cont.)
Bad result crimes Some serious offenses include all five elements Voluntary act (criminal act) Mental element (criminal intent) Circumstance element Causation Harm Criminal Homicide is an example of bad result crime

7 The Criminal Act: The First Principle of Liability
Punish people for what they do, not who they are Punish people for what they do, not what they think Manifest criminality—in order to have criminality, attitudes have to turn into deeds. Deeds leave no doubt about the criminal nature of the act

8 Voluntary Act Requirement
Voluntary Act-Conduct that includes a voluntary act satisfies the voluntary act requirement One voluntary act is enough rule Voluntary act is an absolute requirement for criminal liability

9 Discussion Activity Criminal Intent? Read the following scenario and determine whether or not mens rea exists Sam sells cocaine believing that it is sugar; does mens rea exist? Why or why not? Sam sells cocaine in the honest but mistaken belief that it is legal to do so; does mens rea exist? Why or why not?

10 Facts: Burrell, the defendant, was convicted by jury of manslaughter.
Case: State v. Burrell Facts: Burrell, the defendant, was convicted by jury of manslaughter. Issues: Burrell argued there was an error in jury instruction regarding criminal liability Holding: Upheld trail courts refusal to instruct the jury that Burrell’s act of pulling the trigger must have been a voluntary act was not an error

11 Issue: Was the act voluntary?
Case: King v. Cogdon Facts: Cogdon, the defendant, pled not guilty to the murder of her daughter because she was sleepwalking when she committed the offense. Issue: Was the act voluntary? Holding: No. Acts committed while asleep do not constitute a voluntary act

12 The Voluntary Act Requirement (cont.)
Automatism-unconscious bodily movements Fault-Based Defenses-based on creating a reasonable doubt about the prosecution’s proof of a voluntary act Affirmative Defenses-excuse defenses of excuse for criminal liability, which take place after the prosecution has proved the defendant’s criminal conduct

13 Case: People v. Decina Facts: Decina, the defendant, was charged with criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle resulting in death after hitting & killing 4 girls with her car as they crossed street Issue: Decina suffered an epileptic seizure while driving; therefore, she argued the act was not voluntary Holding: Defendant voluntarily got into the car (knowing she was subject to epileptic seizure) and thus the killing was not an involuntary act.

14 Status, Actus Reus, and the Constitution
Status-character of condition of a person or thing Most status don’t qualify as actus reus Status can, however, result from voluntary act Example: meth addicts voluntarily use meth the first time, and alcoholics voluntarily take their first drink Some conditions (status) result from no act at all—we are born with those characteristics/conditions: sex, age, race, ethnicity

15 Compare Robinson with Powell
California statute created crime of personal condition. It punished Robinson for being an addict, not for what he did day sentence was held unconstitutional because it punished him for his sickness. Decision brought other statutes into question. Texas statute made it a crime to be found drunk in public. Court distinguished Robinson and said that Powell was being convicted for voluntarily being in public. Very close case (plurality decision).

16 Omissions as Criminal Acts
Failing to act can satisfy the voluntary act requirement Criminal omissions Failure to act Failure to report something required Failure to intervene to protect person or property Omissions are only criminal if there is a legal duty to act

17 Omissions as Criminal Acts (cont.)
Legal duties to act arise in several ways Statute provides the duty to act Example: duty to report child abuse Example: duty to file income tax returns Example: duty to register as sex offender Contract provides the duty to act Example: emergency room doctor Example: life guard Example: law enforcement, fire fighters Special relationship provides the duty to act Example: parent-child Example: employer-employee NOTE: sometimes a special relationship is created by assuming the care of another (see People v. Oliver)

18 Omissions as Criminal Acts (cont.)
Criminal omissions cannot arise out of failure to perform moral duties Most states impose no duty to render aid to an imperiled stranger or call for help

19 Omissions as Criminal Acts (cont.)
Good Samaritan Doctrine – creates (statutory) duty for stranger to render aid Only a few states American Bystander Approach—no legal duty to rescue or summon help for someone in danger even if there is no risk in doing so Most states follow this approach

20 Discussion Activity Review the Good Samaritan Doctrine of your state. What does it say is the responsibility of the Good Samaritan? What is the level of assistance the Good Samaritan should provide? What (if any) are special exceptions to the Good Samaritan Doctrine? Is there a penalty for not abiding by the Good Samaritan Doctrine?

21 Case: Commonwealth v. Pestinakas
Facts: Pestinakas, the defendants, verbally agreed to care for Kly, an ill man, who suffered from weakness of the esophagus which hindered his ability to swallow. Kly died while in the defendants care from starvation and dehydration. Issue: Did the defendants have a legal duty to care for Kly? Holding: Yes. A failure to perform a duty imposed by contract may be the basis for a charge of criminal homicide. The jury instruction was appropriate.

22 Case: People v. Oliver Facts: Oliver, the defendant, was at her home with Cornejo when he “shot up” and collapsed. Oliver was unable to rouse him and left him on the floor. Cornejo never regained consciousness and later died Issue: Did Oliver have a “special relationship” with Cornejo that created a legal duty? Holding: Yes. A special relationship can be created by assuming the care of an individual. The assumption of care creates a legal duty, the failure of which constitutes a criminal omission.

23 Issue: Did Miranda have a legal duty to his girlfriends’ baby?
Case: State v. Miranda Facts: While caring for his girlfriend’s infant daughter, Miranda, the defendant, called 911 and reported that the child was choking on milk. At the hospital, it was determined the child had multiple rib fractures and other injuries. Issue: Did Miranda have a legal duty to his girlfriends’ baby? Holding: Yes. A defendant, acting as a father figure to the victim assumed a “familial relationship” (even though there was no marriage or blood relationship), upon which a duty of care may be established

24 Possession as a Criminal Act
Possession is not an act, it’s a passive condition Legal fiction makes possession a voluntary act Criminal possessions include possession of: (see list) illegal weapons, illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia alcohol by minors… Reason we engage in legal fiction of pretending possession is an act: is in our desire to prevent worse crimes most people get possession through a voluntary act

25 Kinds of Possessions Actual possession—having actual physical control (the item is located on the person) Constructive possession—the person has the right to control the item, but it is not on their person

26 Kinds of Possession Actual and Constructive possession can take two forms: Knowing possession or mere possession Knowing possession—person is aware what they have on them or what it is that they have control over Most states require possession to be knowing to be criminal act Mere possession—person is not aware what they have on them or what they have control over Either don’t know they have it, or don’t know what it is they have Only two states hold that mere possession can be a criminal act

27 Discussion Activity Who is in possession?
Trent is a practitioner of the trap shooting and is in possession of a rifle that he uses to practice with. He knows this rifle is illegal in the state he is living in. Trent asks his friend John to keep his rifle in his car. The police find John in possession of the rifle. John reports he is not the owner of the rifle and explains that it belongs to Trent. John explains that Trent gave it to him to hold a few days ago. Can both Trent and John be charged with the possession of the rifle? Why or why not?

28 Issue: Did Miller have possession of the drugs?
Case: Miller v. State Facts: Miller, the defendant, was convicted by jury of possession of cocaine and marijuana. The defendant was the passenger in the vehicle where the drugs were found Issue: Did Miller have possession of the drugs? Holding: It is not necessary for the State to prove literal physical possession of drugs in order to prove possession. Miller was guilty of possession of marijuana, not cocaine.

29 Case: Kastl v. State Facts: Kastl, the defendant, was a juvenile and one of 5 passenger in a vehicle parked in a parking lot. Officers observed beer cans around and in the vehicle. Issue: Did Kastl possess alcohol? Holding: Yes. Constructive possession is sufficient to prove possession of contraband

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