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Criminal Law in the U.S.  Criminal law in the U. S. is codified, or written down, and accessible to all.  Criminal law is contained in several sources:

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Presentation on theme: "Criminal Law in the U.S.  Criminal law in the U. S. is codified, or written down, and accessible to all.  Criminal law is contained in several sources:"— Presentation transcript:


2 Criminal Law in the U.S.  Criminal law in the U. S. is codified, or written down, and accessible to all.  Criminal law is contained in several sources: ---U. S. and state constitutions ---Statute (laws) passed by Congress and state legislatures; ordinances ---Regulations created by governmental agencies ---Case law (court decisions)

3 Constitutional Law  Contained in U. S. constitution and constitutions of the states  U. S. Constitution is supreme law of the land  Each state constitution is the supreme law in that state  Conflict between federal and state law, federal law prevails

4 Statutory Law  Congress - Federal laws - applies to all states  State legislatures - State laws – within the state’s borders  Local authorities - ordinances – apply only to the jurisdictions where it was enacted

5 Administrative Law  The rules, orders, decisions of regulatory agencies.  Department of Transportation and driving privileges.  Food and Drug Administration

6 Case Law  The rules of law announced in court decisions  The whole body of laws and decisions that have gone before---precedent  Judges interpret constitutional provisions  Miranda v. Arizona  Mapp v. Ohio

7 Purposes of Criminal Law  Punish and protect (legal function)  Maintain social order  Maintain and teach (social function)  Teach society changing needs of morality  Teach society’s boundaries and expectations  Express public morality—values and norms

8 Law Terminology

9 Actus reus  The guilty act  The actual physical act  The voluntary commission of a crime took place  Someone had to do something  Thinking about something wrong is not a physical act  Must be a prohibited act

10 Mens rea  The guilty mind: Elements of purpose, knowledge, negligence, recklessness  Purposefully committed a criminal act  Knows of the illegality of the act  Criminal negligence is the deviation of what a reasonable person would have done  Criminal reckless is “consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk

11 Mens Rea Example  For theft, the required mental state is knowing that the property belongs to another and the desire to deprive the owner of it (The two most used words in the Code of Iowa are knowingly and willingly, followed by intentionally.)

12 Criminal Liability  The criminal act (actus reus) and guilty mind (mens rea) must be concurrent (occur at the same time).  The criminal act must have caused the harm suffered.  Proximate cause---”but for” the actions of the defendant, the harm would not have occurred.  Liability differences lead to different penalties

13 Causation  Criminal law requires that the criminal act cause the harm suffered  Historically, the courts have held that a victim’s death must occur within one year and a day before the act to be considered a criminal act  Michigan Supreme Court allowed a murder charge to be filed when the victim died four years later

14 Strict Liability  For certain crimes criminal law holds the defendant to be guilty even if intent to commit the offense is lacking.  Example - Traffic violations - I need not know what the speed limit was; or ---that I was not paying any attention and have no idea how fast I was going; or, ---that my speedometer was off.

15 Accomplice Liability  Under certain circumstances I can be found guilty of a crime even though I did not actually commit the crime.  If I aid and abet in the crime but did not pull the trigger I can still be charged with murder.  “Dual intent” is required--- ---To aid person convicted of crime ---Knew such aid likely to lead to crime

16 Attendant Circumstances  Adds to the degree of the crime - If an offender commits sexual abuse and had used a firearm to get my victim to submit  The use of a weapon in an assault  The amount of money stolen  Present tendencies are to impose harsher mentalities if the offense is motivated by race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation (hate crimes)

17 Harm  Harm to a person or property  The degree of the harm done – stole $5000.00 rather than $500.00  Hit a person in the back of their head with a tire iron --He/she dies vs. --He/she is knocked unconscious

18 Inchoate Offenses  Conduct deemed criminal without actual harm being done, provided that the harm that would have occurred is one the law tries to prevent.  Solicitation to commit a crime  Attempts  The conspiracy to commit a crime  Sale of drugs  Other crimes

19 Types of Defenses  A defense consists of evidence and arguments offered by the defendant to show why he/she should not be held liable for a criminal charge  Our system generally recognizes four broad categories of defense  Alibi  Justifications  Excuses  Procedural defenses

20 Types of Defenses  Alibi – different from the other defenses as it is based on the premise that the defendant is truly innocent  An alibi is supported by witnesses and documentation – hotel receipts, eyewitness identification

21 Types of Defense  Justification – claim of moral high ground; a choice between the “lesser of two evils”  Example: a firefighter who sets a “control” fire to create a firebreak to save the town; The setting of the fire is arson, but the intent was to save the town.  Self-defense; defense of others; defense of home and property, necessity, consent, and resisting unlawful arrest

22 Justifiable Use of Force Self Defense  You must use only the force necessary to protect yourself, your dwelling, your property, or to prevent a crime.  Deadly force can only be used to protect you from imminent death or bodily harm.  You must not have provoked the attack, and there must be no alternative.  You must have a reasonable belief that death or bodily harm will otherwise occur.

23 Types of Defenses  Excuses – the person who engaged in the unlawful behavior was, at the time, not legally responsible for his/her actions  Recognized excuses include:  Duress- InvoluntaryIntoxication  Age- Unconsciousness  Mistake- Provocation  Insanity-Diminished capacity  Mental incompetence  Necessity

24 Duress  The wrongful threat of one person induces another person to perform an act that she or he would otherwise not perform.  Girlfriend helps boyfriend commit a robbery as he threatens to kill her kids  The threat must be immediate and inescapable

25 Duress  The threat must be of serious bodily harm or death  The defendant must have become involved in the situation through no fault of his or her own

26 Age (infancy) as a Defense  Under a certain statutory definition you do not meet the maturity level to make the decisions necessary to commit a crime.

27 Mistake  Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse  Mistake of fact – getting into a car that looks just like yours and putting the key in the ignition and it works and you drive away is not a crime.

28 Insanity Case Law  Insanity – a legal definition not a medical definition  M’Naghten Rule – the inability to distinguish right and wrong must be the result of some mental defect or disability  Irresistible Impulse – Defendant knew it was wrong but could not stop doing it because of some irresistible impulse  Schizophrenia

29 Insanity Case Law  Durham Rule--a person is not criminally responsible for his /her behavior if the person’s illegal actions were the result of some mental disease or defect  Substantial capacity rule—lacks capacity to appreciate the wrong/or to conform to the law

30 “Guilty but mentally ill”  Jury may decide---defendant mentally ill, but not insane  Responsible for his acts  Defendants spend early years in mental hospital; to prison at some point

31 Insanity Defenses  Temporary Insanity – Insane only at the time of the criminal act  Diminished Capacity – Used not to be declared not guilty, but a lesser sentence; from Murder 1 st degree to Murder 2 nd  Mental Incompetence – Incapable of understanding the charges against them, consulting with attorney, or in aiding in their own defense

32 Intoxication  Involuntary intoxication is when a person is physically forced to ingest a substance.  Involuntary can also be a reaction to a legal prescription drug which caused psychotic episodes as a side effect.  Voluntary intoxication is becoming intoxicated on your own. (Claim that there is no mens rea)  12 states have eliminated it as a defense.

33 Necessity (Lesser evils)  A defense against criminal liability in which the defendant asserts that the circumstances required her or him to commit an illegal act.  Justifiable if harm avoided by your illegal conduct was greater than that sought to be prevented in the offense charged  Violating a restraining order to save your former spouse from drowning would avoid the greater evil

34 Procedural Defenses  Procedural Defenses – claim the defendant in some manner was discriminated against in the justice process, or some important aspect of official procedure was not properly followed  entrapment  Double jeopardy  police fraud  selective prosecution  denial of speedy trial  Prosecutorial misconduct

35 Entrapment  When police deceives defendant into wrongdoing  Defendant would not otherwise have committed crime  Police cannot “plant the idea” in defendant  Defense used in some undercover drug cases

36 Legal Safeguards  Substantive criminal law---defines specific acts government will punish  Procedural criminal law---defines procedures which must be followed in adjudicating defendants

37 Bill of Rights  First ten amendments to U. S. Constitution, adopted in 1791  U. S. Supreme Court has interpreted all of them  Serve as a safeguard for accused criminal defendants  Procedural safeguards come primarily from 4 th, 5 th, 6 th and 8 th amendments

38 Fourth Amendment  Protects from unreasonable searches and seizures  No warrants for a search or arrest can be issued without probable cause  Probable cause is reasonable grounds to believe the existence of facts warranting certain actions, such as a search or arrest.

39 Fifth Amendment  No one may be deprived of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law.  No double jeopardy  No person can be forced to be a witness against himself (“taking the fifth”)

40 Sixth Amendment  Guarantees a speedy trial, trial by jury, a public trial  Right to confront witnesses, right to a lawyer

41 Eighth Amendment  Protects against excessive bail and fines  Protects against cruel and unusual punishment (Does not include the death penalty)

42 Due Process of Law — 14 th Amendment  Government cannot act arbitrarily or unfairly  Must stay within the boundaries of reason and the law  Procedural due process—law must be carried out fairly and orderly  Substantive due process—laws themselves must be reasonable  Supreme court has big role in interpreting these requirements

43 Hate Crimes  Offense motivated by hate or bias  Can involve race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability  Many states have passed laws enhancing penalties for other crimes involving hate  Some of hate laws have been challenged as violation of constitutional rights  Say individuals have right to beliefs  Tends to protect certain victims more than others

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