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Criminal Law. Chapter 4 The General Principles of Criminal Liability: Mens Rea, Concurrence, and Causation Joel Samaha, 9th Ed. The Principle of Mens Rea. The “mental element,” “mental attitude” or “state of mind”

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criminal law

Criminal Law

Chapter 4

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

Joel Samaha, 9th Ed.

the principle of mens rea
The Principle of Mens Rea

The “mental element,” “mental attitude” or “state of mind”

“He who kills…without intent to kill should be acquitted, because a crime is not committed unless the intent to injure intervene; and the desire and purpose distinguish evildoing”

(Bracton, 1256, quoted in Sayre, 1932, 985).

“Western civilized nations have long looked to the wrongdoer’s mind to determine both the propriety and the grading of punishment”

(U.s. v. Cordoba-Hincapie, 2001, 489).

the complexity of mens rea
The Complexity of Mens Rea
  • Mensrea must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt
  • Mensrea is difficult to discover and prove in part due to vague and incomplete legislative definitions of the mental element.
  • Confessions are the only direct evidence of mental attitude, however, indirect circumstantial evidence is the norm most often used.
  • Culpability = blameworthiness
  • Intent in criminal law is more complex than the dictionary definition.
  • There is a problem with the relationship between mental attitude and motive.
  • Different mental attitudes might apply to each of the elements of a crime.
types of intent
Types of Intent
  • General
    • Used commonly in cases to mean the intent to commit any criminal act defined as the actus reus in a criminal statute
  • Specific
    • Specific Intent Crimes are characterized by these adjectives:
    • deliberate, intended, planned
  • Transferred
    • or Constructive
  • Criminal Negligence
general intent
General Intent
  • When prohibited or commanded by law
  • Often, by doing something intentionally
  • Some courts define general intent such that it is synonymous with mensrea, and includes both subjective and objective faults
  • “Inferred” from your actions or failure to act
  • In Commonwealth v. Gagne,the court defined general intent as an “unconscious” action or a “reflex”
specific intent
Specific Intent
  • A designated state of mind required to commit the particular crime
  • Usually outlined in the law or statute
    • For example:
      • With the intent to disfigure
        • Mayhem
      • With the intent to defraud
        • Embezzlement or forgery
      • With the intent to kill
        • Murder
  • Usually limited to attitudes with subjective fault (fault that requires a “bad mind” in the actor)
transferred intent
Transferred Intent
  • Also referred to as constructiveintent
  • Assumes a liability to the perpetrator for unintended consequences of the act
  • Like what?
    • A criminal justice student gets an F on his final, and is enraged by this. He decides to take out his anger on his professor by shooting him with a shotgun but, in the process of shooting his professor, he misses and hits one of his fellow classmates, causing his death.
  • Explain the facts and opinion inPeople v. Dismone,(650 N.W.2d 436 (2002 Mich.App.).
criminal negligence
Criminal Negligence
  • Such as failure to ensure proper care or control while performing an act
  • Or in a “culpable” (wrongful) failure to perform a duty
  • Usually with wantonness, flagrant or reckless disregard for the safety of others
    • Examples:
      • Criminally negligent homicide
      • Negligent endangerment of a child
the model penal code s four mental states
The Model Penal Code’sFour Mental States
  • Purpose: State v. Stark, 832 P.2d 109 (Wash.App. 1992);

and, Commonwealth v. Barnette, 699 N.E.2d 1230 (Mass.App. 1998)

  • Knowledge: State v. Jantzi, 641 P.2d 62 (Or.App. 1982)
  • Recklessness: Koppersmith v. State, 742 So.2d 206 (Ala.App. 1999)
  • Negligence: Koppersmith v. State
strict liability
Strict Liability
  • U.S. Supreme Court upheld power of legislatures to create strict liability offenses to protect the “public health and safety,” e.g., unsafe workplaces and adulterated foods
    • Must make clear imposing liability without mensrea
    • Penalties are usually mild for strict liability offenses, e.g., fines not jail times
the principle of concurrence
The Principle of Concurrence
  • The principle of concurrence applies to both crimes:
    • Criminal conduct crimes, and
    • Bad result crimes
    • So all crimes, except strict liability offenses, are subject to the concurrence requirement
  • Principle of concurrence requires
    • “Trigger”a criminal act (actus reus)
    • Criminal intent (mens rea)
  • Angela hates her roommate Katie and plans to kill her by running her over with her Hummer but, as Angela is heading to run over Katie, a complete stranger runs Katie over with his Jeep. Angela runs over to Katie’s body is dancing around it gleefully.
    • Concurrence here means that the criminal conduct has to produce the criminal harm , it cannot be a coincidence.
the principle of causation
The Principle of Causation
  • Principle of causation is about attribution (also called “imputation”)
  • This is when the law holds an actor accountable for the results of his/her conducts.
  • Causation applies to bad-result crimes
elements of causation
Elements of Causation
  • Factual cause
    • Also called “but for” cause of death or other bodily harm. “But for” cause means, if it were not for an actor’s conduct, the result would not have occurred.
  • Legal cause
    • Also called proximate cause of death or other bodily harm. “Is it fair to blame the defendant for this harm?”
    • What is an intervening cause?
    • What are the facts and opinion in Commonwealth v. McCloskey, 835 A.2d 801 (Pa.Super 2003)?
ignorance and mistake of fact
Ignorance and Mistake of Fact
  • Ignorance of the law is no defense, but “mistake of fact is a defense”
  • Ignorance of the law is an absence of knowledge about facts or law, while mistake of the law is when you are wrong about them, i.e. you believe they are one thing, when they are really another.
the principle of legality
The Principle of Legality

3 Elements…

  • Rules of law express objective meanings
  • Only authorized “competent” officials can declare what is “objective”
  • Only “official” interpretations are legal

“Criminal laws cannot be ignored or contradicted by allowing defendants to plead that their ignorance or mistake of law negated the mental element of a crime.”

** In other words, final interpretation is determined by the court.