"The Evil Doing Act"
- a. All crimes require a voluntary act
- b. A voluntary act is one willed or directed by the defendant (ex: pointing a gun to someone's head and pulling the trigger)
- c. Involuntary acts are where the defendant has no conscious control over the act (ex: sleepwalking, epileptic seizures, acting unconsciously).
- d. Lack of voluntary act is not the same as a lack of a mens rea (ex: one can do a voluntary act without a criminal mens rea).
2. Strict Liability Crimes:
- a. Crimes where the defendant need only do the prohibited act without any accompanying mental state.
- b. Usually crimes that protect the public's health, safety or welfare (ex: traffic laws)
- State v. Baker
- Defendant convicted of speeding. Says his cruise control was stuck in the accelerate position, therefore he committed no voluntary act. Held: No. A voluntary act is an act of the conscious will. Here, the defendant chose to turn the control of the car over to the cruise control, but he still operated the car, which is enough of a voluntary act. If the car had skidded on ice or his car had a mechanical failure, then no voluntary act.
3. Automatism or Unconscious as a Defense to Strict Liability Crimes
a. automatism or unconsciousness prevents the defendant from doing a voluntary act.
b. in many jurisdictions, automatism is a separate defense from insanity: automatism prevents the defendant from committing a voluntary act; insanity prevents the defendant from being mentally responsible for his actions.
c. other examples: sleep walking, epileptic seizures.
- State v. Hinkle
- Defendant drove over the center line of the road. He claims to have an undiagnosed brain disorder which caused him to black out and act in an automatistic way. Held: If ture, the defendant cannot be convicted because he performed no voluntary act, unless he reasonably should have known his condition could occur and impair his driving. Ex: where an epileptic chooses not to take his medication and drives.
4. Conduct as Legal Duty and Failure to Act
A legal duty can be created a number of different ways, such as through statute, court decisions, or express or implied contracts. Failure to perform this duty along with the necessary mens rea can be a crime.
Davis v. Commonwealth: Incapacitated elderly mother dies because her daughter did not feed her, give her water or keep her warm while she was in her daughter's care. Daughter received the mother's government benefits and was allowed to live in mother's home. Held: by taking the victim's benefits and excluding others from taking care of her, the daughter had an implied contract to reasonably care for her mother. Breach in a grossly negligent manner= involuntary manslaughter (need more than a moral duty).
B. Mens Rea
"The Evil Mind"
1. Historical notions of mens rea
: Mens Rea
developed in the common law as an attempt to make the seriousness of a crime depend upon the moral blameworthiness of a defendant's thoughts.
2. What if a crime does not specify a particular mens rea
in its definition? Should it be considered a strict liability crime?
- Morissette v. United States Defendant went onto an abandoned Air Force bombing range and collected old rusted metal cylinders which he thought were abandoned. The federal statute with which he was charged required the defendant to "embezzle, steal, purloin, or knowingly conver to his own use." Held: Where a crime is a statutory codification of a common law crime, it is NOT a strict liability offense. Here, the crime was theft, which required the prosecution prove the defendant intended to steal the cylinders.
3. Transferred Intent--The Intent Follows the Harm
Regina v. Pembliton: An intoxicated defendant threw a large stone at another person, but it missed and hit a plate glass window. Held: If the defendant intends to harm A but misses and harms B instead, the intent to harm A transfers to supply the mens rea for harming B, making it a complete battery of B. However, the defendant's intent to harm A does not transfer to supply the mens rea to harm property.
4. The Mens Rea of "Deliberate Blindness":
- The Model Penal Code recognizes four different states of mind that may give rise to culpability: purposely, knowingly, reckless and negligently.
- "Knowingly" does not require actual knowledge on the part of the defendant.
- United States v. Jewell: Defendant was caught transporting 110 pounds of marijuana across the border in a secret compartment of his car. He claims he didn't know the pot was in the car. The statute under which he was convicted required that he "know" he was transporting the drug.
- Held: If a statute requires the defendant have knowledge of a fact in order to be convicted, the requirement cn be satisfied by showing the defendant is aware that the fact in question is highly probable but has a conscious purpose to avoid the truth. Different from recklessness, which requires less of a degree of risj that the fact is true.
A. Common Law Murder
- 1. Murder in Early Common Law England:
- a) an unlawful killing
- b) of another human being
- c) with "malice aforethought"
Malice Aforethought (early Common Law)
Originally meant the defendant killed intentionally and with hatred, spite or ill will, according to some preconceived plan. All other unlawful killings without malice, justification or excuse were manslaughter.
Murder in the Later Common Law England and America:
In the later common law, murder came to mean a homicide with four separate mental states
- (a) Intent to kill (express malice)
- (b) Intent to cause serious bodily injury (implied Malice)
- (c) Depraved Heart homicide (implied malice)
- (d) Felony Murder (implied malice)
The Pennsylvania Pattern of Homicide changes the American Common Law.
In the United States, Pennsylvania divided murder into murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree. A number of other states soon followed.
Murder in the First Degree (PPH)
- i. Requires EXPRESS MALICE (intent to kill)
- ii. Premeditation and Deliberation
Murder in the Second Degree (PPH)
- i. Requires Malice (express OR implied)
- ii. but NO premeditation or deliberation
*If the prosecution charges the defendant with murder in the first degree (with express malice, premeditation and deliberation) but the jury finds there was no premeditation or deliberation, then they MUST return a verdict of murder in the second degree (the lesser included offense).
Premeditation and deliberation= NOT impulsive or heat of passion killings.
State v. Ollens
- Defendant stabbed a taxi drive multiple times in the torso and then slit his throat. Claims self-defense.
- Held: Premeditation requires a conscious intent and purpose to kill, coupled with some reflection and deliberation on that intent for a period of time, however short, before the killing.
- -Requires more than proof that time passed between stab wounds.
- -Frenzied and impulsive killings are not premeditated.
- -Evidence of a motive to kill, threats or quarrels, the planned presence of a weapon and the manner and means of the killing can all show premeditation.
State v. Thompson
- Defendant shot and killed his wife after she asked for a divorce. Draggerd her by her hair into the house and neighbors heard four gunshots with time in between them.
- Held: The jury instruction stating that the prosecution need not show the defendant actually reflected about his intent to kill the victim if the killing is not the result of a sudden quarrel or heat of passion does not violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
-Premeditation can be shown by circumstantial evidence.
State v. Johnson
- Defendant fed his five-year-old daughter bug poison and she died. Defendant says he gave her the poison but thought it was her medicine.
- Held: The defendant's use of poison to kill the victim means that the prosecution need not have independent proof that the defendant premeditated the killing. Some methods of killing, such as deliberate poisoning, furnish their own evidence of premeditation.
B. Common Law Voluntary Manslaughter
1. Voluntary Manslaughter is a lessre included crime of murder and is less culpable because it lacks malice.
2. It lacks malice because the killing is done in the heat of passion due to an adequate cause.
People v. Oropreza
After the victim cut him off on the freeway, a drive chased after the victim at a high rate of speed, yelling, exchanging hand gestures, and the defendant, who was drunk and riding in the pursuing car, shot at the other drive and killed a passenger.
Held: To prove the heat of passion necessary to reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter, the defendant must subjectively act as a result of heat of passion which was caused by the actions of the victim which were objectively and sufficiently provocative from a reasonably sober person's veiwpoint. Words alone are not sufficient. You cannot be the instigator/provoker.
Freddo v. State
Defendant killed a co-worker after the co-worker called him a 'son-of-a-bitch'.
Held: in judging whether a murder is voluntary manslaughter, the jury mat not generally take into account the defendant's mental and emotional characteristics. Because the defendant was unusually sensitive about his foster mother does not constitute adequate cause for the defendant's heat of passion.
State v. Thornton
Defendant and wife separated and were in marital counseling but living apart. The defendant spied on his wife at their home, took photos of her and her lover, tried to take photos of them in bed but then thought that the lover was going to attack him and shot him in the leg. The victim eventually dies from infection.
Held: The murder conviction was reduced to voluntary manslaughter because there was sufficien passino due to an adequate cause-seeing his wife in bed with another man. Concurrence/dissent thinks he had time to cool down because he was able to direct the ambulance to his house afterwards, disarm the gun, and talk to the polic. A jury issue.
C. Common Law Involuntary Manslaughter
- 1. Unintentional killings are called involuntary manslaughter or sometimes criminally negligent homicide, depending on the jurisdiction.
- -Some JRDs (like Texas) recognize them both as separate crimes.
2. These crimes correspond roughly with gross negligence in torts.
Goodman v. State
- Defendant hooked up the victim to a "cat line" used to lift large pipes on a gas drilling rig. The "cat line's" slack got stuck and dragged the victim until he hit the "Kelly" bushing, where he was spun around and died.
- Held: The difference between involuntary manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide is awareness of the risk.
- For involuntary manslaughter, the defendant is aware but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the death will occur.
For criminally negligence: the defendant is not aware of the same risk but a reasonable person would have been. Criminally negligent homicide is a lesser included crime of involuntary manslaughter because the mens rea
for criminally negligent homicide is less culpable than for involuntary manslaughter, but the actus reus
of both homicides are the same (voluntary act, causation, death results).
I.M.= A, Con Dis
Involuntary Manslaughter= aware of the risk but consciously disregards it.
C.N. = A, RP would be
Criminal Negligence = not aware of the risk, but the reasonable person would be aware of the risk
Commonwealth v. Welansky
Defendant owned a nightclub, where he had chained up all but one of the exists and boarded up a plate glass window. When a fire started, 492 people died because they could not get out.
Held: No separate crime of criminally negligent homicide in this jurisdiction. A defendant can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter whether or not he was aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death stemming from his illegal conduct. Here, the defendant is guilty of involuntary manslaughter because he had breached a duty to the public by intentionally failing to provide adequate exits for his patrons and was reckless in doing so.
Conrad v. Commonwealth
Defendant had not slept in 22 hours, had been drinking but was not intoxicated, drove down the highway, turned off on a side road and hit and killed a jogger when he dozed off. He had dozed off four or five times on the trip before the accident occurred.
Held: In this jurisdiction involuntary manslaughter is defined as an accidental killing while operating a motor vehicle in a gross, wanton and culpable manner that shows a reckless disregard for human life. Defendant had briefly fallen asleep on the trip several times, which supported a finding he was acting recklessly.
Dissent says no erratic driving and defendant five minutes from home = no high degree of carelessness that is likely to cause death.