ELEMENTS OF A CRIME Chapter 2 ELEMENTS OF A CRIME In general, for an act to be a crime in U.S. criminal justice systems, four elements must be present: 1. A criminal act 2. A criminal state of mind 3. Concurrence of a criminal act and a criminal stte of mind
4. Causation ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL ACT (ACTUS REUS) Wrongful deed that, if combined with other elements of a crime, may result in the legal arrest, trial, conviction, and punishment of the accused Open to interpretation as to what constitutes as act Does not include thoughts without action Many reasons as to why Most states require a voluntary act or failure to act
ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL ACT (ACTUS REUS) The Exclusion of Involuntary Conduct Involuntary acts not considered criminal but may result in civil liability Criminal culpability Being guilty or at fault Exclusion of Status General principle a person may not be punished for a status (drug addicts, etc.) Robinson v. California (1962)
ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL ACT (ACTUS REUS) Proof of an Act May be difficult to prove an act occurred even when it did Must be sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a criminal act Possession as an Act In some cases, possession is an act Alone may not be sufficient for a successful prosecution Generally interpreted as conscious possession
ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL ACT (ACTUS REUS) Criminal Failure to Act Omission or failure to act may only constitute an act for purposes of criminal culpability when there is a legal duty to act Failure to exercise due care may constitute a tort Tort Literally means a wrong Some are also crimes Requiring people to take affirmative action to aid
others creates problems ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL INTENT (MENS REA) State of mind referring to the willful commission of an act or the omission of an act one has a legal duty to perform Mens rea Guilty mind One of the most difficult elements of a crime to interpret and apply Historically was divided into two types
Specific General ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL INTENT (MENS REA) The Model Penal Code utilizes four levels of intent Purposefully Consciously intended to engage in a criminal act or bring about a particular result Knowingly Practically certain that a particular result would follow an act
Recklessly Acting knowingly in that a state of awareness of risk is involved but is of a probability less than substantial capacity Negligently Act that a reasonable person would not do, or would not fail to do under similar circumstances Act must be grossly negligent in criminal law to be considered a crime ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL INTENT (MENS REA) Problems of Interpretation
Model Penal Code has been widely adopted Problems with interpretation of levels of culpability exist Important to understand impossibility of stating what is meant by intent Necessary to analyze carefully prior interpretations of a statute Necessary to consider intent element in terms of state and federal constitutional law ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: A CRIMINAL INTENT (MENS REA) Proving Criminal Intent The law permits an inference of intent from relevant
facts If sufficient circumstantial evidence is presented, jury may be permitted to infer intent from that evidence Intent must be distinguished from motive The why of a defendants actions In general, state not required to prove motive ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: THE CONCURRENCE OF A CRIMINAL ACT AND A CRIMINAL INTENT General principle that mens rea and actus reus must coincide Must be evidence that the criminal act is the result of the mens rea
ELEMENTS OF A CRIME: CAUSATION Must be shown that the act caused the injury, death, or property damage sustained by victim Causation is complicated term Generally court is looking for legal cause Alleged criminal act may not be legal cause If criminal act is substantial factor contributing to harm, it may be judged legal cause Intervening act may also be judged legal cause of harm Also possible act not caused by offender may
combine with offenders act(s) to produce harmful result ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES Some crimes have additional element (or elements) that must be proved Attendant circumstances Facts surrounding an event Criminal act may not be prosecuted as a crime unless specified circumstances co-exist with act and guilty mind
LIABILITY WITHOUT FAULT Criminal culpability is imposed in some situations even if no fault or evil intent can be shown on part of accused Categories justified on grounds that: In many cases, only minor penalties are applied Proof of intent is difficult if not impossible to obtain Criminal culpability is essential for compensation of victims as well as for deterrence of others Three types Strict liability Vicarious liability
Enterprise liability LIABILITY WITHOUT FAULT: STRICT LIABILITY Legal concept that holds defendants responsible for wrongful acts even when they are not guilty of negligence, fault, or bad faith Some crimes include: Selling alcohol to minors Statutory rape Sexual intercourse, or in some jurisdictions, other sexual acts as well, with an underage person even if that person allegedly consented
Use of strict liability for this crime is an exception to rationale of minor penalties applied LIABILITY WITHOUT FAULT: VICARIOUS LIABILITY Dispenses with the requirement of actus reus and imputes criminal act of one person to another Often used for employer-employee situations Whether employer can be held responsible in criminal as well as civil law is determined by law of jurisdiction in which employment occurred and specific facts of case
LIABILITY WITHOUT FAULT: ENTERPRISE LIABILITY The process of holding an entire business enterprise legally liable for an event Under common law, corporations could not be charged with crimes Rested on argument that corporations had no mind and no body No intent, no imprisonment As criminal law broke from this position, first penalties were criminal fines
LIABILITY WITHOUT FAULT: ENTERPRISE LIABILITY Today, most courts rule they can be held criminally culpable for criminal acts or omissions Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Co. v. United States (1909) Limitations do exist Employees must be acting within the scope of their employment Cannot be held liable for crimes whose punishments only provide for death or imprisonment
LIABILITY WITHOUT FAULT: ENTERPRISE LIABILITY A previously successful argument by corporations that they should be liable only for property crimes has been challenged Granite Construction Co. v. Superior Court (5 th Dist. 1983) Reasonable to expect more prosecutions under this theory of criminal culpability
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