Murder

Murder under Common Law was the “the killing of another with malice aforethought.” Malice means the defendant had a malignant heart with the intent to kill; a heart devoid of social duty and fatally bent on mischief. A defendant could be charged with implied malice murder (which is not a separate crime; still murder) if he acted with a malignant heart and the defendant knew there was a high risk of death or grievous bodily injury. Under modern law, many states have subdivided murder into degrees. For example, first-degree murder is the premeditated killing of another. In second-degree murder, the defendant still has malice but no premeditation. Premeditated has been interpreted to mean planned, deliberate, and willful. How much time is required for premeditation? Courts have differed. (Compare Commonwealth v. Carroll holding that no time is too short for the necessary premeditation to occur; the space of time between the premeditation and the fatal act is immaterial if the killing was in fact intentional, willful, and deliberate; against State v. Guthrie stating that “to allow the State to prove premeditation…by only showing that the intention came into existence for the first time at the time of such killing completely eliminates the distinction between the two degrees of murder;” there must be some appreciable amount of time.) Some things courts will weigh (although these are not usually given the same weight): Person of ordinary judgment would know it is reasonably certain to cause serious bodily injury Done from some ill will/hatred Indicates indifference/depraved indifference to life The MPC Section 210.2 states that “criminal homicide constitutes murder when: (a) it is committed purposely or knowingly; or (b) it is committed recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” In section (a), the MPC ask was the murder purposeful or did the defendant do it knowingly? If yes, the defendant is guilty of murder. In section (b), the MPC asks whether the defendant exhibited extreme indifference to the value of human life. For the defendant to manifest extreme indifference, he must have some conscience awareness. Section (b) also notes that “recklessness and indifference are presumed if the actor is engaged or is an accomplice to” a felony (whether in the commission of, while attempting to commit, or in flight after committing/attempting). This is essentially the common law felony-murder...

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Felony-Murder

Felony-Murder is charged to a defendant when a homicide occurs as the defendant is committing or attempting a felony. A felony-murder charge can only be brought if (1) the underlying felony is inherently dangerous, (2) the felony and murder are two separate offenses in order to avoid merger, and (3) the defendant’s felony has a casual link to the murder. 1. Inherently dangerous Most common law crimes can be considered inherently dangerous. Examples of inherently dangerous felonies are arson, burglary, kidnapping, and rape. However, if a crime has not been labeled inherently dangerous either through common law or the legislture, courts turn to two different tests to determine whether the underlying felony was inherently dangerous: (a) In abstract Under this test, a court asks whether a situation could exist where serious bodily injury or death would not have been foreseeable when the defendant committed the felony. This test focuses on the mens rea and was applied in People v. Phillips; however, it is followed by a minority of jurisdictions. (b) As perpetrated Under this test, a court looks at the commission of the felony in the particular circumstances and asks, “was the felon careful enough to avoid an inherently dangerous felony?” This test focuses on the actus reus. Most jurisdictions use this test. 2. Merger The felony and murder must be two separate offenses otherwise the felony “merges” with the murder and the defendant cannot be charged with felony-murder. This question is really one of statutory construction. To ensure that the felony and murder are two separate offenses, a court first does an “included in fact analysis.” Two separate offenses do not exist if all of the evidence that will be presented, by the state, in order to prove the felony is the same evidence that is needed in order to prove the homicide. Specifically, the evidence required to prove the “integral” elements of the two offenses. A court will also look to ensure that an independent felonious purpose exists (See People v. Burton). This means that the felony must have a purpose other than serious bodily injury or death (because the purpose of murder is serious bodily injury or death). This is a legal conclusion which is not determined from the perpetrators perspective. If an independent felonious purpose exists then you cannot merge because we must have two separate offenses and the defendant can be charged with felony-murder....

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Rape

Under the United State Common Law, rape has four main elements: Sexual intercourse (includes some penetration no matter how slight) With a woman not his wife Using physical force Without her consent* *The victim must give consent at the time the mens rea and actus reus come together. Consent must be freely and voluntarily given, express and unequivocal. In most cases, consent will be an affirmative defense. MPC Section 213.1, “a male who has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife is guilty of rape if: (a) he compels her to submit by force or by threat** of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain or kidnapping, to be inflicted on anyone; or (b) he has substantially impaired her power to appraise or control her conduct by administering or employing without her knowledge drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance; or (c) the female is unconscious; or (d) the female is less than 10 years old.” **The “force or threat” requirement has been applied differently throughout the country. In some jurisdictions, penetration is serious bodily injury and is enough to show force (See State in the Interest of MTS holding that the physical force requirement acts only to “qualify the nature and character of the sexual penetration.”) Other jurisdictions require that the threat of force involve death or serious bodily injury. (See People v. Evans holding defendant not guilty because no finding of forcible compulsion or threat beyond a reasonable...

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Intervening Causes in Criminal Law

An intervening cause occurs when there is some interruption between the defendant’s conduct and the ultimate harm or result. See People v. Acosta for a great example. Here is how to conduct an analysis to determine if a defendant is still liable in the presence of one or more intervening causes: First, is the intervening cause dependent or independent on the defendant’s conduct? For example, the intervening cause is dependent if it would not have occurred without the defendant’s conduct (e.g. a security guard firing a pistol because the defendant is robbing a bank). If the intervening cause is dependent on the defendant’s conduct, was it foreseeable or unforeseeable? If the intervening cause was foreseeable and dependent then a court can hold the defendant liable if the result was intended or reasonably foreseeable If the intervening cause was unforeseeable (or not a strong foreseeable link) but dependent then a court can hold the defendant liable if the result was sufficiently related to the actor’s conduct to impose liability (or, in the converse, it would not be fair to hold the defendant liable) If the intervening cause is independent of the defendant’s conduct, then the intervening cause was not reasonably foreseeable and there is no sufficient relationship to the defendant’s conduct. Therefore, it is unfair to hold the defendant liable for the result of the intervening cause. This is known as an independent superceding...

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Causation in Criminal Law

Crimes such as homicide, where the result of the defendant’s conduct is a necessary aspect of the crime, may require a causation analysis. The causation analysis will require that the defendant’s conduct be the actual cause and proximate cause in order to find the defendant liable. (See Warner-Lambert holding that the court must find a causal link first before determining whether defendant acted at reckless.) The defendant’s conduct is the actual cause if “but for” the defendant’s conduct, the result would not have occurred. In order to find proximate cause: (1) the defendant’s conduct must be closely connected to the result, (2) the defendant’s conduct has a significant connection to the result, and (3) the law is justified in imposing liability. The MPC Section 2.03 states that “conduct is the cause of a result when: a. It is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred; and b. The relationship between the conduct and result satisfies any additional causal requirements imposed by the Code or by the law defining the offense.” The MPC looks at the cause in fact and then the mens rea. In other words, a court should ask “What was the mens rea towards the actual result?” The MPC does not talk about causation in terms of foreseeability but in terms of remoteness. If the result was too remote or too accidental [MPC Section 2.03(2)(b)], the defendant will not be held liable (looks...

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General Intent vs. Specific Intent

General Intent vs. Specific Intent

The difference between general intent and specific intent: General intent – the defendant intended the conduct Specific intent – the defendant intended the conduct and the result For a specific intent crime, the mens rea will typically be written into the statute. Intentional and knowledge based crimes are considered specific intent crimes. Here is a (not exhaustive) list of specific intent crimes: Murder Attempt Conspiracy Solicitation (under modern statutes) Larceny False Imprisonment Note: A specific intent crime cannot merge. General intent crimes typically include crimes that are based on the defendant being reckless or negligence. Here is a (non exhaustive) list of general intent crimes: Manslaughter Negligent Homicide Solicitation (however, it is treated like a specific intent crime and modern statutes define it as a specific intent crime) Arson Rape...

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