Chapter Four The General Principles of Criminal Liability: Mens Rea, Concurrence, Causation and Ignorance and Mistake
Chapter Four Learning Objectives • Understand and appreciate that most serious crimes require criminal intent and a criminal act. • Understand the difference between general and specific intent. • Understand and appreciate the differences in culpability among the Model Penal Codes’ four mental states—purposefully, knowingly, recklessly and negligently.
Chapter Four Learning Objectives • Understand that criminal liability is sometimes imposed without fault under strict liability. • Understand that the element of causation applies only to “bad result” crimes. • Understand that ignorance of facts and law can create a reasonable doubt that the prosecution has proved the element of criminal intent.
Elements of Crime • Voluntary act (prior chapter) • Mens rea—criminal intent – Most serious crimes require a mental element called mens rea (criminal intent) – Required because of culpability or blameworthiness – Most states and the Federal government follow common law principles about mens rea – Mens rea is not one level of intent, it comprises a range of intent— generally broken down by the degree of blameworthiness • Concurrence—requirement that criminal intent trigger the criminal act in conduct crimes; criminal conduct must cause bad result in bad result crimes • Causation – Criminal act must be both the cause in fact and the legal cause of the criminal harm
Criminal Intent—Mens Rea • Ancient requirement • Complex – Difficult to prove in court – Difficult to grasp and define in legislation
• Several mental attitudes that range across the spectrum • Different mental attitudes may apply to different elements of the crime
Mens Rea (continued) • Mens rea is different than motive – Example: Man kills wife for money • Mens rea = intent to kill • Motive = get money • Motive is “irrelevant” to criminal liability – Meaning, state doesn’t have to prove a specific motive to prove the case…but known motives help establish a case….and are “relevant” in the evidentiary sense (the state will be able to introduce them as evidence in trial) • Motive may be important in establishing a defense • Motive may be an element of crime—attendant circumstance – Example: burglary - “for the purpose of committing a crime”
Proving Mens Rea • Confessions are the only direct evidence of mental attitude • Proof of intent usually rests on indirect, circumstantial evidence • It is common in everyday life to infer people’s intent from what they do
Fault • Subjective fault—fault that requires a bad mind – Ex. Receiving an iPod you know is stolen – Bad state of mind is “knowingly” – Terms also used to express subjective fault • Ill will, depravity of will, depraved heart
• Objective Fault—fault that requires no bad mind in the actor – Ex. Buying an iPod for $10.00 thinking it is new – Average person would have known that it was stolen—even if you didn’t
Strict Liability • Criminal liability that does not require either subjective or objective fault – Example: a statute that states “whoever receives stolen property…” • There is no requirement that person knowingly receive stolen property
General and Specific Intent • General intent: the intent to commit the criminal act defined in the statute – Courts don’t always define general intent the same way – The minimum requirement of all crimes
• Specific intent: intent to cause the result (in bad result crimes) – Generally has subjective fault component “bad mind” – Adjectives used include Deliberate, conscious, intended, planned, premeditated…etc.
• General intent “plus”: intent to commit the criminal act plus some mental element – most common definition of specific intent – Example: Burglary is specific intent. Burglar has to intend to break and enter and has to intend to commit some crime while inside
Harris v. State (1999) • Harris carjacked his friend’s vehicle after a night of drinking when his friend refused to drive him to DC. • Harris raised voluntary intoxication as a defense, claiming that he could not form the requisite intent, and appealed his conviction. • The appeals court held that the crime of carjacking is a general intent crime to take control of a vehicle from another individual, and there need not be another remote purpose or intent (i.e. To permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle)
Summary of Case Holding • Court held that the mens rea requirement for carjacking in Maryland was the general intent to obtain unauthorized possession or control of car from person in action possession by force… • Court looked at legislative history and decided that the legislature only intended to establish general intent (not a specific intent crime)
Model Penal Code Mental States • • • •
Purposefully Knowingly Recklessly Negligently
• Product of debate • Ranked according to degree of culpability from highest to lowest
Purposefully • Actors conscious object is to engage in conduct or cause a result
Knowingly • (conduct crime) actor is aware that his conduct is of a certain nature or that a circumstance exists • (bad result crime) actor is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result
Recklessly • Actor consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct
Negligently • Actor should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct • Risk must be a nature and degree that actor’s failure to be aware of the risk….involves a gross deviation from the standard of care observed by a reasonable person in the actor’s circumstance
“Purposely” • Most blameworthy mental state • To do something on purpose • Having conscious object to commit the crime, cause the result
State v. Stark (1992) • After testing HIV Positive, and being extensively counseled as to “safe sex” and the necessity of informing partners of his status, Stark repeatedly engaged in unprotected sex with uninformed partners, and was quoted at trial as saying “I don’t care. If I’m going to die, everybody is going to die” • Stark was convicted of Assault in the 2nd Degree (Intent to inflict bodily harm) and appealed, claiming he did not “intend” to expose anyone to HIV • The court affirmed the conviction.
Summary of case holding • Sufficient evidence from defendant’s actions that he purposefully intended to exposing his partners with AIDS – Counseling Sessions (Knowledge of Risk, Protocols and the Law) – Stark’s statement when confronted about his sexual behavior (Knowledge of bad result) – Sexual behaviors attempted with one victim that were specific practices to avoid .
Knowing • Conduct Crimes = awareness of what you are doing • Bad result crimes = practically certain that conduct will cause the bad result (don’t need to have a conscious objective
Case: State v. Jantzi (1982) • Jantzi was convicted of Assault in the 2nd Degree when he possessed a dangerous weapon (Knife), and knew that a confrontation was going to occur. • At the point the confrontation began, Jantzi had fled, and concealed himself in a bush, when his victim jumped on him and was stabbed. Jantzi appealed as he claimed that he did not intend to assault his victim. • The court agreed, and reduced the conviction to Assault 3rd (lesser included offense), based upon the level of intent (Acted Recklessly not Knowingly).
Summary of case holding • Trial court erred in finding that defendant acted knowingly… the Trial judge described reckless behavior, so appellate court reversed and entered judgment on lesser charge • Case highlights the difficulty in grasping the mental state • Knowing that it is possible that injury will occur is not knowing….it is reckless. • Knowing means actor has to be practically certain the harm will result
Reckless • Awareness of the risk of causing criminal harm, then do the act anyway (Consciously Creates the risk) • Recklessness doesn’t apply to conduct crimes – Have to be aware that you are committing a voluntary act – Recklessness is to the result • A reckless person creates a risk of harm, but doesn’t intend, or expect to cause the harm
Reckless Model Penal Code 2 Prong Test: 1. Risk has to be substantial and unjustifiable 2. Disregarding the risk has to be a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would exercise under the circumstances
Negligent • Unconsciously creating a risk of harm • Should have been aware of the risk • Failure to be aware of the risk is a gross deviation of the standard of care a reasonable person would have under the circumstances – A reasonable person would have realized they were creating the risk
• Risk has to be substantial • Risk has to be unjustifiable
Koppersmith v. State (1999) • Koppersmith was charged with the Murder of his wife in a domestic altercation, and was subsequently convicted of Reckless Manslaughter. Koppersmith had requested a jury instruction on negligent homicide, which was denied, and formed the basis of his appeal. • Koppersmith claimed that when he physically “slung” his wife to the ground and moved here head up and down on the ground (as if slamming it into the ground), he was unaware that there were bricks in the grass. • The appeals court agreed.
Summary of case holding • “The reckless offender is aware of the risk and “consciously disregards” it…vs… • On the other hand, the criminally negligent offender is not aware of the risk created (“fails to perceive”) and, therefore, cannot be guilty of consciously disregarding it. • The difference between the terms “recklessly” and “negligently” is one of kind, rather than degree. Each actor creates a risk of harm. The reckless actor is aware of the risk and disregards it; the negligent actor is not aware of the risk but should have been aware of it”. • Court held that there was evidence that defendant could have failed to perceive the risk, so the jury instruction on negligence should have been given.
Strict Liability • Liability without fault—based on the voluntary act alone • U.S. Supreme Court has upheld power of legislatures to make strict liability crimes – To protect public health and safety – Make clear they are imposing liability without fault
Strict liability (continued) • Support: – Strong public interest in protecting public health and safety. These laws arose out of industrial revolution and aimed at protecting workers and citizens from ills of manufacturing, mining, commerce, etc. – Penalty is usually (but not always) mild
Strict liability (continued) • Criticism: – Too easy to expand strict liability beyond offenses that endanger the public – It “does no good” to punish people who don’t act purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently – Criminal law without blameworthiness loses its appeal as a moral code
State v. Loge (2000) • Loge was stopped for speeding in his fathers pick-up when officers noticed an open container of beer. Although Loge admitted drinking 2 beers earlier in the evening, he denied the open container was his. After passing a field sobriety check, he was issued a citation for the open container under the state’s Strict Liability Open Bottle Statute, and was subsequently convicted. • Loge appealed, based on the lack of a requirement for a proof of knowledge. • The court disagreed, and upheld the statute.
Summary of case holding • The court looked at legislative history of the open bottle statute, examined other similar statutes with similar language and concluded that the Minnesota Legislature intended to create the strict liability crime. Note the careful attention the court paid to the specific language of the statute. • “It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the legislature, weighing the significant danger to the public, decided that proof of knowledge….was not required.”
Concurrence • Some mental fault has to trigger the conduct (conduct crimes) • Some mental fault has to trigger the conduct and the cause (in bad result crimes) • Rarely an issue in cases
Causation • Holding an actor accountable for the results of conduct • Applies only to bad result crimes • Distinguish between two types of causation— both are necessary in order to prove criminal liability – Factual cause (aka “but for” causation, actual causation, “except for” causation – Legal cause (aka proximate cause)
Factual Cause • Did the actor set into motion a chain of events that ended in the result? If so, they are a factual cause of the result. • But for the actors conduct, the result would not have occurred – Example: Rolling a giant Rock Downhill toward a crowd
• According to the Model Penal Code: – “Conduct is the cause of a result when it is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred”
Factual Cause • Necessary to prove that actor was factual cause of the harm in order to show criminal liability. BUT, it is not sufficient to prove criminal liability. • Taken to logical extreme, almost anything can be the factual cause of something if you go back far enough….E.g., “had his mother not given birth, the defendant would not have been in the place to hit the victim”
Legal Cause or Proximate Cause • Necessary to prove that defendant is legal cause of harm in order to show criminal liability • Legal cause asks whether it is fair to hold defendant responsible for the harm • Factors in the fairness determination include: – Whether the result was foreseeable from the conduct – Whether some other factor contributed to the harm (Intervening harm) – Whether the intervening factor was a natural occurrence? (Natural occurrences don’t generally break off liability)
When an intervening cause cuts off liability (because it is more fair to attribute the harm to it) it is said to be a superseding cause
People v. Armitage (1987) • While intoxicated, Armitage took an intoxicated friend aboard his boat on the Sacramento river at 3am, where his reckless operation resulted in the boat capsizing, and his passenger drowning. • Armitage was convicted of Intoxicated Boating resulting in Death, and Appealed, claiming that the death was not the proximate result of his actions; rather, the intervening or superseding cause being his passenger’s panic response to swim to shore. • The court disagreed
Summary of case holding • Court concluded that the victim’s attempt to swim ashore after defendant’s reckless boating resulted in a capsized boat was a natural and continuous sequence arising from defendant’s acts. Contributory negligence of the victim is not a defense. • “In order to exonerate a defendant the victim’s conduct must not only be a cause of his injury, it must be a superseding cause. A defendant may be criminally liable for a result directly caused by his act even if there is another contributing cause. If an intervening cause is a normal and reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s original act, the intervening act is dependent and not a superseding cause and will not relieve defendant of liability.”
Velazquez v. State (1990) • Velazquez and Alvarez mutually agreed to a drag race which ended in a crash. • Neither vehicle struck the other, although both crashed nearby one another, and Alvarez was killed. • Velazquez was charged with vehicular homicide, and appealed on the basis he was not the proximate cause of Alvarez Death. • The appeals court agreed
Summary of case holding • The court held that the defendant was not the proximate cause of victim’s death. The judge found that policy considerations were against imposing responsibility for the death of a participant in a race on the surviving racer when the sole contribution to the death was participation in the mutually agreed on activity.
People v. Kibbe (1974) • Kibbe and a companion assaulted and robbed a highly intoxicated individual who was ejected from a vehicle on a dark road, late at night, stripped of his clothing and eyeglasses, where he was struck and killed by another vehicle. • Kibbe was convicted of the Homicide, and appealed, claiming his actions were not the proximate cause of the man’s death, the intervening act of the other vehicle was the superseding cause of the death. • The appeals court disagreed.
Summary of holding • Court held that Kibbe and his co-defendant were the proximate cause of victim’s death. • The death could have been foreseen as being reasonably related to the acts of the accused. • Although another truck actually hit the victim, the court found that it was not an intervening wrongful act which would relieve the defendants from the foreseeable consequences of their actions.
Ignorance and Mistake • Mistake is a defense when it negates the mens rea • Characterized as either – A defense of excuse – A failure of proof defense(can’t prove the requisite mental state)
According to the Model Penal Code, mistake matters when it prevents the formation of a mental attitude required by a criminal statute (refer to statute) Mistake cannot negate criminal liability for strict liability crimes (because they do not require mens rea)
State v. Sexton (1999) • Sexton was convicted of reckless manslaughter after he fired a gun he mistakenly believed was unloaded, and killed his friend. • Sexton appealed on the basis of failure of proof by the prosecution, on the basis of instruction to the jury on the elements of the crime, and the culpable mental state. • The court affirmed the appeal.
Summary of case holding • This case highlights the approach used by the MPC viewing mistake as a failure of proof when it negates a required element of the offense (Claim of Mistake = Negligence and would have mitigated the culpable mental state of Recklessness) • “To sum up, evidence of an actor’s mistaken belief relates to whether the State has failed to prove an essential element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”