See Disclaimer Below.

Archive for the ‘Criminal Law’ Category

Mens Rea and the Common Law

In Criminal Law, History, Justice, Law, Teaching on March 15, 2017 at 6:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

At common law, a victim had to prove four elements to demonstrate that a crime had occurred: mens rea (the mental element of a crime whereby intent or blameworthiness must be established), actus reus (the physical elements of a crime whereby the actions of a defendant must be established), causation, and damages or harm. This brief post concerns the first element, mens rea.

The concept of means rea involved three kinds of intent at common law: (1) general intent (the wish to do something prohibited by law), (2) specific intent (the wish to do something prohibited by law and to cause a particular result), and (3) transferred intent (which arises when the intention to harm one person results in harm to a different person).

The definition of intent traditionally included not just the results an actor wanted to occur when he contemplated taking some action, but also the results he knew would almost certainly occur from that action even if he did not truly wish to bring them about.

The landmark case of People v. Conley (1989) demonstrated that it was not always necessary, when establishing the elements of a crime, to show that an actor consciously desired the result of a particular harm as long as he knew that his conduct was virtually certain to cause general harm. A prosecutor may accordingly establish the element of intent by showing that a person consciously desired to occasion a particular harm or that he knew that his conduct was practically certain to cause harm.

Under the doctrine of transferred intent, a prosecutor may demonstrate that the defendant committed a crime if he intended to cause harm to one person but accidentally harmed a different person. This principle is also revealed in People v. Conley, in which an individual named William Conley attempted to strike Marty Carroll with a wine bottle but mistakenly struck Sean O’Connell instead. Because Conley attempted to commit a battery and did in fact strike someone as he intended, he was guilty of the crime of battery. The fact that his victim was not his intended victim was immaterial to his case.

Advertisements

Excerpt from “I am the Raleigh,” by F. L. Light

In Arts & Letters, Britain, British Literature, Criminal Law, Fiction, History, Humanities, Law, Literature, Theatre, Writing on December 9, 2015 at 8:45 am

Fred Light

A Shakespearean proficiency in meter and rhetoric may to F L Light be ascribed. Nearly forty of his dramas are now available on Amazon, and twenty have been produced for Audible. His Gouldium is a series of twenty four dramas on the life and times of Jay Gould which he followed with six plays on Henry Clay Frick. The whole first book of his translation of The Iliad was published serially in Sonnetto Poesia. He has also appeared in Classical Outlook and The Raintown Review. Most of his thirty five books of couplets are on economics, such as Shakespeare Versus Keynes and Upwards to Emptiness the State Expands.

In November, 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was for treason put on trial. Those charged with treason were not allowed lawyers. The prosecutor is Edward Coke, Attorney General of England.

Wolvesley Castle in Winchester, where the chief judicial officers of England and many peers of the realm are gathered. Sergeant at Arms Yelverton comes forth.

Yelverton: You English, conscientious quietude
Abide. In mutest comprehension mark This Court. Let your acuity be quieted,
Judicious silence in this cause permitting. Now let the Keeper here at Castle Wolvesley
Conduct the prisoner, Sir Walter Raleigh,
Into the court.

Raleigh is ushered into the court by the Keeper.

Popham: Name the commissioned magistrates
For watchful jurisdiction of this court.

Yelverton: Yourself, the Lord Chief Justice, Master Justice
Gawdie, Master Justice Warburton, Robert
Lord Cecil, Edward Lord Wotton of Morley,
And Henry Lord Howard.

Popham:                          What is the professed
Indictment, Sergeant Yelverton?

Yelverton:                                  It is
Alleged Sir Walter Raleigh in comprised
Inclusion with a clique conceived
And counseled a conspiracy, resolved
The presence of the King be done away,
With common dispossession of the King’s
Propriety; and he, considering seditious seizures
Of the state, by factious infestations would
Revolt effect, who’d raise mutations in
Religion, irreligious primacy
In England prompting, and who’d summon to
This island the amassed misanthropy
Of Spain at arms or an invasive sway
From Scotland. It is further stated that
Lord Henry Cobham met at Durham House
On June the Ninth with Raleigh to procure
For Arabella Stuart the crown of England.
There Raleigh readied the corruption of
Lord Cobham, bidding him confer with Charles
De Ligne, the Count of Aremberg, to draw
Six hundred thousand crowns from him, a sum
For Arabella’s royalty by revolt.
Above this, should Aremberg’s superior,
The Archduke Albert of the Netherlands,
Not have that sum, then to the king of Spain
Should Cobham pass; that Arabella should
In written briefs to Albert and King Philip
And even Savoy’s enthroned administration
Pledge a constant reconcilement held
By London and Madrid, and she must swear
The Papacy’s adherents may persist
In alien ritual of un-English use,
And that her marriage be imagined, moved
And warranted by Philip of Madrid.
And this declarative indictment claims
That Cobham on that ninth of June apprised
George Brooke, his brother, of these plots, assured
Of sibling likelihood therein. And said
That England never glows with lucre till
All Jacobean propagations be
Undone with James, the cubs and bear together;
That a book was lent to Cobham, drawn
From Raleigh’s shelves, purporting that the king
No ancestral validation could assume
For kingship in this realm; that Cobham on
The seventeenth of June then messaged Aremberg
For money with LaRenzi as the messenger;
That on the next day Count Aremberg agreed
Upon six hundred thousand as the sum,
Whereof eight thousand were for Raleigh’s use,
And ten thousand would George Brooke receive.
At these outstanding imputations what
Is your plea?

Raleigh:      Not guilty, and I’ll put myself
Upon the country’s jurisdiction, fain
A jury of my peers may pass on me.

Yelverton: Would you assert a challenge to remove
Or question any jurors?

Raleigh:                          None of them
I know, but, as I sense appearances,
Forthright discrimination and direct
Discretion cannot be denied in them.
Faces of normal reason I regard
Among them, not afraid their rectitude
Will jar with mine. And as I know my plea
Is stainless, let this panel stand. I may
In confident indifference suffer them.
Yet here one wish you may accept as meet.
For you should know intense infirmities
Of late my readiness impair and leave
My memory faint. And thus the itemized
Indictment I would touch on and deny
By individual severalties, as they
Before the court come forth, or else I’ll not
Retain them till at last I may reply.

Coke: The evidential whole is stronger than
Her parts, and overwrought distinctions may
Disintegrate the rightful fullness we’ve
Embodied in this case. Distinguished parts,
When overstretched, constrained distortions put
Before us.

Raleigh:     Undivided evidence
Can hardly be reviewed by a refuter.

Popham: Let the defendant with each single charge
Contend in sequence. By the common law
Judicial consummations come of parts.

 

Causation and Criminal Law

In America, Criminal Law, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Philosophy on October 29, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

Actus reus, which is shorthand for the opening words in the Latin phrase actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea (“an act does not make a person guilty unless his mind is also guilty”), is one element of a crime that a prosecutor must prove to establish criminal liability. A prosecutor must prove, in particular, that the defendant’s actus reus caused the harmful result at issue in the case. To do so, the prosecutor must show not only that the act was the “actual cause” of the harm (i.e., the “factual cause” or the “but for” cause”) but also that the act was the “proximate cause” of the harm (i.e., the “legal cause”).

The so-called “but for” test, also known as the sine qua non test, seeks to determine whether a particular act brought about the particular harm to the alleged victim. If the question whether the harm would not have happened but for the defendant’s action is answered in the affirmative, then causation is established; accordingly, if the harm would have happened notwithstanding the defendant’s act, then the defendant’s act is not a “cause in fact.” The “but for” test is not satisfied unless the prosecutor can show that the harm was foreseeable; if the harm was not foreseeable, then the defendant cannot be said to be the actual cause of the harm, only the proximate cause of the harm.

Determining causation is difficult when two people are performing different acts at different times, and each of their acts could have caused the harm at the time the harm occurred. The two acts by the two different people constitute concurrent sufficient causes under the “but for” test. Because there are two different people who could have “caused” the harm according to the “but for” test, yet only one of the two people actually caused the harm, the “but for” test fails to establish causation.

There are two tests that courts may apply when there are multiple sufficient causes under the facts. The first is the substantial factor test, according to which a defendant is criminally liable if his acts are shown to be a substantial factor leading to the harm to the alleged victim. This test is not commonly used because it can be arbitrary and subjective. The better test is a modified form of the “but for” test, formulated this way: “But for the defendant’s voluntary act, the harm would not have occurred not just when it did, but as it did.” Even this revised test falls short of ideal. For instance, it is not clear how this test is applied when two non-lethal acts combine to cause the death of one victim.

Regardless of which tests for causation obtain or prevail in a particular case, a prosecutor must establish each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That standard, at least, is a legal certainty.

The Felony-Murder Rule: Background and Justification

In American History, Britain, Criminal Law, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Philosophy on October 8, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

The rule at common law as incorporated into the legal system of the early United States was that a person is guilty of murder (and not some lesser offense of killing) if he killed another person during the commission or attempted commission of any felony. This rule is known as the “felony-murder rule.” It was abolished in England in the mid-20th century and never existed in such continental nations as France or Germany. The rule became common, however, in various jurisdictions throughout the United States, although it never escaped criticism.

Felony murder is bifurcated into first-degree and second-degree murder: the former arises when the killing of another results from the commission of an enumerated felony; the latter arises when the killing of another results from the commission of an unspecified felony. The felony-murder rule negates any investigation into the objective intent of the offender; it obtains regardless of whether the offender killed his victim intentionally, recklessly, accidentally, or unforeseeably. Although it dispenses with the element of malice that is requisite to a finding of murder, the felony-murder rule retains by implication the concept of malice insofar as the intent to commit a felony is, under the rule, constitutive of malice for murder. The rule, in essence, conflates the intent to commit one wrong with the intent to commit another wrong, namely, the termination of another’s life. The intent to do a felonious wrong is, on this understanding, sufficiently serious to bypass any consideration of the nature of the exact wrong that was contemplated.

The most common justification for the felony-murder rule is that it deters dangerous felonious behavior and decreases the chance that an innocent bystander will suffer bodily harm from a high-risk felony. The possibility of a more severe conviction and sentence, according to this theory, reduces the number of negligent and accidental killings that might have taken place during the commission of a felony. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., supported the felony-murder rule, believing as he did that a felonious offender who kills another person during the commission of any felony ought to be punished as a murderer, even if the killing was not foreseeable based on the circumstances of the felony. Critics of the deterrence justification for the felony-murder rule have argued that no rule can deter an unintended act.

Another justification for the felony-murder rule is that it affirms the sanctity and dignity of human life. This justification answers in the affirmative the question whether a felony resulting in death is more serious than a felony not resulting in death. Because a felony resulting in death is, in fact, more serious, according to this logic, a felony murderer owes a greater debt to society and must accordingly suffer a more extreme punishment. Critics of this view argue that the culpability for the two separate harms—the felony and the killing—must remain separate and be analyzed independently of each other. These critics suggest that the felony-murder rule runs up against constitutional principles regarding proportional punishment (i.e., whether the punishment “fits” the crime) and that there is no justice or fairness in punishing a felon for a harm (death) that was unintended.

Simon Stern Publishes Chapter on Law & Literature and the Criminal Law

In Arts & Letters, Criminal Law, Humanities, Law, Law-and-Literature, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, News Release on November 25, 2013 at 8:45 am

Simon Stern

Simon Stern, who is an associate professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, has posted the following abstract to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN).  The paper, which will interest readers of this site, will be published in the Oxford Handbook of Criminal Law.

This book chapter discusses the use of literary material as a means of studying criminal law. The chapter provides an overview on various methods of combining legal and literary materials (law in literature, literature in law, law as literature, legal aesthetics) and offers two case studies (Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) to show how literature can open up questions both about substantive criminal law doctrines and also about the grounds on which those doctrines are applied. Along the way, the discussion shows how various scholars of criminal law, such as Nicola Lacey and Anne Coughlin, have raised questions that have also provoked the interest of literary scholars such as Dorrit Cohn and Blakey Vermeule.

The chapter also serves as a bibliography for scholars seeking further resources that examine criminal law through the lens of literature. These resources include bibliographies of primary texts (such as crime-based fiction, “dying confessions” circulated at executions, and movies), secondary texts (discussing law and criminal behavior in relation to fiction, drama, and poetry), and web-based resources (such as the Old Bailey Sessions Papers Online). In that spirit, the chapter also discusses some research that is often overlooked in discussions of criminal law and literature – such as Todd Herzog’s research on Weimar-era true-crime narratives that were created from actual case files; Jonathan Eburne’s research on crime in the work of the French surrealists; Lorna Hutson’s research on civic plots of detection in renaissance drama and their relation to the development of evidence law; and Lisa Rodensky’s work on narrative modes in Victorian fiction and their relation to the treatment of mens rea in contemporaneous legal thought.

BOOK REVIEW: Killing Time by John Holloway and Ronald M. Gauthier

In Advocacy, Art, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, Criminal Law, Fiction, Justice, Law, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Prison, Southern History, Writing on November 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Allen Mendenhall

The following review originally appeared here at The Southern Literary Review just over a year ago.  Click here to view the original version in PDF.

John Hollway and Ronald M. Gauthier have written a thriller.  Unlike other thrillers, Killing Time: An 18-Year Odyssey from Death Row to Freedom (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010) is not fiction.  It is, in the authors’ words, “a true story” told in “narrative style.”  There’s an old saying: reality is stranger than fiction.  Here’s a book that proves reality is not only stranger than fiction but also, in some cases, more terrifying.  

The plot is as chilling as it is plain.  Or perhaps it is chilling because it seems plain.  An unknown man murders an Italian-American hotelier named Ray Liuzza.  Police, witnesses, and prosecutors mistake the killer for an innocent man: John Thompson, a twenty-two-year-old African American.  The crime occurs outside Ray’s apartment.  The year is 1984.  The city is New Orleans.  What follows is the bulk of the book: a police investigation, arrest, trial, sentencing, conviction, appeal, and so forth. 

Using court transcripts, depositions, media reports, interviews, letters, and other records, Hollway and Gauthier piece together a stunning story of power, law, race, and justice.  The result is a book that increasingly calls into question the instrumentalities of our criminal justice system, redeemed, at last, by two Philadelphia lawyers, Michael Banks and Gordon Cooney, who undertake Thompson’s case pro bono and who spend millions of dollars in foregone legal fees. 

Without the intervention of these two men, Thompson, who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, might not be alive today.  Released from prison after his exoneration, Thompson resides in Louisiana, where he is involved with Resurrection After Exoneration (REA), an organization he founded.          Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: