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Criminal Law - Outline Part 1

By Collin B. Hardee

Download the PDF version of this outline

Part 2 >>

Crime = Actus Reus (Voluntary/Culpable Act OR Omission (Duty + Failure to Act)) + Mental State + Result = Social Harm (Crime) - Defenses

Actus Reus – voluntary act + social harm, omissions do not usually count

Common Law / NC
  • Requires voluntary act and a social harm
  • Act is voluntary if D willed the action of if she was sufficiently free that she could be blamed for conduct
  • Social harm = harm caused by D’s voluntary act
  • A willed muscular contraction
    • Involuntary Act can negate the act/action and serve as affirmative defense
  • 2.01: not guilty of offense unless liability if based on conduct that includes a voluntary act or omission to perform an act which he has duty to perform
  • Act or action is a bodily movement whether voluntary or involuntary
    • Coercion/Duress/Under Threat (will have Defense)
    • Habit
    • “Brainwashed”
    • Demanded by police/authority
    • Reflex/convulsion/seizure (UNLESS you know you are prone)
    • Bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep (sleepwalking scenarios)
    • Conduct during hypnosis
    • Bodily movement not a product of effort/determination of the actor
      • Cop bringing drunk guy into public

Possession – possession is act IF possessor knowingly obtained/received the thing possessed or was aware of his control of item for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate possession

  • Knowingly taking control of something is an ACT
  • Failure to terminate is an OMISSION

Actual: only one person has control over item


  • Exclusive – lacking actual possession, but aware of item, and have ability and intent to maintain dominion/control over the item; provable by sufficient evidence
  • Non-Exclusive – need additional evidence to determine possession
    • D’s proximity to contraband
    • Did D own/operate location where was found
    • Did D have control of item that contraband found in
    • D’s had opportunity to place contraband where found
    • Did D flee
    • Did D engage in suspicious behavior
    • Did D engage in drug activity, or high on drugs at the time
    • Did D have personal items where contraband found
Exceptions that Satisfy Actus Reus (Act) Requirement

1. Omission: Legal Duty to act + Failure to Act (Generally, NO DUTY TO ACT unless legal duty)

No crime unless there is a legal duty to act

Types of legal duties:

  • Statute – statute requires person to act (filing taxes)
  • Status (Relationship) – duty to protect another where special relationship (parent/child; husband/wife; innkeeper/guest; employer/employee; captain/passenger)
  • Contract – contract to come to aid of another (baby-sitter)
  • Creation of Risk: if you create risk which caused harm, you must act to absolve it
  • Assumption of Risk: if you begin to act voluntarily, you must continue acting (saving drowning child)

NOTE: for OMISSION to result in criminal liability, it must be proved that:

  1. Conduct of accused in failing to act was accompanied by requisite mens rea
  2. Accused was aware of facts giving rise to duty to act
  3. Accused owed legal duty to victim
  4. Causal relationship between omission and the result
  5. Performing the duty was possible
DO NOT Fulfill Actus Reus Requirement


  • Criminal law cannot punish a person’s status – 8th Amendment bands cruel and unusual punishment and 14th guarantees due process under the law
  • Can’t be punished for being an addict or alcoholic
  • Status does not count as act or omission

Mens Rea = “an evil mind” - prosecution most prove a culpable mental state for each material element of offense


Specific Intent (usually fall into 3 categories)

  1. Requires an intention to perform an act above the “actus reus” of the offense (burglary)
  2. Requires intent to commit crime for particular purpose or a specific motive (larceny)
  3. Provides that actor must be aware of a statutory attendant circumstance (knowingly possessing stolen goods)
    1. Acts in addition to general intent

General Intent

  • Only mens rea required is a blameworthy state of mind
  • Volitional doing of a prohibited act
  • Can infer all mens rea from observing the conduct

Strict Liability

No mental state required. If you commit the act, you’re guilty

  1. Intentionally (Willfully) – consciously cause result or virtually certain that object will occur as result of conduct
    1. Willful Blindness – be aware of probably existence
  2. Recklessness – heightened criminal negligence / conscious disregard of substantial and unjustifiable risk
  3. Negligence – SHOULD be aware that conduct created substantial and unjustifiable risk that result would occur
  4. Maliciously – intentionally or gross recklessly causes social harm prohibited in statute

I’m Running Naked Man

  1. Knowingly
  2. Willfully
  3. Intentionally
  4. Wantonly
  5. Maliciously
  6. Negligently
  1. Purposely – conscious objective to engage in conduct w/ intent to cause the result; aware of existence or believe/hope attendant circumstances exist
  2. Knowingly (Willfully) – awareness that conducts results are practically certain to occur
    1. Willful Blindness – if one deliberately avoids knowledge b/c of belief that knowing would be bad, then D satisfies Knowledge; requires HIGH PROBABILITY
  3. Recklessness (default when no mens rea) – conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk; actual awareness of gross deviation from standard law-abiding citizen – I know, but I don’t care
  4. Negligently – SHOULD be aware that the substantial and unjustifiable risk is gross deviation from standard law-abiding citizen – clueless person

Prince Knits Really Nicely


Conduct AND Result = conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature, or to cause that result

Attendant Circumstances = AWARE of existence of such circumstances OR believes/hopes they exist


Conduct AND Attendant Circumstances = AWARE that conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances

Result = he is AWARE that it is PRACTICALLY CERTAIN that his conduct will cause such a result


Conscious (AWARE) disregard of substantial and unjustifiable risk that is a gross deviation from standard of conduct of a law-abiding person


SHOULD BE AWARE of a substantial and unjustifiable risk; failure to perceive the risk involves a gross deviation from standard of conduct of a law-abiding person

Conduct: Bodily movement

Attendant Circumstances: Conditions

Result: Not always an element (i.e. result crimes)

Specific Intent
  1. First Degree Murder
  2. Solicitation
  3. Attempt
  4. Conspiracy
  5. Larceny
  6. Robbery
  7. Burglary
  8. Forgery
  9. False-Pretense
  10. Embezzlement
  1. Murder
  2. Arson
General Intent
  1. Rape
  2. Battery
  3. Extreme Reckless Murder
Strict Liability – Crimes w/ No Mens Rea
  1. Felony Murder
  2. Statutory Rape
  3. Public Welfare Offenses – violations punishable by fines; not incarceration

SCALES FRBF (ForReal BestFriend)

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