Regina v. Dudley and Stephens 14 Q.B.D. 273
(Queen’s Bench, 1884)
FACTS: Dudley and Stephens (Defendants) were stranded at sea with another man and a young boy. On the eighteenth day, suffering from food and water deprivation, Defendants decided to kill the young boy without his consent. The three surviving men fed upon the boy’s body and blood for four days, until the men were rescued by a passing ship. Defendants were accused of murder. They were convicted and now appeal. ISSUE: Is the act of killing illegal even when done to preserve your own life or the life of another? HOLDING: No. REASONING: Although the killing of the boy probably saved the lives of the other men, it is not enough to vindicate the men. The only justification for taking another’s life “for the safeguard of one’s own” is self-defense. The court establishes that fear or perceived necessity will never acquit a man of murder. “A man has no right to declare temptation to be an excuse” for such a crime. The Defendants were sentenced to death.
United States v. Bergman 416 F. Supp. 496
(Dist. Ct. 1976)
FACTS: Bergman (Defendant) was a respected philanthropist and community leader. He owned nursing homes and was convicted of filing fraudulent claims for Medicaid funds. The defendant pled guilty to the charges. ISSUE: Should the defendant be given special treatment considering his history, reputation, and age? HOLDING: No REASONING: The court decided that punishing the defendant with the goal of rehabilitation and deterrence would not work because the defendant did not need rehabilitation probably not repeat his crimes. However, “imprisonment is punishment.” The offenses are grave and demand justice beyond the “humiliation” suffered by the defendant. Setting the defendant free would diminish the severity of the crime. Defendant is sentenced to 4 months of a possible eight-year sentence. His personal sufferings are not considered in the determination of judicial punishment.
State v. Chaney 477 P.2d 441
(Alaska Sup. Ct. 1970)
FACTS: Chaney (Defendant) was found guilty on two counts of rape and on count of robbery. The trial judge gave the defendant a one- year sentence with the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court cannot impose a stiffer punishment, but the state seeks the Court’s approval or disapproval of the sentence in written opinion. ISSUE: Was the trail judge too lenient? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: Despite the defendant’s fine military record and social and criminal “clean” history, the crime was serious and warranted a serious reprisal. The light sentence failed to fulfill the goals of the criminal justice system, namely reformation and community safety and condemnation.
United States v. Jackson ( US Appeals 7th 1987) 835 F2.d 1195 Facts: Thirty minutes after being released from prison for two bank robberies, the defendant committed another bank robbery. He was apprehended and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, the maximum punishment allowed by law. The defendant appealed, claiming that that Section 1202 calls for a minimum fifteen-year sentence, but does not allow for the imposition of a life sentence. RULE: 18 U.S.C. App. §1202: Anyone “who possesses…any firearm and who has three previous felony convictions for robbery or burglary [shall be] imprisoned not less than fifteen years.” ISSUE: Could the defendant receive a life sentence under the governing statue? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: Because Defendant had established himself to be a career criminal, he had to be dealt with most severely. Further, the selection of a sentence within the statutory range is free from appellate review. If the sentence is unduly harsh, the holder of the clemency power may supply a remedy. IN the CONCURRING OPINION, Judge Posner declares the sentence too harsh. He reasons that most violent robberies are committed by young man, and the defendant is already 35 years old. Posner feels that deterrence (specific and general) is the “surest ground for punishment” and those ends can be satisfied with a twentyyear sentence.
United States v. Johnson 964 F.2d 124
(US Appeals 2d 1992)
FACTS: Cynthia Purvis, a hospital payroll clerk, informed Cynthia Johnson (Defendant) of a scam to generate money by inflating paychecks. Purvis and Johnson convinced hospital employees to participate in the scam and give them kickbacks. They were caught and charged with theft and bribery charges. Johnson, because of familial obligations, received a light sentence of six months of home detention, compared with the 27-month prison sentence handed down to Purvis. The Appeals Court must decide whether Johnson’s sentence was appropriate. RULE: U.S.S.G. §5H1.6: “[F]amily ties and responsibilities are not ordinarily relevant in determining whether a sentence should be outside the applicable guideline range.” ISSUE: Were the defendant’s familial circumstances enough to set her sentence outside the normal guideline range? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The Defendant was a single mother whose incapacitated daughter and had a child of her own. Also residing with the defendant were her son and three other children. The judges interprets the statute mean that “ordinary family circumstances do not justify departure, but extraordinary family circumstances may…” Reluctant to wreak destruction on the dependants, they affirm the trial courts lenient sentence.
Martin v. State 17 So. 2d 427
(Al. Appeals 1944)
FACTS: Martin was arrested at home and taken onto the highway, where he showed signs of being drunk. He was convicted of being drunk on a public highway and he appealed. Trial court found Plaintiff guilty. He appealed. ISSUE: Does the accused have to go onto a public highway voluntarily to be convicted of being drunk on a public highway? RULE: “Any person who, while intoxicated or drunk, appears in any public space… and manifests a drunken condition…he shall, on conviction, be fined.” REASONING: The statue presupposes a voluntary appearance. Martin was arrested at home, and subsequently introduced into a public space. Thus, his public appearance was not voluntary and the conviction was invalid. Reversed and rendered.
People v. Newton (Cal. Appeals 87 Cal. Rptr. 394
FACTS: Newton (Defendant) shot and killed a police officer in an altercation. The defendant argued that he was shot in the abdominal area first by one of the officers and subsequently became unconscious. He claims he does not remember shooting the officer, and this seems consistent with a doctor’s testimony that after an abdominal shot, it is not uncommon for a person to become unconscious and slip into a “reflex shock condition.” The trial court did not allow this unconscious defense, and the jury found the defendant was guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Defendant appealed, claiming that unconsciousness should be admitted as defense. RULE: Penal Code §26: Where not self-induced, as by voluntary intoxication, unconsciousness is a complete defense to a charge of criminal homicide. ISSUE: Did the court make an error by not letting the defendant use his unconsciousness as a defense? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The court ruled that aside from voluntary drunkenness, unconsciousness can perfectly be used as a defense in homicide cases. The court considered the testimony of the doctor who told the court the after being shot on the abdominal area, many people become unconscious. So the court ruled that the trail court made an error by not letting the defendant introduced the evidence of his unconsciousness state when he shot the officer.
People v. Decina (1956) 2 N.Y.2d 133 FACTS: Decina (Defendant) was an epileptic and had an epileptic seizure while driving. His car went out of control, and caused an accident that resulted in four deaths. The defendant was charged with negligent homicide and now he appeals. RULE: Penal Law 1053-a: “[A] person who operates a vehicle of any kind in a reckless or culpably negligent manner, whereby a human being is killed is guilty of criminal negligence…” ISSUE: Can an epileptic person be held criminally liable if he voluntarily decides to drive an automobile? HOLDING: Yes. LEGAL REASONING: The court ruled that the defendant was negligent in his decision to get behind the wheel. The court finds that, because he was aware of his condition and the consequences that might result from a seizure attack while driving, Defendant was liable for criminal negligence. The conviction was affirmed.
Robinson v. California 370 U.S. 660
FACTS: Robinson (Defendant) was charged under a California statue that made addiction to narcotics a crime. Policemen testified that the defendant had scar tissue, discoloration, and needle marks, and the defendant was convicted. Defendant appealed, questioning the constitutionality of the state statute. ISSUE: Can a state punish a person for being an addict, even if he is not caught in the commission of a crime? HOLDING: No REASONING: The statue made the "status" of drug addiction a criminal offense. It likens alcoholic addiction to mental illness, insisting that it is a disease that may be contracted “innocently and involuntarily.” Criminal prosecution of such an illness amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In the DISSENTING OPINION, Justice White suggests that the same acquitting principle can be applied to a man who is caught using drugs. Should he be vindicated because he has an addictive illness? According to White, the Court’s decision cast serious doubt on the power of any state to forbid the use of narcotics.
Powell v. Texas 392 U.S. 514
FACTS: Powell (Defendant) was arrested and charged with public intoxication in a public place. The trial judge instructed the jury that chronic alcoholism was not a defense to the charge. Defendant was convicted and fined fifty dollars. He appealed directly to Supreme Court. RULE: “Whoever shall get drunk or be found in a state of intoxication in any public place or in any private house except his own shall be fined not exceeding $100.” ISSUE: Can “chronic alcoholism” strip a person of his ability to exercise his voluntary will and be submitted as a defense in criminal trial? HOLDING: No. REASONING: In order to declare a new constitutional defense, the defendant would have to prove 1) inability to commence drinking and 2) loss of control once drinking begins. In current case, physician testified that Defendant’s first drink was a “voluntary exercise of his will.” He also claims that a chronic alcoholic’s compulsion to drink is “exceedingly strong,” though “not completely overpowering.” The evidence presented to the Court is not sufficient to justify the establishment of a new constitutional principle. The case is different from Robinson v. California because the defendant was arrested for being drunk in public, not for being a chronic addict. The defendant in this case committed an act that sometimes results in “substantial health and safety hazards.” Justifying this act would open the door to justify driving while intoxicated, committing theft or assault, etc. The DISSENTING OPINION, signed by four justices, claims that the defendant should not be convicted because he suffers from a condition that he is powerless to change. They base their claim on the trial judge’s assertion that “a chronic alcoholic does not appear in public by his own volition but under a compulsion symptomatic of the disease of chronic alcoholism.”
Pope v. State (MD Appeals, 1979) 396 A.2d 1054 FACTS: Defendant took a mother/daughter into her home. Mother erupted into psychotic religious frenzy and beat her child to death, claiming that Satan had possessed her child. Defendant did nothing to stop the beating and failed to seek medical attention or report the incident. She was charged with nine counts, including felony child abuse for her vicarious participation and misprision of felony for failing to report the crime. She was convicted and now appeals. RULE: Annotated Code of MD §35A: A person convicted of child abuse must 1) be the parent, guardian, or “person responsible for the supervision” of the child and 2) must have caused, by act or omission, “cruel or inhumane treatment” of the child. ISSUE 1: Can D be convicted of child abuse? ISSUE 2: Can D be convicted of misprision of felony? HOLDING 1: No. HOLDING 2: No. REASONING: While D’s omission constituted cruel and inhumane treatment, she cannot be held liable because she was not responsible for the supervision of the child. She may have had a strong moral obligation to the child, but was under no legal obligation to help the child unless she was responsible for his supervision. Regarding the charge for misprision of felony, it is an antiquated law. Unless the Legislature wishes to enact laws to punish knowledge of criminal acts, the common law offense is deemed unacceptable by today’s standards. Convictions REVERSED.
Jones v. United States (US Appeals, DC 1962) 308 F.2d 307 FACTS: Defendant lived with Shirley Green and her infant son for unspecified time. Child died from lack of food and medical resources. D was charged with involuntary manslaughter and convicted. He now appeals, claiming that the jury was not notified that prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that D had legal obligation to provide food and necessities for child. ISSUE: Did the court err in failing to instruct the jury that it needed to establish D’s legal obligation to child? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: There are four circumstances failure to act may constitute breach of a legal duty: 1) statutory duty, 2) status (husband/wife, master/apprentice), 3) contractual duty, or 4) voluntary seclusion of victim. In order to convict D, prosecution had to establish that D fell into one of these categories. The trial court’s failure to instruct the jury to consider this element was an error. REVERSED and REMANDED.
Barber v. Superior Court (CA Appeals, 1983) 195 Rptr. 484 FACTS: After having a cardio-respiratory arrest, Clarence Herbert lapsed into a vegetative state. Doctors concluded that prognosis for recovery was very poor. With the approval of the family, two doctors authorized the removal of intravenous tubes that provided nourishment. Herbert died. The two physicians were charged with murder and conspiracy. A magistrate dismissed the charges, but they were reinstated by the Superior Court. Plaintiffs petitioned the court of appeal for review of the Superior Court’s decision, claiming that the termination of life support was an omission, and doctor did not have duty to perform. ISSUE: Does physician have a duty to preserve the life of a patient who is in a comatose state and stands little chance of recovery? HOLDING: No. REASONING: The cessation of life support measures is not an affirmative act, but rather an omission from further treatment. The life support treatment is likened to manually injecting patient with nourishment. Termination of treatment was essentially an omission of this act. The court also declares that a physician “has no duty to continue treatment, once it has proven to be ineffective.” Neither the wife, who was the legal surrogate for the patient, nor the children opposed the withholding of treatment. The doctors did not fail to perform their legal duties. This was passive euthanasia. Case DISMISSED.
Regina v. Cunningham (Court of Crim. Appeal 1957) 2 Q.B. 396 FACTS: Defendant needed money, so went of the cellar of building and wrenched the gas meter from the gas pipes. He failed to turn off the gas and it seeped into nearby apartment, nearly asphyxiating his mother-in-law. He was convicted of “unlawfully and maliciously” endangering the life of another. Def. appealed, insisting that the judge erred in instructing the jury that if the defendant’s initial intention was “malicious,” the entire act was categorized as such. “Malicious” necessitates some dense of foresight. ISSUE: Did the judge err in his construction of the word “malicious”? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The word “malicious” postulates foresight of consequence. The judge erred in telling the jury that if the defendant acted “wickedly,” they ought to find that he had acted maliciously in poisoning his mother-in-law. Because the jury was unreasonably directed as to the meaning of the word “maliciously,” conviction is QUASHED.
Holloway v. United States (Sup. Court 1999) 526 U.S. 1 FACTS: Defendant was accused of carjacking “with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm. Specific intent is implicitly required for a conviction. The court must decide whether the phrase necessitates that the defendant have 1) unconditional intent to kill or 2) intent to kill or harm if necessary. ISSUE: Can specific intent be conditional? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The intent of this statute is to deter carjacking in general. Few carjackings are carried out with unconditional intent to kill. Surely Congress intended for the language of this statute to cover both types of carjackings. Court refers to People v. Connors, in which man was convicted assault with intent to kill for pointing a gun at a worker and threatening to kill him if he did not quit. Though the intent to kill was coupled with a condition, the man was convicted. Thus, specific intent can be conditional. In DISSENTING OPINION, Justice Scalia claims that “intent” does not connote a purpose subject to conditions. If a man buys cocaine and tells his wife that he will resell it if they need the money, he cannot be convicted intent to distribute. Further, Scalia contends that if intent is made conditional, the court will have to sift through all statutes requiring intent and determine the meaning of each.
United States v. Jewell (US App. 9th 1976) 532 F.2d 697 FACTS: Man was caught bringing 110 pounds of marijuana in from Mexico. The man had deliberately avoided positive knowledge of the presence of contraband in order to avoid responsibility if caught. He claimed that because he did not “knowingly” transport the drug. However, the judge instructed the jury that “conscious purpose” to remain ignorant is analogous to “knowledge.” Jury convicted. Plaintiff appealed. ISSUE: Was the judge correct in issuing his “conscious purpose” instruction? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: A negligent failure to make inquiry is sufficient to establish knowledge. “Deliberate ignorance and positive knowledge are equally culpable.” The Penal Code establishes that a “high probability of existence constitutes knowledge. If the meaning of “knowledge” is construed too narrowly, the intended purpose of the statute is defeated. A calculated effort to avoid the sanctions of a statute while violating its substance amounts to a violation of the statute. Conviction AFFIRMED. In the DISSENTING OPINION, Justice Kennedy objects to the “conscious purpose” instruction of a judge on three accounts: 1) There was no mention of the “high probability” test, 2) jury was not alerted that def. could not be convicted if he “actually believed” there were no drugs, and 3) true ignorance is not basis for criminal liability when statute calls for “knowledge.”
Regina v. Prince (Court of Crown Cases 1875) FACTS: Man was convicted of taking unmarried girl under the age of 16 out of possession of her father. Def. claims that girl had told him she was 18 and his belief in her statement was reasonable. ISSUE: Is “mistake” an adequate defense in a case where man has been misinformed as to the age of girl? HOLDING: No. REASONING: The court must decide whether to supply mens rea requirement to the statute. It makes no mention of a defendant’s “belief” in the girl’s age. However, mens rea is irrelevant to this crime. It is wrong to take a “female of such tender years that she is properly called a girl.” D would not be justified if he thought he had consent of the father and thus lacked mens rea. The act was wrong in itself. CONVICT. In his DISSENTING OPINION, Judge Brett points out that there can be no conviction in the absence of criminal mind, or mens rea. A mistake of facts on reasonable grounds may be an excuse. However, if a man possesses the mens rea to commit a crime and in the process inadvertently commits a graver crime, he is liable for the more serious of the two b/c he had some degree of mens rea.
People v. Olsen (Cal. Sup. Ct. 1984) 685 P.2d 52 FACTS: Girl was 13 years and ten months old. She was sleeping in her family’s camper trailer when she was awoken by defendant and her “boyfriend” at the time. Defendant proceeded to have sex with her. Girl claims her boyfriend threatened her with a knife and compelled her to have sex, a charge which boyfriend denies. All parties agree that girl had lied about her age and “looked” over the age of 16. Defendant was charged with “lewd or lascivious conduct with a child under the age of 14. Convicted and now appeals. ISSUE: Is “mistake” an adequate defense for engaging in sexual conduct with a child under age 14? HOLDING: No. REASONING: The violated statute contains a sub-section indicating that violators who “honestly and reasonably believed the victim was 14 or older” should be eligible for probation. Thus, the legislature did not intend for “mistake” to exempt person from the law. Further, the legislature has a history of strong public policy to protect children under 14. AFFIRMED. In CONC/DISS OPINION, Judge Grodin conceded that in the eyes of the legislature, “mistake” is not an adequate excuse. However, he worries about the prospects of enforcing this law as strict liability, especially because it is a charge that carries serious sanctions and social stigma. If the victim look over 14 and the defendant makes reasonable inquiry to confirm victim’s age, harsh sanctions may not be appropriate. Imposition of criminal sanctions for behavior that is in accordance with social expectations cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.
Morissette v. United States (Sup. Ct. 1952) 342 U.S. 246 FACTS: Defendant, a junk dealer, gathered spent bomb castings from Air Force practice ground and sold them at a city junk market. He was convicted of “knowing[ly] converting “government property. Defendant appealed, claiming that he assumed the castings were abandoned and his act lacked criminal intent. ISSUE: Is “mistake” an adequate defense for violating statute against conversion government property? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: Requiring mens rea to crimes establishes deterrence and reformation, as opposed to vengeance, as the motivation for public prosecution. Strict liability is usually imposed only in cases where 1) the defendant was in a position to prevent the damage “with no more care than society might reasonably expect” and 2) the penalties are relatively small. In cases regarding larceny-type offenses, courts have consistently retained the intent requirement. Because of this “unbroken course of judicial decision,” the court hesitates to establish a new, stricter norm out of pure judicial initiative. Judgment REVERSED.
Staples v. United States (Sup. Ct. 1994) 511 U.S. 60 FACTS: Defendant possessed rifle with a metal piece that precluded automatic firing. Apparently, the piece was worn down to the point where the rifle obtained automatic capacity. Defendant was charged and convicted of “possession of an unregistered firearm,” which necessitates possession of automatic weapon. Defendant appealed, claiming that he had never fired the weapon automatically and was not aware of its newly attained capabilities. ISSUE: Is “mistake” and adequate defense for possession of an unregistered firearm? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The rules of common law generally require mens rea for conviction of crimes, though Congress has imposed strict criminal liability for some “public welfare” and “regulatory” offenses. In such situations, courts have held that as long as a defendant knows that he is dealing with a dangerous device, he should be “alerted to the probability of strict regulation.” Thus, the burden is placed on the defendant to ascertain at his peril if he is in violation of the statute. About 50% of American homes contain a firearm and many states allow the sale of a rifle or shotgun as simple transaction. It does not follow that everyone buying a rifle or shotgun should continuously check the instrument to ensure that it has not acquired automatic capabilities. The public welfare offence rationale cannot wipe out the mens rea requirement from statutes defining felony offenses. In CONCURRING OPINION, Justice Ginsburg points out that defendant must be aware that he possesses not only a gun, but a machinegun.
State v. Rusk (MD. Sup. Ct. 1981) FACTS: Two women entered a bar. Defendant greeted one, who returned the greeting by name. Other woman began talking to D, who asked for a ride home. Woman agreed but allegedly offered disclaimer that ride was “only a ride home.” When they arrived at D’s place, two stories diverge. She claims that D made sexual advances, which she categorically refused; D turned off ignition and took her keys; she followed him upstairs and told him she wanted to go home; she begged him to leave and asked if, by conceding to sex, he would release her without killing her; she started to cry and D lightly choked her. According to D and his friends, the two were “snuggling” walking down the street; woman went willingly and consented to sex; she started crying saying that all men were alike; she asked to leave and D walked woman to her car. Defendant was convicted but decision was overturned at Appeals. ISSUE: Did Defendant use force to coerce woman into sex? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: In order to return a conviction, court must find that any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt. According to Hazel, the force employed by the defendant has to have instilled a fear “so extreme as to preclude resistance.” The Appeals Court erred b/c they “trampled upon the first principle of Appellate restraint” by substituting its own view of the evidence. The Appellate opinion expressed that “the way [the Defendant] looked” fails to support the fear required by Hazel. Obviously, the jury disbelieved Rusk and believed the woman’s testimony. The Appellate Court had no basis to overturn this decision. Original CONVICTION AFFIRMED. In DISENTING OPINION, Judge Cole insists there is no factual evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that Husk intended to frighten and immobilize the woman by taking her keys. There is no factual evidence that his conduct gave rise to the woman’s fear. Her fear was not well-founded and was not incapacitating. She should have resisted.
State in the Interest of M.T.S. (NJ Sup. Ct. 1992) FACTS: Seventeen-year-old boy is temporarily residing with family. Boy had been flirting with fifteen-year-old daughter. Enters her room at 1:15 a.m. and girl allows him in, thinking that “he was just going to tease” her. They engage in sexual intercourse and she accuses him of rape. Girl claims that boy penetrated her while she was asleep. Boy claims that they had begun to kiss and grope and sex was consensual. Trial court finds that neither of the teenagers is entirely credible, but it concludes that sex was not consensual. Boy is convicted of second-degree rape and appeals to Appellate Division, where his conviction os reversed. Case no comes before state S.C. ISSUE: Did the defendant fulfill the “force” requirement necessary for a rape conviction? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: New Jersey has sought to move away from the Model Penal Code, which requires more than “a token initial resistance” and toward a clean break in the connection between force and resistance. NJ legislature has essentially removed resistance as a criterion for rape. NJ interprets force as “any unauthorized touching.” Thus, the element of force is built into the act of penetration; “the element of force need [not] be extrinsic to the sexual act.” The only true element for rape, then, is lack of consent. Regarding consent, court finds that “permission of the specific act of sexual penetration…can be indicated either through words or through actions.” Victim had not expressed consent, so Defendant is guilty of rape.
People v. John Z. (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2003) FACTS: Two teens meet at a party. Boy begins to undress her and the two engage in intercourse. She does not say no, but only tells him that she needs to get home. He proceeds, asking for a few more minutes. She starts to cry. Boy walks her to her car and asks to see her again. She accuses him of rape, claiming that she never expressly consented to have sex. ISSUE: Is the boy guilty of rape? HOLDING: Yes REASONING:
Commonwealth v. Sherry (Mass. S.C. 1982) FACTS: Sherry and his two companions were doctors and the victim was a nurse. The defendants held a party and through sequence of many events, the victim ended up at one of the defendant's home. There the defendant's had sexual intercourse with the victim. The defendants were convicted of rape. On appeal, Defendant's argued that the judge neglected to give jury instructions that defendants needed “actual knowledge” of woman’s lack of consent in order to be guilty. ISSUE: Did the defendants need “actual knowledge” of the woman’s lack of consent? HOLDING: No. REASONING: Defendants claimed mistake of fact as a defense b/c it negates criminal intent. However, mistake of fact is only applicable in cases where the act was committed in “reasonable good faith.” Either way, the issue of mistake of fact was never specifically mentioned in the rejected proposed directions. The essence of the offense remains the lack of consent and the conviction is AFFIRMED.
Commonwealth v. Fischer (Penn. SC 1998) FACTS: College freshmen engage in sexual conduct in dorm room. Guy claims they had “rough sex” during which the girl bit him; girl claims they kissed and fondled. Later that day, they met up again in dorm room. Guy claims he tried to initiate oral sex, telling the girl that “no means yes”; girl claims that guy tried to force himself upon her and she escaped only by kneeing him in the groin. She filed for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (IDSI) and guy was convicted. Defendant appealed, claiming negligent counsel and mistake of fact. ISSUE: Are victims entitled to mistake of fact defense? HOLDING: REASONING: The governing case, Williams, established that “when an individual uses force or the threat of force to have sexual relations…without the person’s consent he has committed the crime of rape.” The defendant’s perception of the victim’s state of mind is not relevant. Courts’ instructions regarding defendant’s reasonable belief of consent are proper.
Commonwealth v. Carroll (PA Sup. Ct. 1963) FACTS: Man was in Armed Forces and was stationed in Greenland. His wife and kids move in with his mother, but the arrangement proved incompatible, so he returns to the States to sort things out. By that point he has attained the rank of Chief Warrant Officer and earned a good reputation. Upon his return, his wife fractured her skull aggravating an existing mental condition. She goes crazy and occasionally in fits of sadistic discipline with her kids. One night, after a protracted argument, the man begins thinking about his abused sons, picks up a gun and shoots his wife twice in the back of the head. He claims that he “saw [his] hand move” and heard the shots. He is convicted for first-degree murder, but appeals claiming that the circumstances of the situation coupled with his good reputation should produce no more than a second-degree conviction. ISSUE: Was the man guilty of first-degree murder? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The man claims that there was insufficient time for premeditation, and insists that “a long time is necessary to find premeditation in a good man.” Court finds no merit in his argument. D also submits the testimony of a physician who claims that rage, desperation and panic produced “an automatic reflex type of homicide.” However, D’s own actions testimony after the arrest belie this opinion. Court cites from Commonwealth v. Tyrell: “”[S]ociety would be almost completely unprotected from criminals if the law permitted a blind or irresistible impulse” to justify or downgrade murder.
State v. Guthrie (W.V. Appeals 1995) FACTS: Man was kitchen worker and had history of panic attacks and chronic depression. Co-worker was teasing him and snapped him with a dishtowel, once flipping D on the nose. Aggravated by the towel snaps and the boisterous atmosphere, D became enraged and stabbed his co-worker in the neck. D was convicted of first-degree murder but appealed, claiming that jury instructions regarding premeditation were misleading. The instructions stated that premeditation could be established even if “the intent came into existence for the first time at the time of the killing” and continued to say that “an intent to kill need exist only for an instant.” ISSUE: Were jury instructions misleading? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The instructions neglected to draw a distinction between first and second-degree murder. In order to establish first-degree murder, “there must be some evidence that the defendant considered and weighed his decision to kill.” Decision REVERSED and REMANDED for a new trial.
Girouard v. State (Md. Appeals 1991) FACTS: Husband got into argument with his wife. She taunted him incessantly, claiming that he was a bad lover and reminded her of her dad. She continued her verbal attack until the husband snapped. He took a kitchen knife and stabbed her 19 times. Realizing what he had done, he slit his own wrists, but did not die. He broke down and called the police. Man was convicted of second-degree murder, but appealed, claiming that the verbal taunts were “provocation” enough to mitigate murder to manslaughter. ISSUE: Does verbal attack constitute provocation that should to mitigate murder to manslaughter? HOLDING: No. REASONING: For a provocation to be adequate, it must be “calculated to inflame the passion of a reasonable man and tend to cause him to act for the moment from passion rather than reason.” Courts traditionally considered mutual combat, injury to close relative, infidelity, etc. The court finds that “words alone are not adequate provocation” and ruling for D be to rule for “those who find the easiest way to end a domestic dispute is by killing the offending spouse.”
Maher v. People (MI Sup. Ct. 1862) FACTS: Man was informed by a third party that his wife was having an affair. He followed her as she and her lover entered the woods together. Met up with the man after the adulterous intercourse and shoots him in the ear. The judge did not admit evidence of the adulterous affair and man was convicted of assault with intent to murder. D objected b/c his reason was obscured by passion. If death had resulted and man would have been convicted of manslaughter, then the evidence should have been admissible. ISSUE: Should judge have allowed evidence of affair? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: If death had resulted and man would have been convicted of manslaughter, then the evidence should have been admissible. If the crime was committed under the influence of passion, he should have been convicted of assault and battery. The determination of whether or not the man was under the influence of passion is a matter of fact, which should have been made by the jury. Judge erred by making that determination himself. Case REMANDED for a new trial. In DISSENTING OPINION, judge insists that in order for the issue of provocation to go to jury, the provocation has to have happened in the presence of the person. Since the actual intercourse did not take place before the D, it was immaterial to the case and should not have gone to the jury.
People v. Casassa (NY Appeals 1980) FACTS: D’s girlfriend broke off their relationship. He stalked her and broke into her apartment with a knife, admittedly knowing that he would either kill her or hurt himself. He stabbed her in the neck and killed her. At trial, D waived right to jury and argued the partial excuse of extreme emotional distress to mitigate his sentence down to manslaughter. Judge found him guilty of second-degree murder. D appealed b/c he wasn’t allowed the extreme emotional disturbance defense. ISSUE: Did D’s unstable condition satisfy the “extreme emotional disturbance” defense? HOLDING: No. REASONING: According to NY law, the defense of extreme emotional disturbance is available when it is established that D (1) acted under extreme emotional disturbance, and (2) that emotional disturbance was one with a reasonable explanation or excuse. The Model Penal Code he states that the reasonableness standard of the second prong is determined “from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be.” The trial court properly applied the statute because the judge made an effort to empathize and understand of D’s situation.
Commonwealth v. Welansky (Mass. 1944) FACTS: Welanksky was the owner of a nightclub that had defective wiring, no fire doors, locked emergency exits, and flammable decorations. While trying to fix a lightbulb, one of his employees lit a match and started a fire that resulted in widespread panic. Many people died from smoke inhalation and burns. The trial court convicted Welansky of manslaughter for his reckless disregard of fire safety precautions which resulted in the death of the patrons. ISSUE: Is wanton or reckless disregard of affirmative duty sufficient to support manslaughter conviction? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The essence of wanton or reckless conduct is “intentional conduct, by way of either commission or of omission where there is a duty to act, which conduct involves a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to another." Usually, wanton or reckless conduct consists of an affirmative act. However, where a duty exists and it is recklessly disregarded, the omission can serve as reckless conduct. The standard of wanton or reckless is a higher standard than that of negligence or even of gross negligence. To constitute wanton or reckless conduct, the grave danger to others must have been apparent to the defendant, and he must have chosen to run the risk rather than take adequate precautions. The standard of determining whether the grave danger was apparent is the reasonable man standard. Thus, the defendant could have had no actual awareness of the risk, but is still guilty if the reasonable man would have realized the grave risk. Negligence and gross negligence are a lower standard. Wanton or reckless conduct is legal equivalent of intentional conduct.
State v. Williams (WA Appeals 1971) FACTS: The defendants, husband and wife, were of low education and worked full-time while the husband's mother took care of their infant son. The son contracted an impacted tooth, which became infected, eventually causing gangrene in the baby's jaw and cheek. The baby died from the infection and resultant pneumonia brought about by weakness from poor nutrition after about 2 weeks. The parents did not take the baby to the doctor, first because they thought that the baby had a toothache, and then because they were afraid that the baby would be taken from them because of the neglected look he had due to the infection. The parents continued to give the child asprin until he died, hoping that the swelling would go down. The trial court convicted defendants of manslaughter for negligently failing to supply their son with the necessary medical attention, as a result of which he died. ISSUE: Whether the omission in the presence of a duty to act which constitutes simple negligence is sufficient to support a conviction of manslaughter when the omission results in the death of a person. HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: In Washington, statutes codifying the previous common law deem that manslaughter is supported even if the death of the victim is the proximate result of only simple negligence. Since the reasonable person standard is the standard for simple negligence, it does not matter that the defendant in this case was of below average intelligence or education. He must be held to the higher standard. The defendant had a duty to furnish necessary medical care to the child because he was the child's "guardian and custodian." Based on the medical evidence, it appears that the duty to provide medical care arose in time for the parents to take action. The failure to do so was ordinary negligence sufficient to support a conviction of manslaughter.
People v. Acosta (CA Appeals 1991) FACTS: D was sitting in stolen vehicle when he was approached by cops. He took off and a 48-mile chase ensued. Two helicopters were dispatched to keep tabs on D. Helicopters crashed. Though it was established that the pilots were negligent, D was charged with second- degree murder for creating the situation that took their lives. ISSUE: Did D cause the deaths of three pilots? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The threshold question in examining causation is whether D’s act was an “actual cause” of the victim’s injury. The standard should exclude “extraordinary results.” Judges should discard D’s state of mind and consider whether the objective conditions present could have reasonably resulted in the harm. In this case, the result was not highly extraordinary. Given the emotional dynamics of any police pursuit, there is an “appreciable probability that one of the pursuers in the heat of the chase may act negligently or recklessly.” In DISSENTING OPINION, Judge insists that the intervening negligent conduct and the resulting harm were unforeseeable. Blame should not be assigned to D, who represented a threat to people on the street, but not those in the air. The pilots were not in the “zone of danger” created by D.
People v. Arzon (NY 1978) FACTS: D set fire to a couch that consumed the fifth floor of a building. Firefighters were dispatched. One was trapped in the building by the combination of the thick smoke of an unrelated fire on the second floor and the smoke from the fire set by D. Fireman died. D was convicted of second-degree murder. ISSUE: Did D cause the death of the fireman? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: An obscure or merely probable connection between D’s conduct and another person’s death is not enough to convict for homicide. However, in this case it was foreseeable that firemen would respond to the situation and expose themselves to life-threatening danger. “The fire set by the D was an indispensable link in the chain of events that resulted in the death. Motion to dismiss denied.
People v. Warner-Lambert Co. (NY 1980) FACTS: D’s were officers of chewing gum factory. There were chemicals in the factory that were not compatible. Chemicals combined and caused explosion in the factory, resulting in several deaths. ISSUE: Did D’s cause deaths of factory workers? HOLDING: No. REASONING: There can be no sweeping theory of culpability under our criminal. “The defendants’ actions must be a sufficiently direct cause of the ensuing death before there can be any imposition of criminal liability.” The standard for tort liability is not as high.
People v. Campbell (MI Appeals 1983) FACTS: D was drinking with decedent. D was upset that decedent had slept with his wife and suggested that decedent kill himself. D offered to sell him a gun. He gave his loaded gun to decedent and left the premises. Decedent shot himself. D was convicted of murder. ISSUE: Did D cause his friend’s death by providing him with a gun? HOLDING: No. REASONING: D had no intention to kill. He provided the weapon and departed. He hoped that his friend would kill himself, but “hope alone is not the degree of intention requisite to a charge of murder.” D’s conduct is morally reprehensible, but does not subject him to criminal liability.
People v. Kevorkian (MI 1994) FACTS: D constructed suicide machine and hooked two elderly women up to it. The women themselves asked for assistance and pulled the lever out of their own volition. D was indicted on two counts of murder. ISSUE: Did D cause the death of the two elderly women? HOLDING: No. REASONING: To convict D of murder, it must be established that the death occurred as a “direct and natural result” of D’s action. In State v. Sexon, where a man held the gun to his wife’s head and she pulled the trigger, the court made a distinction between 1) providing the means for a person to kill herself and 2) assuming active participation in the death of another. This court remand this case to determine which category this fact pattern falls under. In DISSENTING OPINION, Judge Boyle disagree’s with the dichotomy established in Sexton. He insists that one who provides the means for another to commit suicide should be subject to criminal liability.
Stephenson v. State (IN 1932) FACTS: D abducted a woman and subjected her to various forms of sexual perversions. The woman secretly bought poison tablets and killed herself. D was convicted of second-degree murder. ISSUE: Did D cause the death of the woman he abducted? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: D was in control of the woman until she reached her home and was thus responsible for her actions. At the very moment that the woman took the poison tablets, she was subject to the passion, desire and will of the appellant. To say there is no causal connection between the acts of the appellant and the woman’s death would be “a travesty on justice.”
Commonwealth v. Root (PA 1961) FACTS: The decedent challenged D to a drag race and D accepted. During the race, D was ahead when the decedent tried to pass D’s automobile and crashed head-on with a truck. D was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. ISSUE: Did D cause the death of the other drag racer? HOLDING: No. REASONING: The idea of proximate cause was borrowed from tort laws and initially connoted a much more direct causal relation than it does today. The gradual extension of this concept is wrong. Here, the action of the decedent driver was not forced upon him by any act of the defendant. The deceased was aware of the dangerous conditions surrounding drag races and brought about his own demise. In DISSENTING OPINION, Judge Eagan insists that the victim’s actions were “a natural reaction to the stimulus of the situation.” The victim’s response was normal under the circumstances. D’s recklessness was a “substantial factor” in creating the situation and should be subject to criminal liability.
State v. McFadden (IO 1982) FACTS: Two men engaged in a drag race. One of the racers lost control and crashed with an oncoming car, killing a six-year old passenger. The other driver was charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in creating the dangerous situation. ISSUE: Did D cause the death of the six-year old killed by the other driver’s car? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The proximate cause instructions used in civil cases are sometimes appropriate for criminal trials. “Proximate cause is based on the concept of foreseeability.” We believe that the foreseeability requirement coupled with the requirement of recklessness…will prevent the possibility of harsh or unjust results in involuntary manslaughter cases. Conviction AFFIRMED.
Commonwealth v. Atencio (MA 1963) FACTS: A group of people were drinking wine when the conversation turned to Russian roulette. The group began playing and the third participant shot and killed himself. D was convicted of manslaughter. ISSUE: Did D cause the death of his friend who shot himself while playing Russian roulette? HOLDING: Yes. REASONING: The entire game of Russian roulette can be seen as one protracted act. “There could be found to be mutual encouragement in a joint enterprise.” While D’s had no duty to prevent the deceased from playing, they did have a duty not to cooperate or join him in the game. D’s are subject to liability even of they did not force deceased to play or suggest that he play.
US v. Oviedo FACTS: Undercover agent contacted D to purchase one pound of heroin. D met the agent and transferred the heroin. D asked for his money, and the agent stated he would have to test the substance first. D was then arrested. A later test proved the substance was not heroin, but a legal product. ISSUE: Was D guilty of attempt to distribute heroin even though there was no heroin? HOLDING: No. REASONING: To establish criminal attempt, D’s acts (regardless of mens rea) mark his conduct as criminal. Oviedo told the agent that the substance was heroin, and portions of the substance were concealed in the TV. Until there was the actual delivery of the heroin, or rather the presence of heroin, criminal attempt could not result. Acts by Oviedo apart from evidence of his intent do not mark his conduct as criminal in nature.
FACTS: ISSUE: HOLDING: REASONING: http://www.lectlaw.com/files/lws50.htm