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FSU CJL 4110 - Chapter Four: Actus Reus

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CJL4110 Quiz 2 Study GuideChapter Four: Actus ReusWhat is Actus Reus? (Introduction)• Actus Reus is the criminal act (or failure to act) required for a crime to occur.• This must be paired with mens rea, which is criminal intent.• Both of these things must be proved in court beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction to be handed down.• Actus reus involves three components:o A voluntary act (or failure to act), o That causes,o A social harm condemned under a criminal statute• Attendant circumstances, the conditions or context required for a crime, must be considered when determining whether an act is criminal or innocent.• For certain crimes, known as result crimes, to be committed, the defendant’s act must be the actual cause of a resulting harm.Criminal Acts• Crimes punish acts, not simply thoughts or intents.• Punishing thoughts or intents would be incredibly difficult (virtually impossible) and would involve an unacceptable invasion of privacy.• Acts that are punished create a social harm or imminent threat of social harm and are punished proportionately to that harm or threat of harm.• For an act to be criminal it must be voluntary.A Voluntary Criminal Act• Voluntary Act: A conscious choice by an individual to commit or not commit an act.• The requirement of a voluntary act is based on the belied that it would be fundamentally unfair to punish individuals who do not consciously choose to engage in criminal activity and who therefore cannot be considered morally blameworthy.• There is no need to deter, incapacitate, or rehabilitate individuals who involuntarily engage in criminal activity.• Involuntary Act: unconscious act or automatism.Model Penal Code• The model penal code defines the requirement of voluntary act as follows:o A person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is based on conduct that includes a voluntary act or the omission to perform an act of which he is physically capable.o The following are not voluntary acts within the meaning of this section: A reflex or convulsion A bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep Conduct during hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion A bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual.Status Offenses• The U.S. Supreme Court has held that laws punishing a status, such as being a drug addict, are cruel and unusual (Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments) and thus unconstitutional.• Robinson v. California: Robinson was arrested under a statute that stated that it was a misdemeanor to use narcotics or be addicted to narcotics. Verdict based on Robinson’s status as a narcotic addict rather than for the act of using narcotics or other illegal acts. SC reversed the verdict condemning the fact that Robinson would be continuously guilty whether or not he ever used or possessed drugs within the state and whether or not he has guilty of any antisocial behavior.• Powell v. Texas: Powell was arrested for being intoxicated in a public place. Texas law was aimed at preventing the disruptive behavior accompanying public drunkenness. Powell claimed that it was cruel and unusual punishment to arrest him for his status as a chronic alcoholic. SC rejected the argument because he was arrested for his public behavior that posed danger and not for being a chronic alcoholic.Omissions• According to the Model Penal Code, an act must consist of a “voluntary act or omission to perform an act of which [an individual] is physically capable.”• An omission is a failure to act or a “negative act.”The American and European Bystander Rules• According to the so-called American bystander rule, individuals do not have a legal obligation to assist bystanders (regardless of a potential moral judgment) without a special relationship or responsibility. • The European bystander rule obligates people to intervene.• Parents must reasonably help young children and police officers must reasonably assist someone in danger, as must EMTs and firefighters. • Reasons for the American bystander rule:o Individuals intervening may be placed in jeopardy.o Bystanders may misperceive a situation, unnecessarily interfere, and create needless complications.o Individuals may lack physical capacity and expertise to subdue an assailant or to rescue a hostage and place themselves in danger. This is the role of criminal justice professionals.o The circumstances under which individuals should intervene and the acts required to satisfy the obligation to assist anther would be difficult to clearly define.o Criminal prosecutions for a failure to intervene would burden the criminal justice system.o Individuals in a capitalist society are responsible for their own welfare and should not expect assistance from others.o Most people will assist others out of a sense of moral responsibility, and there is no need for the law to require intervention.• The person in question created the peril in the first place. The individual has a duty to direct and care for those under his or her supervision or command (employees or military members)o Someone is on the land of a property owner• Additionally, if one of the above relationships exist, to be convicted of a crime of omission, the prosecution must prove that the defendant possessed knowledge of the peril, acted with required intent (to not intervene), and that the defendant’s failure to act caused the harm in question.• Some states have passed variations of Good Samaritan laws, which require individuals to provide reasonable medical assistance with the assurance that such individuals will be safe from civil liability, given that they do not act in a grossly negligent manner.Duty to Intervene• Individuals must take reasonable actions to assist someone else if: o There is a status: individuals possess and obligation to assist their child, spouse, or employee. o There is a duty to intervene: imposes a duty to care. (i.e. doctors required to report suspected child abuse) o There is a contractual obligation: obligation created by an agreement. (babysitter)o There was an assumption of duty: an individual who voluntarily intervenes to assist another is charged with a duty to care. (voluntarily driving home an inebriated friend)o There is a creation of peril: an individual who intentionally or negligently places another in danger has a duty to rescue.o There is control: an individual has a


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