Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Strict Liability Criminal Law Outline

Strict Liability Outline for Criminal Law
Strict Liability Doctrine 
A rule of criminal responsibility that authorizes the conviction of a morally innocent person for violation of an offense, even though the crime, by definition, requires proof of a mens rea.

  • example: A person who is ignorant of, or who misunderstands the meaning of, a criminal law may be punished for violating it, even if her ignorance or mistake of law was reasonable.
Strict Liability Offense
Crimes that do not contain a mens rea requirement regarding one or more elements of the actus reus.
When will a court interpret a statute to be one of strict liability?

  1. The statutory crime does not come from common law.
  2. There is an evident legislative policy that would be undermined by a mens rea requirement.
  3. The standard imposed by the statute is “reasonable and adherence thereto properly expected of a person.”
  4. The penalty for violation of the statute is small.
  5. “The conviction does not gravely besmirch.” (damage the reputation of another)
“Public welfare" offensesConduct that is wrong because it is prohibited.

Public welfare offenses are not derived from common law.

  1. A single violation of such an offense can simultaneously injure a great number of people (legislature’s desire to disregard questions of personal moral guilt in favor of “sense of the importance of collective interests.)
  2. The standard imposed by the statute is reasonable. “don’t sell alcohol to minors.”
  3. The penalty is minor, sometimes only a fine.
  4. The conviction rarely damages the reputation of the violator.
Non-Public Welfare Offenses (Statutory Rape)

  • They do not require proof that Def. possessed a mens rea regarding the material element of the offense.
  • Statutory rape = strict liability because: The statute does not require, and most courts have refused to imply, any mens rea element regarding the Def.’s knowledge of the female’s underage status. 
Differ from public welfare counterparts in two regards.

  1. Non-public welfare strict-liability offenses often result in severe punishment.
  2. Non-public welfare offenses typically involve conduct malum in se (evil in itself) - violators are stigmatized despite absence of proven moral fault. 
Justifications for Strict Liability

1.  Retributive: 

  • One who does not choose to cause social harm, and who is not otherwise morally to blame for its commission, does not deserve to be punished.
2.  Utilitarian:

  • Absence of mens rea requirement may have the desirable effect of keeping people who doubt their capacity to act safely from participating in dangerous activities. 
  • Those who choose to partake in the risky activity will act with greater caution in light of the strict liability nature of the law.
  • An inquiry into the actors’ mens rea “would exhaust courts.”
see also: Strict Liability Criminal Law Definition

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