Thursday, April 12, 2012

Commonwealth v Olshefski case brief - Malum prohibitum

Commonwealth v Olshefski
Penn. D. Ct. 1948
Relevant Facts: D's driver, loaded D’s truck with coal, which weighed in at 15,200lbs. The legal limit was 15,750.  The driver deposited the truck and weigh slip at the home of the D.  The D drove the truck to deliver the coal, however he was stopped by the police and again weighed.  This weigh slip showed 16,015, (265 lbs over).  He was cited for the violation.
Legal Issue(s): Does mala prohibita crime require the mental element to constitute a crime?

Court’s Holding
: No.

Procedure
: D waived a hearing and appeared.  Judgment against the D.

Law or Rule(s)
: If a law does not violate the constitution, and has been duly enacted by legislative decree, it is mala prohibita to violate it.

Court Rationale
: In statutory crimes which are mala prohibita the mental element is not necessary for the commission of the crime, and a person caught in violation of that enactment is guilty irrespective of his intent or belief.  The df drove the truck, which was determined to be overweight by a state officer, in violation of the statute defining said conduct.

Plaintiff’s Argument
: The truck was overweight directly contrary to the law and the df drove that very truck.

Defendant’s Argument
: D did not intend to violate the law, but attempted to avail himself to it.

From Wikipedia.org:
Malum prohibitum (plural mala prohibita, literal translation: "wrong [as or because] prohibited") is a Latin phrase used in Law to refer to conduct that constitutes an unlawful act only by virtue of statute, as opposed to conduct evil in and of itself, or malum in se. Conduct that was is clearly violative of society's standards for allowable conduct that it is illegal under English common law is usually regarded as "malum in se". An offense that is malum prohibitum may not appear on the face to directly violate moral standards. The distinction between these two cases is discussed in State of Washington v. Thaddius X. Anderson:

Criminal offenses can be broken down into two general categories malum in se and malum prohibitum. The distinction between malum in se and malum prohibitum offenses is best characterized as follows: a malum in se offense is "naturally evil as adjudged by the sense of a civilized community," whereas a malum prohibitum offense is wrong only because a statute makes it so. State v. Horton, 139 N.C. 588, 51 S.E. 945, 946 (1905).
"Public welfare offenses" are a subset of malum prohibitum offenses as they are typically regulatory in nature and often "'result in no direct or immediate injury to person or property but merely create the danger or probability of it which the law seeks to minimize.'" Bash, 130 Wn.2d at 607 (quoting Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 255-56, 72 S. Ct. 240, 96 L. Ed. 288 (1952)); see also State v. Carty, 27 Wn. App. 715, 717, 620 P.2d 137 (1980).

Some examples of mala prohibita include parking violations, copyright violations, tax laws, cultural taboos, and doing certain things without a license.

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