Introduction and basic concepts



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V.Mistake of Fact





    1. MPC §2.04

      1. (1) – Ignorance or mistake of face is a defense if it negatives the mens rea, or if the law provides such

      2. (2) – not an available defense if  would be guilty of another offense anyway, but it may reduce the grade and degree of offense

Think of “assaulting a police officer” whom you  though was just a regular guy.


    1. Cases

      1. Regina v. Prince:  broke the law by taking a 14 year old girl from her house, against her father’s will. She said she was of age and he said he believed her. He was still convicted because he should have taken efforts to discover her age. Judge said he was committing a wrong act anyway (wrong to take girl away from parents w/o permission, despite her age).Note also, MPC §213.6 strict liability as to age below 10 in sex offenses – preponderance of evidence the  reasonably believed her to be older when victim is above 10.

      2. US v. Staples: ’s conviction for having unregistered fully automatic machine guns was overturned because he reasonably didn’t know they fired automatically. Guns are not an unusual product or bad in themselves.

      3. US v. Freed:  was convicted for possessing unregistered hand grenades. He said he though they were registered, but the court said this was an unreasonable mistake; he should have taken steps to discover. Hand grenades are different than firearms (Congress treats them specially).



VI.Voluntary Act Doctrine – Actus reus





    1. Act must be a voluntary act in order to be punished

    2. § MPC 2.01

      1. (1) person not guilty of offense unless liabilyt is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act or omission

      2. (2) Things that are not voluntary acts: (a) reflex or convulsion; (b) bodily movement during sleep; (c) conduct under hypnosis; (d) bodily movement that is not a product of effort or determination of actor, either conscious or habitual

      3. (3) Omission only establishes liability if (a) expressly made sufficient by law; or (b) a duty to perform act is imposed by law

      4. (4) possession is an act, if knowingly procured or received something, or was aware of it long enough to have been able to terminate possession

    3. Do we need this doctrine to protect the unintentional possessor of contraband

    4. Cases:

      1. Martin v. State – drunk man taken onto a public highway by police then charged with public drunkenness. Acquitted on appeal, because his appearance in public was nto voluntary

      2. People v. Newton – charged with murdering a police officer, convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Claimed he was no conscious at the time of act (had been shot in the stomach and was acting on impulse). Appeals court ruled that refusal of jury instruction was prejudicial error.



VII.Strict Liability


    1. Seems contrary to mens rea requirements of §2.02 – no requirement of intent to commit an act.

    2. MPC § 2.05 is an exception:

      1. 2.05(1)(a) -- Any offense designated as a violation does not have to conform with the culpability requirements of Secs. 2.01 and 2.02, although the legislature certainly could impose those culpability requirements

      2. 2.05(1)(b) -- Non-MPC offenses do not have to conform to the culpability requirements of Secs. 2.01 and 2.02 if the legislature makes it clear that it intentionally ios dispensing with those requirements (i.e. providing for strict liability).

      3. 2.05(2)(a) -- Any non-code offense which dispenses with the 2.01 and 2.02 culpability requirements must be treated as merely a "violation" (see Sec. 1.04(5)) unless some "subsequent statute" provides otherwise. (I take this to mean 'subsequent" to the date of the state's adoption of the MPC.

      4. Sec. 205(2)(b)-- if the prosecution chooses to and does prove sec. 2.02-type culpability with respect to a non-MPC strict liability offense, then the D can be punished in the manner appropriate for an offense of that level as provided in Sec 1.04




    1. Violations like these include minor regulatory legislation that has important social ends, usually they have slight penalties and not a lot of stigmatization.

    2. Cases: (relect judicial hostility to strict liability)

      1. Morisette v. U.S.

        1. Conviction of junk dealer who picked up spent bomb casings at air forced range, flattened and sold for scrap metal. Crime was “knowingly converting gov’t property.” Court asserts need for knowledge that property was not abandoned.

        2. Justice Jackson’s dicta on the idea of public welfare offense:

          1. reasons given: heightened dangers meand heightened duties. Minimize danger or probability of danger, accused is usually in a position to prevent violation (seems to cross over into negligence).

          2. Definition of offense is unclear, but the purpose appears to be the public good.

          3. Are the punishments so trivial that it doesn’t matter, or are the crimes serious threats to population that we can eliminate mens rea? [seems to be a bit of both]




      1. U.S. v. Dotterweich – CEO if drug company convicted (corporation acquitted) of sending out drugs that were mislabeled (even though mislabeling was fault of manufacturers). Said Food and Drug Act did not require mens rea – “burden of acting at hazard upon a person otherwise innocent but standing in respoinsible realtion to a public danger.” Places the balance of hardship upon those who at least have opportunity of informing themselves of conditions

      2. State v. Baker -  convicted of speeding when his cruise control would not shut off.  a claims that the act of speeding was involuntary – does strict liability distinguish between voluntary and involuntary acts? Court says that defendant should voluntary started the cruise control.

Jacobs would not differentiate between voluntary and involuntary acts for strict liability


    1. Vicarious liability cases:

      1. State v. Guminga  Restaurant owner can’t be convicted for waitress’s failure to ID under age drinker (who was there with 2 cops as part of a sting). Court holds that statute violates substantive due process, and only civil penalties would be appropriate. Fines and license reoked don’t carry with them the same future ramifications

        1. Question: Can you hold employer liable for employees’ actions?

It’s like “Double strict liability.” This is a serious threat, and we need people to be extra careful. Idea that somebody needs to be punished. It does not distinguish between people who take precautions and those who do not.

      1. State v. Beaudry – upholds conviction of owners who weren’t there when employee sold liquor while they were not there and when he opened restaurant after business hours. “Disturbance of the force.”

      2. State v. Akers – parents are not held liable for kid driving off road vehicle on highway. Should we hold parents liable for negligence and bad parenting? Is this a box we want to open? 2.2 million people in jail (more than populations of VT, WY, and AK). Should we expand criminal penalties?



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