Powered by TypePad

« August 2014 | Main | October 2014 »

September 29, 2014

For your review and enjoyment... my (too long) 2013 Crim Law mid-term

In an effort to make up for messing up in Monday's class, I will post now the mid-term exam I gave students in this class in Fall 2013.  I think the exam was way too long and probably too hard, but that is my (problematic) tendency with most of the exams I write.  So, with that warning:

Download Berman full mid-term for 2013 crim law


September 29, 2014 in Preparing for the final | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clarifying my mistake(s) about Rhode Island laws

So today's class proved I should stick to focusing on Ohio and Oliwood (MPC) laws, because clearly I am out of my element when I suggest I know about Rhode Island law.  I wrongly asserted that Rhode Island had not changed its law since it was interpreted in Lima, but the text of the statute (and a little post class research) proved I was flat-out wrong. 

Here is the complete and correct story via a subsequent Rhode Island ruling, State v. Sivo, 925 A.2d 901 (R.I. 2007):

In Lima, the defendant was convicted of first-degree child abuse for lowering a small child into a bathtub of scalding water, causing him to suffer permanent disfigurement or disability....  Because the child abuse statute in place at the time was entirely devoid of words of intent, we adopted a standard similar to that set forth in the Model Penal Code (MPC), requiring that “[w]hen the culpability sufficient to establish a material element of an offense is not prescribed by law, such element is established if a person acts purposely, knowingly or recklessly with respect thereto.” Lima, 546 A.2d at 772 (quoting Model Penal Code, § 2.02(3) at 226 (A.L.I. 1985))....

In the years after Lima, the General Assembly enacted numerous amendments to the first-degree child abuse statute.  What is most significant to the instant litigation is that, in 1995, the General Assembly added words of intent, prescribing punishment only for those individuals who “knowingly or intentionally” inflict a serious bodily injury upon a child.  These statutory words of intent effectively superseded the MPC-inspired words of intent we adopted in Lima..... [O]ur concern in Lima was the possibility that the jury convicted the defendant without finding that she had acted with a mens rea.

Id. at 913-14.  My sincere apologies for messing this up so badly in class today, and thanks to you all (especially Jason) for making sure I now got this right.

September 29, 2014 in Class reflections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2014

How about having the mid-term sometime on Friday, October 17?

I would be able/eager to offer the mid-term on either the morning or afternoon of October 17, and the class that day would have an extra focus on the exam (either as prep or as immediate review).

In addition to urging folks to weigh in on that particular date, if it sounds to you like a good date please also in the comments indicate whether you would prefer the exam to be in the morning or afternoon. 

September 25, 2014 in Course materials and schedule, Preparing for the final | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 19, 2014

Handout #2 with mens rea exercises

With apologies for not having enough copies in class, I can now provide below for download an electronic copy of the mens rea handout that I passed around on Friday.

Download 2014 Handout #2

We will discus the exercises in this handout in class on Monday and Wednesday.

September 19, 2014 in Course materials and schedule | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2014

Statistical support for the need to use criminal law to reduce rain-related traffic accidents

Because I surmised too little support for my proposed driving-in-the-rain criminal liability statute, I thought it would be useful to highlight some key statistics drawn from this webpage of the U.S. Department of Transportation (with my emphasis added):  

On average, there are over 5,870,000 vehicle crashes each year.  Twenty-three percent (23%) of these crashes — nearly 1,312,000 — are weather-related.  Weather-related crashes are defined as those crashes that occur in adverse weather (i.e., rain, sleet, snow, fog, severe crosswinds, or blowing snow/sand/debris) or on slick pavement (i.e., wet pavement, snowy/slushy pavement, or icy pavement).  On average, 6,250 people are killed and over 480,000 people are injured in weather-related crashes each year.

The vast majority of most weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement and during rainfall: Seventy-four percent (74%) on wet pavement and forty-six percent (46%) during rainfall.  A much smaller percentage of weather-related crashes occur during winter conditions: Seventeen percent (17%) of during snow or sleet, twelve percent (12%) occur on icy pavement and fourteen percent (14%) of weather-related crashes take place on snowy or slushy pavement.  Only three percent (3%) happen in the presence of fog.

I realize that my proposed driving-in-the-rain criminal law will not prevent most weather-related crashes (just like I know that existing drunk driving and texting-while-driving criminal laws do not prevent lots of other crashes). But if this proposed new criminal law just reduced the number of weather-related crashes by even just 10%, it would likely save dozen of innocent lives and reduce by hundreds the number of Oliwood citizens injured on the roadways each year.

If you remain disinclined to support my proposed driving-in-the-rain criminal liability statute — which, to be clear, does not call for punishing people for driving in the rain, but only for crashing in the rain — I hope you will be able to explain in some detail why you do not share my interest in using the criminal law this way to help achieving an important public safety mission.

September 17, 2014 in Class reflections, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

High-profile cases in which nuances of mens rea make all the difference

As we get back into action this week, we will be transitioning away from our relatively brief discussions of rare and unusual cases in which the act requirement (also called actus reus) is at issue.  We will move to relatively lengthy discussions of common and usual cases in which the act requirement is indisputably satisfied but criminal charges and guilt turn on an actor's mental state (also called culpability or mens rea).  

Examples of such cases are in the news every day, and sports fans should realize that the fate and future of two high-profile sports stars will turn on mens rea determinations.  There is, I believe, no dispute that NFL running back Adrian Peterson engaged in the act of whipping his son.  Likewise, there is no dispute that renown racecar driver Tony Stewart caused the death of another driver.  At issue in both cases for the applicability of the criminal law is these stars' mental states when committing these acts.

In order to test your developing legal research skills, I encourage everyone to try to find the applicable criminal statutes in Texas (for Peterson) and in New York (for Stewart) that set forth the mens rea that a prosecutor will need to prove for a criminal conviction in these cases.  (As an incentive, for the rest of September I will not call on whomever is first to identify and provide a link to the applicable state statutes in these high-profile cases.) 

September 17, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 14, 2014

While I am away, on Monday go lunch event in Saxbe at 12noon

Especially since I know you have finished all your Crim Law reading for the coming week, you should make sure to go to this big event on Monday in Saxbe Auditorium (even if you have not registered!):

Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, the topic of race relations remains at the forefront of our cultural conversation. From debates over affirmative action to the recent events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s as crucial as ever to discuss what the Civil Rights Act meant in 1964 — and what it means today.

On September 15, from 12-1:30 p.m., a panel of experts will address the history, legacy, and future of the Civil Rights Act — including the challenges that lie ahead in achieving its promise of racial equality. Panelists include:

Martha Chamallas, Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law at Moritz. Chamallas is a leading scholar in employment discrimination law and legal issues affecting women.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries, an Associate Professor of History at Ohio State. Jeffries specializes in 20th century African American history and has an expertise in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

Molly J. Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (invited). Moran is leading the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on an acting basis, and recently traveled to Ferguson, MO with Attorney General Eric Holder.

Carter Stewart, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Ohio. Stewart was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in 2009.

Lunch will be provided to those who register.  A reception will be held in Lou's Cafe following the event.

September 14, 2014 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 4, 2014

An interesting real indictment in a sad high-profile (omission?) homicide case

Though probably not of central concern to our in-class discussions until we reach the homicide materials next month, I could not resist posting via this link here an indictment issued today in Georgia v. Justin Ross Harris, No. 143124 (Cobb Superior Court, Georgia).  This CNN report, headlined "Dad indicted on murder charges in son's hot car death," provides these details about this high-profile case:

Whether the prosecution will seek the death penalty in Justin Ross Harris hot-car death case will be decided in two to three weeks, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said Thursday. Reynolds' statement came hours after the Georgia father was indicted by a grand jury on eight counts, including malice murder and two counts of felony murder.

"We're pleased with the pace and thoroughness of this investigation, which continues on today," Reynolds said. "The evidence in this case has led us to this point today. Whether it leads us to anyone else remains to be answered."

The next step will be to put Harris' case on Superior Court Judge Mary Staley's arraignment calendar, which should happen within three weeks, the prosecutor said. Motions will then be filed before the case goes to a trial calendar. Reynolds declined to take questions or comment further, saying, "This case will be tried in a court of law," and not in the media.

If Reynolds seeks the death penalty, it will be for the malice murder charge, which alleges that Harris, who has claimed his son's death was an accident, premeditated the child's killing....

The other five charges are: first-degree cruelty to children, second-degree cruelty to children, criminal attempt to commit a felony (sexual exploitation of a minor) and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.

According to the indictment, the grand jury found that on June 18, Harris "did unlawfully, and with malice aforethought, cause the death of Cooper Harris ... by placing said Cooper Harris into a child car seat and leaving him alone in a hot motor vehicle."

The two felony murder charges allege that Harris killed his 22-month-old son while committing the felonies of first- and second-degree cruelty to children. One count states he killed Cooper "maliciously," while the other felony murder count says Harris killed him "with criminal negligence."

Harris faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted on any of the murder charges. By leaving Cooper in the car, Harris caused the boy "cruel and excessive physical pain," the cruelty to children charges allege.

The criminal attempt to commit a felony and dissemination of harmful materials charges are not related directly to Cooper's death. They involve allegations that Harris requested a nude photo of a minor's genitalia and sent the same minor descriptions of "sexual excitement and sexual conduct," according to the indictment.

A Cobb County detective testified at an earlier probable cause hearing that while Cooper was in the car at his father's workplace, Harris was sexting with numerous women and sent one of them, who was underage, a photo of his erect penis....

Harris pleaded not guilty to murder and child cruelty charges in June. Cobb County Chief Magistrate Frank Cox signed off on the charges, stating Harris would've had to notice that "the stench in the car was overwhelming" when he got in it as he left work and "drove it for some instance" before stopping to check on the boy. Charges filed in an indictment supersede the previous charges. Harris has been held without bond since Cooper's death this summer.

Authorities have painted Harris as a terrible father who, after admittedly looking up online how hot a car needed to be to kill a child, purposely strapped his son into his sweltering SUV to die. His motivation? The prosecutor has characterized Harris as an unfaithful husband who wanted a childless life.

[Harris' attorney, H. Maddox] Kilgore has argued his client tragically forgot his child in the car. Friends described Harris as a doting dad, not a malicious one, who loved to show off his blond, bright-eyed boy and talked about him incessantly.

September 4, 2014 in Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 3, 2014

Details/follow-up on some of the real cases discussed in class today...

via links from my Sentencing Law & Policy Blog:




I would be eager to discuss any of these sentencing issues with anyone at any time, via comments here or during happy hour or anywhere else we can find the time/place. 

September 3, 2014 in Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 1, 2014

Women, opioids, and Ohio problems with (hidden?) punishment theory at issue

With luck, our class discussion last week of recent Supreme Court cases and AG Eric Holder's speeches provided everyone with perspectives on how punishment theories, both expressly and implicitly, play a role in constitutional jurisprudence and national criminal justice policy conversations.  This weekend, I noticed this recent Toledo Blade editorial, headlined "Women in prison: A big increase in female inmates should prompt changes in how Ohio’s courts deal with addiction," which provides a more localize discussion of some recent criminal justice developments and concerns that implicate punishment theories in various ways.  

I encourage everyone to read the Blade editorial in full to see how, expressly and implicitly, one prominent paper is incorporating punishment theory into its call for reforms focused on a particular demographic.  Here is an excerpt from the editorial (which perhaps can stimulate some discussion of punishment theory or the fairness of a gendered call for reform in the comments):

A stunning rise in the number of women entering Ohio prisons should encourage elected officials to seek better ways of managing the state’s $1.5-billion-a-year prison system.

Driven largely by a growing number of drug-addicted offenders from rural counties, Ohio prisons now hold nearly 4,200 women.  From 2012 to 2013, the number of women coming to state prisons increased by 11 percent, from 2,580 to 2,854 ....  Ohio’s opioid and heroin epidemic is largely to blame for the increase, as more low-level female drug offenders are sent to prison. “That population is very much nonviolent and drug-addicted, often with male co-defendants leading the case,” state prisons Director Gary Mohr said recently.

At the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, which holds more than 2,600 prisoners, the top three offenses for women entering the prison are drug possession, theft, and trafficking, said public information officer Elizabeth Wright.  Moreover, the statewide share of women prisoners coming from rural counties — those with fewer than 100,000 residents — has nearly doubled in the past decade.  Altogether, Ohio’s 28 prisons hold more than 50,000 inmates.

In an interview with The Blade’s editorial page, a 28-year-old drug offender from Hardin County (population 32,000) said heroin and illicit prescription painkillers are easy to get in her rural community.  As with most other opioid addicts in Ohio, she started using prescription painkillers — in her case, Percocet.  She eventually graduated to heroin because of its lower cost and availability.   “The pills swept me off my feet,” she said at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. “It got to the point where I couldn’t even get out of bed without using a pill. I went straight from Percocet to heroin. Everyone was saying: ‘Why don’t you just do heroin? It’s so much cheaper.’”

Mr. Mohr has prudently called for diverting more low-level drug offenders from prison to community-based treatment programs.  To do that, Ohio will need more adult drug courts. Most counties, including Lucas County, still don’t have a drug court.  The state also needs more community programs to serve as effective alternatives to incarceration.

Ohio’s prosecutors and judges also must get better educated on addiction.  Too many of them still don’t understand that chemical addiction is a compulsive disease, not a moral choice. “A big part of the problem is that a number of people, including judges and prosecutors, see addiction as a state in which people have more control than they actually have,” Orman Hall, the director of Gov. John Kasich’s Opiate Action Team, told The Blade’s editorial page. “Opioid and heroin addiction is a compulsive disorder. In the early stages, people have very little ability not to relapse.”

September 1, 2014 in Crime data, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack