Underlying principles of criminal liability Intro & Actus Reus
Lesson Objectives • I will be able to distinguish between the criminal process and the criminal law • I will be able to explain what is meant by criminal evidence and criminal procedure • I will understand how the exam paper will be structured in the summer exam • I will be able to identify the actus reus of a crime • I will understand how the law deals with involuntary acts • I will be able to describe how a person can be criminally liable for an omission
Criminal Law • Criminal law is concerned with the liability of an individual for wrongdoing against another individual, society and/or the State. • Not all wrongdoing is a crime, and some people consider that some crimes do not involve wrongdoing.
• Society, through its lawmakers, has to decide what forms and types of conduct are to be criminal. • Some forms of conduct (murder) have always been considered criminal. Other forms were criminal in the past but are no longer criminal (homosexual acts between consenting adults) • Some activities have been made criminal, such as possession of certain drugs. Some crimes have come into being to cover new situations, such as computer misuse
• The starting point for any criminal conviction is the criminal law. Crimes are either defined in an Act of Parliament (statute) or by reference to decided cases (case law) – this requires statutory interpretation and precedent • The defendant’s behaviour must match the definition of the crime for him to be guilty. The definition of the crime usually has two parts to it: the actus reus (guilty act) and the mens rea (guilty mind)
Actus reus + mens rea = defendant liability (technically a defence will change this but you don’t need to know about that yet!)
The criminal process • The criminal process has the function of deciding whether the crime has been committed by the accused and, if so, what sentence should be imposed. • Reporting a crime is just the beginning. Police investigations, prosecution decision-making, court processes and sentencing can be a long and complicated business for both the victim and the defendant.
• Once someone has been arrested and charged with a crime, they have to go to court to be tried and, if found guilty, to receive their sentence. • The length and complexity of the process depends on the seriousness of the crime, whether the evidence is clear and how the defendant pleads. • There are rules of procedure that set out the court in which the case will be heard and the framework for deciding the case.
• When information about a case is received from the police, a Crown Prosecutor will read the papers and decide whether or not there is enough criminal evidence against the defendant and whether it is in the public interest to bring that person to court. • There are rules of evidence that set out how the facts must be proved and the degree of certainty that is required. • In a criminal trial, the burden is on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt.
• Juries in Crown Court trials are directed that, unless the evidence makes them satisfied so they are sure of guilt, their verdict must be one of not guilty. • Magistrates also work to the same standard of proof.
Sentencing • Magistrates’ Courts and the Crown Court have different sentencing powers. More serious cases are sentenced in the Crown Court and less in the MC. • When the defendant is convicted following a trial or guilty plea, the court has a range of sentencing options available. • These depend on the type, the seriousness and the circumstances of the crime, and on the maximum penalty available by law.
• When deciding upon the appropriate sentence, courts have guidelines to assist them. The judge or magistrate giving the sentence must consider the aims of: – – – Punishing the defendant Reducing crime Rehabilitating the defendant Protecting the public The defendant making reparation The sentence will be a combination of these aims. Question structure on page 164 -165
Actus reus A voluntary deliberate act • A criminal offence requires both a guilty act (actus reus) and a guilty mind (mens rea). • The actus reus of a crime is the voluntary, deliberate act of the defendant.
Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 states: “Whoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm upon any other person, either with or without any weapon or instrument…” What is the actus reus?
• • The actus reus is any act of the defendant that: 1) is unlawful 2) has the consequence of causing an injury to the victim 3) the law classifies as a wound or GBH This could be a punch, shot from a gun, whack from an iron bar – anything that appears to be voluntarily deliberate on behalf of the defendant. There are. However, different considerations when: – The act appears to be involuntary – There has been no positive act, but a failure to act or an omission
Involuntary Act • Everybody performs involuntary acts – closing eyes whilst sneezing • This can be seen in the case of Hill v Baxter (1958) – in this case the court gave examples of situations were a driver of a car would not be driving voluntarily – stung by swarm of bees/hit on head by stone – such actions would not form the actus reus of a crime and so a defendant could not be guilty • Hill v Baxter (1958) – an involuntary action does not form the actus reus of a crime
Omissions • An omission, being a failure to act, is not an act. The law only makes a person liable for his failure to act where he has a duty to act. That duty can arise in a number of ways.
Where a person’s contract requires him to act: Pittwood (1902) – Here a contractual duty created criminal liability for an omission when the defendant failed to act as required. Where a person’s public position requires him to act Dytham (1979) – here a person’s position created liability for an omission.
Where an Act of Parliament requires a person to act Neglect (failure to look after) of a child under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 Where a person fails to minimise the harmful consequences of his act Miller (1983) – The defendant's failure to minimise harm, caused by a dangerous situation he had created, created liability for an omission
Where a person voluntarily takes on a duty Stone and Dobinson (1977) – a person can take on responsibility for another and create liability for an omission if they fail to fulfil the duty