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Crim. Law Mistake of Law Fact

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Thaddeus Hoffmeister

on 22 January 2016

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Transcript of Crim. Law Mistake of Law Fact

Strict Liability Mistake of Fact/Law
Class #7
Prof. Hoffmeister

Mistake of Fact and Law
People v. Navarro
FACTS: D convicted of 484(a) for stealing 4 wooden beams. 484 (a) codifies the CL of larceny which is the "trespassory taking and carrying away of the personal property of another with the intent to permanently deprive." Court refuses D's jury instructions.
ISSUE: Must the D's belief about the items taken be reasonable?
People v. Marrero
FACTS: D, a federal correctional officer, brings a gun to a social club. D says as a peace officer he can carry a weapon. The NY law allowing "peace officers" to possess an unlicensed loaded weapon is applicable only to state peace officers.
PRO: D granted Motion to Dismiss. Appellate Court overturned the trial court, the case went to trial and the D was convicted. D appeals his conviction.
ISSUE: Does D's misunderstanding of the law provide a valid mistake of law defense?
ROL: Mistake of law generally not a defense
ANALYSIS: Want to encourage people to learn the law
Court looks to the MPC
ROL: The law is definite and knowable (How many criminal federal laws?)
"Willfully" means "a voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty"
D's good faith belief does not have to be objectively reasonable.
ANALYSIS: Court makes a comparison to another SI crime, burglary.

This is different from General Intent crimes where the D must have reasonable grounds. (One exception the moral wrong doctrine)

Can't commit larceny by negligence
Question #1 Pg. 195

Question #2 Pg. 195
Rely on an official interpretation by someone who is responsible for interpreting the statute
Does Marrero's CJ instructor count?

Specific Intent crime if it negates mens rea.

No actual knowledge nor probability of knowledge Pg. 207 A and B

Dissent's Argument
Ignorance of the Law is an anachronism.
Historically, society was only concerned with the act reus not the mens rea
This concept has less force with malum prohibitum crimes.

NY does not strictly follow the MPC
Cheek v. U.S.
FACTS: D claimed 60 allowances and failed to file returns. He was charged with violating 26 U.S.C. 7203. D claimed that he sincerely believed that the tax laws are unconst.
ISSUE: Did the D "willfully" attempt to evade or defeat any tax imposed?

Lambert v. California

CA passes a new law requiring felons to register. D was unaware of the law and she was convicted. SCT overturned her conviction on Due Process grounds.

SCT found that the law violates due process where the person "has no actual knowledge of his duty to register, and where no showing is made of the probability of such knowledge."

Criticisms of strict liability

(1) Does not deter

(2) Unjust to condemn someone who is not morally culpable

(3) Can go after similar harms through civil regulations

(4) Dilutes moral force of the law

(5) Some strict liability laws arise from careless drafting

Garnet v. State
FACTS: 20 year-old mentally challenged D was convicted of raping 13-year old girl. D and V were friends. V instructed D to enter her bedroom via a ladder. Trial court would not allow evidence that the V told D that she was 16.

ISSUE: Is there a mens rea for this crime?


Court starts by going through the negatives of strict liability crimes.
Questions Pg. 204
Attachment of criminal liability without regard to fault

Generally used in public welfare offenses

Without a mens rea there is no basis for acquittal on the ground of mistake of fact or law.

What theory of punishment supports strict liability laws?
Legislature made the distinction with mentally challenged victims but not for those 14 and under

Statutory rape has traditionally been a strict liability crime.

Court says D needs to rely on having a nice judge

DISSENT: Look at the penalty of 20 years

Look at the last paragraph of Judge Elrdridge's dissent.
Is that true?

QUESTIONS: #1 Pg. 192
Full transcript