Muscarello v. United States
Supreme Court of the United States, 1998. 524 U.S. 125, 118 S.Ct. 1911, 141 L.Ed.2d 111.
What does it mean to “carry a firearm”? Is the definition limited to being “on a person”?
The definition of carry extends to carrying a firearm in a vehicle.
It is not limited.
No facts were presented.
Both parties argued that the text should be read by an ordinary definition. However, they differed in what that definition should be. Should it be narrow? Should it be broad? Here, the court adopts the broader definition to extend the meaning of carrying a firearm to a vehicle. To do so, they looked at many sources including: dictionaries, literature, and databases. Additionally, they looked at the legislative intent. They saw that it was used most commonly and that the purpose of the statute was to remove a firearm from the exchange of drugs. So, if a firearm is found in a car, but not on the person of an offender, would the legislative purpose have been met under the narrower interpretation of the word? No. Therefore, the broader definition is accepted.
The dissent disagrees saying that there are a ton of other definitions used for carry and the use of the broad definition is too broad. So, the term should be interpreted narrowly meaning “ready for use.” Additionally, they argue that because it appear ambiguous, the principle of lenity should apply.
This case shows how the court can use a ton of words to define a single word for statutory interpretation. Additionally, it shows what sources the court looks to when doing so such as dictionaries, legislative intent, etc.
What are some of the tools the court uses to determine the meaning of the statute?
- “Plain Language”
- Consult dictionaries, literature, and database.
- Legislative intent
- “What is the purpose congress had in this statute?” The purpose here was to keep people from taking weapons to drug deals.
Remember lenity, the principle that a tie goes to the defendant? When do we use lenity? When all the tools have been utilized and there is still a question of ambiguity of the term. A tie breaker is only needed as a last resort.
These tools of statutory interpretation are critical for our understanding during the remainder of the semester.
Actus Reus refers to the conduct and the result of the conduct committed by an individual. For instance, if you hit somebody causing them to have a bloody nose, the Actus Reus could be both the hitting and the reception of harm by both parties. There are two parts of a crime, the action and the intent (Mens Rea). Next week we will focus on Mens Rea, this is the most important this we will learn about understanding criminal law.
Martin v. State
Alabama Court of Appeals, 1944. 31 Ala.App. 334, 17 So.2d 427.
Martin is the defendant, was convicted and appeals.
Was there a voluntary act punishable as a crime?
A person is guilty of being drunk on a private highway if:
- Person is drunk
- Appear in a public and occupied space
- “Manifests a drunken condition by boisterous or indecent conduct.”
Conviction was wrong, reversed and remanded.
He was arrested at home, taken onto a highway, then manifested a drunken condition. Person was convicted of being drunk on a public highway.
The statute implies that a person must voluntarily enter the public space. Because the offender did not volunteer to go to the public place (being under arrest) the conviction was erroneous.
A person needs to voluntarily act to be guilty of a crime.
There are multiple elements in this rule and several of those rules may require a voluntary action. He was voluntarily intoxicated. However, he was not voluntarily in a public space. He was forced to go there. Therefore, the defendant in this case is “not acting at all.”
State v. Utter
Court of Appeals of Washington, 1971. 4 Wash.App. 137, 479 P.2d 946.
Utter is the defendant. He lost and appealed.
The question here whether an unconscious act (reaction) is considered a voluntarily act and whether that applies to the defendant in this case.
An unconscious act is not considered a voluntary act. However, the defendant has the burden of proof.
The defendant did not show enough evidence to convince a jury that the action had been an unconscious one. Verdict upheld.
Dad had military training, son comes home and dad stabbed him. Son died. Dad was charged with murder and convicted with manslaughter.
The defendant argues that his military training caused an involuntary reaction. He had an automatic response. Because the impulse cannot be deemed as voluntarily he shouldn’t be convicted of the crime.
The court agrees with his argument but says that he needs to provide the evidence to show that the action had ben involuntary. Because there was no evidence, other than his past history, the verdict of the jury is upheld.
Why is a voluntary act necessary to be criminally liable? If you choose to break the law, you are morally guilty and able to be punished. Therefore, we can deter the person from committing crimes.
What do we need for this legal question to become a fact question? Evidence that the conditioned response occurred.
The court makes a distinction between voluntarily intoxication and other unconscious states. This is because you don’t want people to become drunk enough to commit violent crimes. Therefore, you can punish somebody which will prevent people from becoming so intoxicated.
Omissions (“Negative Acts”)
People v. Beardsley
Supreme Court of Michigan, 1907. 150 Mich. 206, 113 N.W. 1128.
McAlvay is the defendant and the people are the prosecutors. Defendant was convicted of manslaughter and appealed.
Can an act of omission (meaning the failure to meet a duty towards another) hold someone liable for the death of another?
The lack of upholding a “legal” duty can hold a person liable. There is a difference between a legal duty and a moral duty.
The defendant only had a moral obligation, not a legal one, and thus his omission (though terrible) will not be held accountable to the law.
The defendant was a married man who became intoxicated with another woman. She purchased morphine pills and the man, fearing the return of his wife, sent her to another individual. The individual was concerned with the state of the woman who called the police and doctor who proclaimed her dead. Then, the defendant was charged with manslaughter because of his failure to care of the woman.
The court distinguishes between a legal and moral omission. A legal omission requires that the parties be tied to one another in some legal way. This includes spouses, guardians, parents to children, etc. The prosecutor in this case argues that he had a legal duty to the woman because he was acting as a guardian for her during the time. Here, the court disagrees. They say that by allowing someone to enter your presence does not make you a guardian for their well-being. Therefore, he only had a moral duty to the victim. He should have been more careful, but the law has no hold on him.
From Jones, there are five instances when a person has a legal obligation to another:
- A statute imposes a duty
- Certain relationship status (spouses, parents, etc.). This is a legal obligation to another.
- One has a contract to care for another
- Voluntary care. Once you assume the role (so that others don’t), then you take on a voluntary act.
- Creating a risk of harm to another.
This case makes the distinction of a moral and a legal duty. A person can be guilty of a crime for committing to help if they fail to complete a legal duty to act. Moral obligations are good, but it would be wrong to punish them.
Why is there no criminal liability for moral obligations?
- Omissions are more ambiguous than acts.
- Draw a line: When is a moral obligation strong enough?
- Practical reasons: sometimes forcing people to help can make things worse.
- Freedom: Criminal law should prohibit people, not compel or require people to act.
State v. Rose
Rose is the defendant. He was charged with manslaughter and fleeing the scene. He was found guilty and appealed.
Did the trial court error in neglecting to provide a directed verdict for manslaughter?
If the person was killed on impact, then it is not manslaughter. State has the burden of proof to show that it was not.
Can’t proof it beyond a reasonable doubt, the failure to receive a directed verdict was wrong.
There was a pedestrian crossing the street when they were struck by a car who paused briefly then kept driving. A witness looked for the body and couldn’t find it. Turns out that the body was wedged underneath the car and the individual had passed. The defendant was found guilty of manslaughter and fleeing the scene.
Here, the defendant asked for a directed verdict to dismiss because there was not enough evidence to meet the requirements of manslaughter. The victim would have needed to be found alive on impact and died later as a result of being dragged. So, if he was killed on impact, then this would not be manslaughter. The court agrees and says that the state had not proved above a reasonable doubt that the victim was not killed on impact. Therefore that count should be dropped but the count of fleeing the scene stands.
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.