1.05 Criminal Acts
ELEMENTS OF CRIME
ACT OR OMISSION
A.A CRIME HAS BEEN COMMITTED
B.THE DEFENDANT COMMITTED THE CRIME
TO PROVE A CRIME HAS BEEN COMMITTED IT MUST BE SHOWN:
A.THAT THE ACT/OMISSION IS PROHIBITED BY LAW - STATUTE OR COMMON LAW
B.THAT THE PERSON DOING THE ACT HAD THE LEGALLY REQUIRED INTENT AT THE TIME
Each crime is composed of legal elements. Two basic elements of every crime involve the co-existence of anact or omission and intent. Unless the state can prove the existence of all legal elements, the crime cannot be proven.
In every criminal case, the prosecution must prove:
1. That a specified crime has been committed;
2. That the harm or injury that is complained of was not the result of an accident but rather was caused by some individual; and
3. That it was the accused who committed the criminal act.
It is a basic principle of the American system that every crime is composed of two basic elements: a criminal act or omission and criminal intent. Intent refers to the so-called guilty mind, mens rea, or intent to commit injury. For most crimes, general criminal intent is all that is required. Thus, the accused need not necessarily intend to violate the law, to harm the person or property of another, or even do anything wrong. All that is required is that he actually meant to do the act done. With very few exceptions, an individual cannot be held criminally accountable for behavior which he has not intended.
Some crimes require in addition to general criminal intent, or mens rea‑‑specific intent. In these crimes, the state has the burden of proving that the defendant specifically intended to commit the crime with which he is charged before he may be found guilty. One example of a specific intent crime is the crime of burglary. As a practical consideration, every defendant who breaks and enters a building can claim that he did not have the necessary specific intent to commit the crime. It is the jury that must decide the accused's state of mind. The jury's decision will be based upon the totality of all the attendant circumstances, on any conversations that might have occurred, and whether a crime was actually committed inside the building.
TYPES OF INTENT REQUIRED BY CRIMINAL STATUTES:
-A PERSON IS PRESUMED TO INTEND THE NATURAL AND PROBABLE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS ACT
-DOCTRINE OF TRANSFERRED INTENT
-YOU TAKE YOUR VICTIM AS YOU FIND HIM
A.STATEMENTS PRIOR TO THE ACT
B.STATEMENTS DURING THE ACT
C.STATEMENTS AFTER THE ACT
D.CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE ACT
PROXIMATE CAUSE - LINKING THE ACT TO THE RESULT
1.DIRECT CAUSE AND EFFECT
3.SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASED RISK
In determining criminal intent, it obviously is not possible to peel back the skull of the defendant, connect an electric meter to his brain and determine whether or not he had the requisite necessary mens rea, or specific intent, to commit the crime. It is a factual determination for the jury, based upon a totality of all the circumstances, that will determine the existence or lack of criminal intent.
In determining whether there was the requisite criminal intent, the jury is aided by several presumptions in the law. Some crimes have statutory presumptions. The burglary statute often has a presumption that an individual who breaks into a structure or conveyance, stealthily and without the consent of the owner, is presumed to intend to commit an offense therein.
The jury may further rely upon statements by the defendant, made and related by witnesses at the time the offense is committed, or to a later confession of the defendant as to his intention at the time he committed the offense.
A further presumption in the law is that an individual intends the natural and probable consequences of his act. In other words, a defendant who picks up a baseball bat and strikes another individual over the head is presumed to intend harm to the victim, since that would be the natural and probable consequence of his act. In addition, there is a presumption in the law that an individual "takes his victim as he finds him." An example of this presumption and action would occur when an individual strikes the victim over the head with a bottle. Under normal circumstances, the victim might be knocked unconscious or receive a laceration; but if the victim has a plate in his head, unknown to the perpetrator, and the blow with the bottle causes that plate to collapse and results in the death of the victim, the defendant is held by the presumption to intend to inflict death or great bodily harm.
Some types of criminal offenses require the accused to have mental knowledge of certain pertinent facts along with his general criminal intent. This is known as scienter. Scienter is an element that is involved in most crimes relating to the possession of contraband and to the issuing of worthless checks.
A person's intent to do harm to a particular individual may, under a doctrine known as transferred intent, be carried over to a second individual who is harmed as a result of the defendant's actions. Thus, where a defendant shoots at "A" but misses him, striking and killing "B," the doctrine of transferred intent operates to give the defendant the requisite criminal intent necessary to charge him in the death of "B."
Recklessness and culpable negligence, are also states of mind which may be required by certain statutes. Vehiclular homicide requires recklessness, while manslaughter requires gross negligence.
B. Corpus Delicti
Corpus Delicti refers to the body of the crime. A combination of all the legally required elements of a given crime go to constitute the corpus delicti of the crime. It is necessary for the state to establish the corpus delicti of the crime, i.e., that a crime actually occurred, before it may proceed to establish the guilt of the individual charged with the crime. Thus, generally, it is not possible to base a conviction upon a confession alone. Before the jury may hear the defendant's confession of the crime, the state must establish the crime in fact occurred.
Burks v. State, 613 So. 2d 441 (Fla. 1993) holds that under the corpus delicti rule the state has the burden of proving by substantial evidence each element of the crime exists. But proof of identity of the defendant is not a required prerequisite to the introduction of the Defendant's confession.
Proof of corpus delicti by circumstantial evidence is possible. It is not necessary that such proof be overwhelming or beyond a reasonable doubt. The body is not necessary to establish corpus delicti in a homicide case. Sochor v. State, 619 So. 2d. 285 (Fla. 1993).
It is the duty of the prosecutor to establish at the trial that the act of the defendant resulted in the harm complained of. In this regard, several legal principles apply:
1. A man is presumed under the law to intend the natural and probable consequences of his act;
2. Under the law, the defendant takes his victim as he finds him.
In certain crimes, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant's act was the proximate cause of the injury or harm complained of. Proximate cause obviously exists when a particular act or omission is the direct cause of harm.
There are three rules for determining proximate cause:
1. Proximate cause is established by showing a direct cause and effect relationship. For example‑‑John shoots Marsha. The bullet injures Marsha.
2. That the act of the defendant set a chain of events in motion which indirectly caused the harm. This is often called the "But For" test. For example‑‑John knocks Marsha down. She is hospitalized for a broken hip, develops pneumonia from immobility and dies.
3. Proximate cause can be shown if you can establish that the act of the accused placed the victim in a position that substantially increased the risk that the victim would be harmed by some other cause. For example‑‑John strikes Marsha in the face, knocking her backwards into the street where she is struck by a bus.
There is no proximate cause when the harm is caused by an independent intervening act. Thus, a victim who may be struck by lightning and killed while being chased by a defendant who is trying to assault him, has been killed by an act that is too remote from the action of the defendant to subject the defendant to liability. (The act must be the legal cause of the injury, and be foreseeable.) However, surgical or medical complications resulting from an original injury inflicted by a defendant may be sufficiently predictable, foreseeable, and related to cause the defendant to be held responsible for the results.
It should be noted that under certain statutes, most of which affect the health and welfare of society, no criminal act may be required in order to punish someone under the police powers of the state. For example, violation of health and sanitation regulations, and fire regulations, impose strict criminal liability upon an individual.