criminal law


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  • Created by: Charlotte
  • Created on: 26-02-12 20:47

Criminal Offences

1) Conduct crimes - don't need a bad result.  E.g. Dangerous driving. No harm or consequence needs to be shown.

2) Result crimes - have to cause prohibited consequence. E.g. murder, ****, arson, theft etc. The consequence of the defendants actions must be proved.

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Actus Reus

Actus Reus:

  • Physical element of the offence. What the dft has or hasn't done. Must be a positive act.
  • Needs to be more than an act, it can also be a circumstance or consequence. Acturs reus can arise from: an act, an omission (failure to act) or a state of affairs.
  • Must be voluntary - Hill v Baxter stated for example if a swarm of bees enters a car, the driver cannot be responsible for swerving. (R v Quick - diabetic. Took insulin, then didn't eat and assualted someone. Leichester v Pearson - car stopped at a zebra crossing and got hit by another car which caused them to hit a person on the crossing).
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  • Doesn't need to be voluntary in state of affairs - where the dft is liable due to the state they find themselves in. Larsonneur - french lady in the UK, visa ran out so she was sent to Ireland. They then deported her back. Arrested for being illegal.
  • 5 duty situations = an omission can amount to an actus reus:

1- Contractual duty - Pittwood - man was meant to lower level crosser. He didn't which was the omission. V & horse were killed on the crossing. Pittwood found guilty.

2- Duty due to a relationship (usually parent & child) - Gibbins & Proctor - father & mistress failed to feed child, child died = guilty of murder.

3- Duty voluntarily undertaken - Stone & Dobinson - voluntarily cared for sick elderly sister. Got bedsores - they failed to get her medical treatment, she lost her appetite and died. Guitly.

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4- Duty due to official position -  Dytham - police officer saw a bad assault, but did nothing - he drove away.

5- Chain of events - Miller - man went to bed with a lit cigarette, fell asleep and the cigarette set the bed alight. He woke and saw it but did nothing and didn't tell anyone, he got up and went to sleep in another room. Guilty of arson.

An omission can also arise due to a statute e.g. - failure to provide a breath sample, failure to pay taxes, failure to display tax disc. - Santana Bermudez - WPC pricked finger on syringe in dft's pocket. Dft told her it wasn't there when he was asked.

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Prosecution must prove:

1) Dft's conduct was a factual cause of the consequence.

2) Dft's conduct was "in law" the cause of the consequence.

3) There was no intervening act to break the chain of causation.

TWO types of causation - factual & legal.

1) Factual causation - 'but for' test - would the bad thing of happened 'but for' the dft?


White - son put poison in mother's coco, but she died of a heartattack before drinking the coco. No factual causation - NOT murder as she would have died 'but for' the poison in the coco.

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R v Pagett - man shot at policeman, who shot back. Pagett hid behind pregnant girlfriend who got hit by the bullet and she dies. She wouldn't have died 'but for' Pagett hiding behind her. Pagett found guilty of manslaughter.

2) Legal causation - R v Smith - the dft's act would be regarded as the cause in law, if it was the operating and substantial cause of the v's death.

It must be more than a minimal cause. although there could be other causes  contributing to the consequence.

'Thin Skull Rule' - Blaue - young Jehovah's Witness woman stabbed by dft. Needed a blood transfusion but refused. She dies - dft convicted of murder. The fact she was a Jehovah's Witness made the wound fatal, but the dft had to take his victim as he found her.

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A break in the chain of causation: is called a NOVUS ACTUS INTERVENIENS (new intervening act).

If something happens between the dft's original act and the consequence, this can break the chain of causation.

3 things which can break the chain:

1) Act of a third party.

2) The victim's own act.

3) A natural, but unpredictable event. (An act of God).

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Medical treatment may break the chain of causation as it is an act of a third party.

Didn't break the chain:

1) Smith - soldier stabbed by another soldier. Was carried to a medical center, but dropped on the way. The staff at the hospital gave him artificial respiration by pressing on his chest. If he was given proper treatment = 75% chance of living. Original attacker found liable.

2) Chesire - Dft shot V in the stomach and thigh. V had problems breathing and was given a tracheotomy - tube in throat to help breathing. V died from complications from tracheotomy. By the time he died, original wounds were no longer life threatening BUT dft still guilty of murder.

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Broke the chain:

3) Jordan - V stabbed in stomach - treated in hospital - wounds healing well. Given antibiotic, suffered allergic reaction. Dr stopped giving drug, the next day another Dr gave him a larger dose. V died from the allergic reaction. Dr's actions were intervening - dft not guilty.

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Victims Own Act -

Roberts - Girl hitch-hiker jumped from car in order to escape sexual advances. Car was traveling between 20-40 mph and girl was injured from jumping. Dft guilty for her injuries.

Williams - hitch-hiker jumped from Williams' car and died from head injuries caused by his head hitting the road. COA said v's act had to be foreseeable and also in proportion to the threat. Williams' not guilty.

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Mens Rea

Mens Rea:

  • mental element of the offence.
  • many different levels of mens rea.
  • many different words indicating mens rea: intentionally, recklessly, dishonestly, knowingly.
  • The highest level of mens rea is intention.
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Mens Rea - Intention

Definition of intention: Mohan - "a decision to bring about, in so far as it lies within the accused's power [the prohibited consequence], no matter whether the accused desired that consequence of his act or not" - Known as direct intent.

There might be problems if one consequence was intended but another was caused. This is known as 'Oblique' intent, or foresight of consequence.

Woollin - Dft threw 3 month old baby at wall in an attempt to stop the baby crying, but on the way the baby clipped the pram. The baby suffered head injuries and died. Woollin wanted the baby to stop crying, but he caused the baby to die. Guilty.

2 Stage Test -

1) was the consequence a virtual certainty?

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2) did the dft realise this?

If YES to both, can be intention.

This rule was applied in the case of Matthews v Alleyne - pushed v off bridge and into river. V couldn't swim. V dog paddled, ended up dying. Court used 2 stage test.

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Mens Rea - Recklessness

  • Lower level
  • Definition - seeing a rick but taking it anyway.

Cunningham - subjective recklessness (did the defendant see the risk).

Dft took a gas meter from the wall of an empty house in order to steal the money inside. = this caused the gas to seep into the house next door and a woman was affected by it. Dft charged with an offence against s23 OAPA 2861 of maliciously administering a noxious thing.

Not guilty as dft wasn't aware there was a rick of gas escaping into the next house. He didn't intend to cause them harm.

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Transferred Malice

It allows the mens rea to transfer from the intended victim, to the actual victim aslong as the offences are of the same type.

Same type -

Latimer - Dft aimed to hit a man with his belt in a pub, the victim had just attacked him. The belt bounced off the man and hit a woman in the face. Guilty of assault against her although he didn't mean to hit her.

Mitchell - In a post office, people queing. Mitchell pushed in and old man had ago at him. Mitchell pushed the old man, who fell onto and pushed over an old lady - she later died. Dft liable for old lady's death.

Different type -

Pembilton - Dft threw a stone intending to hit people he'd previously fought. Stone hit and broke a window. Intention could not be transferred as different offence.

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General Malice

Dft may not have a specific victim in mind. E.g. terrorism - intending to kill anyone.

- Dft's mens rea is held to apply to the actual victim.

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Contemporeignity Rule

The contemporeignity rule is also known as a co-incidence.

The actus reus & mens rea must be present at the same time.

Fagan v MPC - man parked on policeman's foot - policeman asked man to move. Man told PC to hold on and wait. Eventually dft moved his car. He wouldn't have been liable if he moved the car straight away - but once he was told his car was on the PC's foot he had both mens rea and actus reus.

Thabo Meli - dft hit v over head to kill him - intended to kill him. Dft thought v was dead and threw him over a cliff. V wasn't dead and landed on a ledge - he later died of exposion.

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Strict Liability

In offences of strict liability it is enough that the defendant has done the actus reus. There is no mens rea requirement.

Alphocell v Woodword - Dft polluted water desiote them having alarm systems and regular maintenance and inspection programme. Was not their fault but proven guilty.

Smedleys v Braed - one tin of peas out of millions produced, contained a caterpillar. Dft's were convicted under the Food & Drugs Act 1955, even though they had taken all reasonable care.

LBH v Shah - Court held that the offence of selling a national lottery ticket to a person under 16 is a strict liability offence. Offence not truly criminal but dealt with a matter of concern.

Blake - Investigation officers heard an unlicensed radio station broadcast and traced it to a flat. Dft was found using the equipment - admitted to using the equipment but unaware he was transmitting. Court said pirate radio could interfere with public transmissions and a rick of public safety. Dft found guilty.

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More serious offences the court presume there is a mens rea requirement, even if mens rea is not mentioned in the Act.

Sweet v Parsley - Sweet owned a premises, she rented it out to students which were caught smoking cannabis. Sweet was charged with 'being concerned in the management of premises used for the purpose of smoking cannabis'. Not guilty as mens rea is needed.

B v DPP - the dft convicted of inciting a child under 14 to commit an act of gross indecency with him. Magistrates' convicted him guilty. Appeal at Crown Court - conviction was quashed due to Sweet v Parsley - it held the offence against him required mens rea as to the age of the child - either incite/recklessness.

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Arguments For Strict Liability

  • Helps protect society by promoting greater care over matters of public safety.
  • Encourages higher standards e.g. hygiene in processing and selling foods.
  • Makes sure businesses are run properly.
  • Easy to enforce as no mens rea is needed.
  • Saves court time as people more likely to plead guilty.
  • Dft not blameworthy, can be taken into account when sentencing.
  • Necessary to protect public by providing high standards of care.
  • Acts as a deterrent.
  • Improved road safety due to sanctions.
  • Little threat to individual liberty.
  • Saves money.
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Arguments Against Strict Liability

  • Makes people who are not blameworthy guilty e.g. Shah
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