Criminal Law Outline - Legality, Vagueness, Lenity, Proporationality

  1. Legality
    1. Condemns judicial crime creation
      1. No crime with pre-existing law, no punishment without pre-existing law.
      2. Most all states have abolished common law offenses (require statutes/ordinances).
        1. Ex. (Judicial crime creation allowed) Commonwealth v. Mochan
          1. Statute (Common law, no statute) - "Whatever openly outrages decency and is injurious to public morals is a misdemeanor at common law."
          2. D called V by telephone and called her all sorts of dirty things, suggest she have sex with him, etc.
          3. Held that PA still allows for common law crimes. D was guilty of common law crime. Scathing (and probably correct) dissent makes notice/legality argument.
        1. Ex. (Judicial crime creation disallowed) Keeler v. Superior Court
          1. Statute - "Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, with malice aforethought."
          2. D stomped V's stomach to intending to and succeeding in killing V's unborn fetus.
          3. Held that legality principle does not allow for judicial crime creation and requires D to have notice of what constitutes murder; legislature's job to decide if killing an unborn fetus is part of murder statute.
          4. Ultimately, the line between interpreting the law and making the law is fuzzy.
          5. Notice doesn't have to be perfect. If a person knows they might be held accountable (in the zone of wrongfulness), notice is sufficient. "In for a dime, in for a dollar."
    1. Components/Rationale
      1. Fair notice to Ds of what conduct is forbidden.
      2. Constrains the possibility of discretion of enforcement.
      3. Preserves legislative primacy.
      4. Equality in treating crimes the same way
      5. Improves error deflection (tilts away from convicting innocents)


  1. Void for Vagueness
    1. Forbids wholesale legislative delegation of lawmaking authority to the courts
    2. Rationale for Void for Vagueness
      1. Vague statutes allow too much discretion in enforcement by police or the legal system.
      2. Vague statutes fail to provide adequate notice to citizens of what conduct constitutes a crime.


  1. Ds rarely succeed with due process vagueness claims.
    1. Ex. In Re Banks
      1. Statute: "Any person who shall peep secretly into any room occupied by a female shall be punished."
      2. D argued that the statute cannot mean what it says literally since that would prohibit conduct which the legislature probably did not want to criminalize.
      3. Held that the statute was valid. A statute challenged on grounds of void for vagueness should not be tested for its required specificity in a vacuum but in the light of its common law meaning, it statutory history, and the prior judicial interpretation of its particular terms.
    1. However, vagrancy and similar statutes were voided for vagueness.
    2. Ex. Chicago v. Morales
      1. Statute: Prohibits criminal street gang members from loitering with one another or with other persons in any public place.
      2. Held that statute is void for vagueness (unconstitutional) because law fails to provide the type of notice that permits ordinary persons to understand the conduct prohibited.
      3. The wording of the statute encouraged arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.


  1. Rule of Lenity
    1. Judicial resolution of uncertainty in the meaning of statutes should be biased in favor of D
    2. Not used often since it is only used in 50/50 situations.


  1. Proportionality of Punishment
    1. Generally, the punishment for the crime should correspond to the actor's level of culpability.
    2. Common sense inquiry; use to fight imposition of criminal liability for acts with low MR or something that seems common.