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Author Topic: mistake of fact in crim law  (Read 1360 times)

1Lchica

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mistake of fact in crim law
« on: December 15, 2007, 09:05:09 PM »
Does anyone have any tips for understanding this? Particularly how negligence, reasonableness, etc. comes into it all?

laurenlaw

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Re: mistake of fact in crim law
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2007, 01:34:08 AM »
Common Law
1.  Decide if it's a specific or general intent crime (does the crime intend for you to do something beyond the actus reus- Ex: attempt is a specific intent crime, because you have to attempt but also intend to commit a crime)
         If specific intent, does the mistake of fact negate the necessary mens rea as defined in the statute?  Ex: most theft statutes don't just require you to take an object, they require you to knowingly deprive someone of their property permanently.  A mistake of fact here would be that you thought the wallet was your own, not someone else's.
         If general intent, there are three possible doctrines
1. Reasonableness- person isn't guilty of a general intent crime if his mistake of fact is reasonable, but he's guilty if his mistake is unreasonable. (Reasoning: you need a guilty mind to be guilty of a general intent crime.  If you make a reasonable mistake, you don't have that guilty mind.  However, if you make an unreasonable mistake, then we can infer a guilty mind due to your gross negligence)- there's a general movement in the courts towards allowing a defense for honest mistakes, rather than just reasonable ones though.
2. Moral wrong doctrine-if the facts were as the D believed them to be, his conduct was still immoral- in this case, mistake of fact is no defense.  Ex: took away a 16 year old girl from her father thinking she was 18.  Violated a statute prohibiting the taking away of a girl under 18 from her father, even though he thought she was 18, b/c if the facts were as he believed them he was still taking a girl away from her father.
3. Legal wrong doctrine- if the facts were as the D believed them to be, his conduct was still illegal.  Under this doctrine he can be charged with the HIGHER offense.

MPC
1. Honest mistake- protects against knowingly/purposely/recklessly
2. Reasonable and honest mistake- protects against negligently- the mistake can't grossly deviate from what a reasonable person would know (Reasoning: negligence is for when you should know of a substantial and unjustifiable risk, but you don't.  Therefore, if you allowed a defense for honest defense, it would allow people to act negligently w/o punishment because there's no reasonableness requirement)

Does that clarify at all?

1Lchica

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Re: mistake of fact in crim law
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2007, 06:45:00 AM »
That helps quite a bit, thank you.

And in the common law way - where you have 'if specific intent, does the mistake of face negate the necessary mens rea' - would something that negates the men rea just be the opposite of the mens rea term? like if it was intent, we'd say if it WASN'T his conscious objective to do X, then it's negated? But if it's a common law jurisdiction, how do you know what negatives the mens rea terms without the MPC's guidance?


laurenlaw

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Re: mistake of fact in crim law
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2007, 11:27:53 AM »
That's where the arguing comes in.  If the crime says you must KNOWINGLY burn a book, and he thinks he's burning a dresser, then you argue that he isn't KNOWINGLY burning a book, he thought it was a dresser.  Or the statute defines the crime as "Entering a home with the intent to bring in a loaded weapon."  You know you've entered the home, but you think it's a water gun.  Or unloaded.

Dumb examples, I'm sorry, but hopefully you get the idea.

wardwilliams

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Re: mistake of fact in crim law
« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2007, 01:43:49 PM »
If it were common law jurisdiction, you would really have to note that the mistake of fact isn't relevant because as long as he knows he is "burning" it doesn't matter if he thinks it is a dresser when it fact it is a book. That's because at CL, the mens rea word doesn't travel down the statute like it does in MPC. Thus as long as you knowingly burned, you are done for if it turns out to be a book. (You can't "knowingly" a book or a dresser)


That's where the arguing comes in.  If the crime says you must KNOWINGLY burn a book, and he thinks he's burning a dresser, then you argue that he isn't KNOWINGLY burning a book, he thought it was a dresser.  Or the statute defines the crime as "Entering a home with the intent to bring in a loaded weapon."  You know you've entered the home, but you think it's a water gun.  Or unloaded.

Dumb examples, I'm sorry, but hopefully you get the idea.

laurenlaw

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Re: mistake of fact in crim law
« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2007, 01:58:49 PM »
You could then make the argument to say that sometimes courts interpret the mens rea to include the attendant circumstances.  For example, the XCitement Video case required that the person, not just knowingly distribute pornography, but also KNOW that the pornography involved minors.  Here, you would argue that the legislature's intent was to restrict someone from knowingly burning books, not knowingly burning ANYTHING.