Every country regardless of its size and location has some form of criminal law existing. This law helps the country define punishable offenses and includes countrys stand of such concepts as self-defense, necessity, insanity, negligence, and complicity. Criminal law is clearly written law in other words, it is a codified law. In the United States this codified law is known as the Model Penal Code which has helped in recent reforms of criminal codes in many major states. But laws in one state may not be similar to laws in another and this applies to criminal law as well. For example even though the Model Penal Code is followed by all states to shape their criminal law, the local version of law in one state is quite different from the same in another. This means that no two states in the country has similar criminal law.
Criminal statutes are meant to provide every society with a set of rules that define proper legal and moral conduct. When a persons conduct falls below the prescribed behavior and cause identifiable harm, the person is said to have crossed the line and his behavior becomes criminal. To understand the application of criminal law, let us first study some important concepts in connection with this law.
The combined meaning of the principles can be stated in a single generalization: the harm forbidden in a penal law must be imputed to any normal adult who voluntarily commits it with criminal intent, and such a person must be subjected to the legally prescribed punishment.” (Hall: 18)
THE VOLUNTARY ACT
Voluntary act refers to free will and an action taken in that capacity. Criminal law doesnt allow for conviction unless it can be proved that the person acted voluntarily to cause a social harm. The act that resulted in social harm should be voluntary because it is important to assess moral responsibility of the defendant which can be done accurately if the persons action was guided by free will and not some kind of coercion. Secondly, it is also important to determine this because of the deterrence factor. The main purpose of punishment is deterrence and this can only be accomplished if it can be established that the person accused of crime made a voluntary choice.
The criteria followed to determine voluntary nature of an act includes consciousness and awareness. When a person committing the act is said to have done so in a state of full consciousness and with complete awareness of this actions, then the act is seen as voluntary. Involuntary action is one in which a person committing the crime can prove that his actions were performed in an unconscious state. For example a chronic sleepwalker who kills a person while sleepwalking can claim unconsciousness if charged with a crime. Other closer cases in this regard include people suffering from repeated seizure or blackout episodes. In such cases, the defendant can strongly argue that his actions were involuntary because he was incapable of controlling his conduct.
A voluntary act need not be physical; it can also be verbal or simply failure to act whend a legal duty to take action exists. Legal duty is imposed because of dependency factor such as a parents duty to provide support a child.
THE MENTAL STATE
To secure a conviction, voluntary act alone doesnt work. It must be accompanied with proof of mental state. The defendant must be seen to have acted with an evil mind when committing the crime. Criminal law is meant to punish people who have transgressed the moral and legal boundaries and for this reason, it is important to determine that defendant was in a bad mental state at the time of the crime. Both voluntary act and mental state must be successfully established to secure a conviction. This is because a person in a bad state of mind cannot be convicted of crime unless he acted upon his evil thoughts.
The Model Penal Code defines four states of mind, for the act and person to be considered “criminal.” For a defendant to be hold guilty for the offense, he must act purposely, meaningfully, heedlessly and negligently. Further, it states that for a person to be convicted he must be operating the vehicle in an illegal way that would result to the death of another being.
The MPC demands government to fulfill both of the above requirements. That is, it should at least prove one of the mental states while “operating the vehicle in an illegal way that would result to the death of another being.
“The suspects state of mind, therefore, is the key to attribution. The terms “culpability” and “mens rea” are interpreted accordingly to imply that if the actor has the appropriate mental state, he can be held accountable for his action or the” actus rea.” (Fletcher: 82)
In this state of mind, either he must be conscious of his conduct and its results or is aware that the prevailing conditions would lead to the above stated result.
Under this mental state, a person is well aware of the nature of his conduct and is certain it would yield the required result of MPC. There isnt such difference between these two states of mind except that in the former one, one is convicted of first — degree murder and in latter, of second-degree murder.
For a person to engage in act that was conducted “heedlessly,” he must be aware that his act deviates greatly from that of person operating his vehicle in a lawful, responsible manner. Further the harm it caused should be considerable and unpardonable.
For act to be done “negligently,” it should purely unintentional. The defendant should also unaware of the result that it would lead to.
Non-MPC states of mind:
The two words that frequently appear in criminal law are “intentionally” and “willfully.” Intentionally is same as purposely, however, willfully does has a number of meanings.
Willfully, usually means carrying an act with evil motive and for government to prove this state of mind, defendant should be well-aware of his acts consequences but still choose to engage in the criminal act.
This is a difficult concept, because governments trying to secure conviction under this law means that it does not have any prove that the act was done knowingly or purposely yet wants the defendant to be punished. This means, Law is engaging in something that it is against its very nature; punishing someone who isnt “proved guilty.” Proponents of this law argues that there are some situations where the common good is more important that proving someones state of mind.
One of the examples of the governments using strict liability law is speeding, where the driver receives a ticket as long as he crossed the speed limit regardless of his motive.
It means that the person performed an act in the above mentioned mental states and caused substantial harm. “Causation” is the name we give to the complexities that can break the link between action and consequence; when causation is absent, the harmful consequence is but an event, no longer attributable to the suspect.” (Fletcher: 61)
Finally, as stated before, the act must cause some social harm in form of loss of life or property etc. This is because the law maintains that when a person transgresses and cross a certain moral and legal boundary, the entire society suffers as the result. Thats why the offense is termed social harm.
Now that we have covered important concepts in criminal law, we must proceed further to apply that knowledge to cases of theft. Every case is different depending on the nature of crime and thus a complete knowledge of criminal law is required to successfully apply it to various situations. We shall now see how theft offenses are dealt with under criminal law.
Theft is probably one of the oldest crimes found in history. It is considered serious in nature and over the years, several laws have been developed to deal with various different cases of theft according to their seriousness. There was a time when punishment for theft was death, but this is no longer the case and new laws have been develop forms of punishment based on seriousness of the theft. Death penalty for theft has now been completely removed, at least in all modern states.
When dealing with theft, one important concept to bear in mind is Larceny. Larceny refers to trespassory removal of property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of this good. All parts of larceny concept are critical to secure conviction in cases of theft. Trespassory here is the voluntary act that we studied earlier in the paper. Trespassory carrying away along with the mental state (i.e. intent of depriving the owner) must be present to obtain a conviction.
Trespassory Taking and Carrying Away of Property
The removal or carrying away of someone elses property is deemed.