Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glee: Beware of Flying Mailmen

Facts: To help him concentrate on the road while driving, Finn likes to think about unusual things, such as dead cats. While he's out practicing his driving skills with his mother, Finn is distracted by such thoughts and runs into the local mail carrier, who is severely injured by the collision.

Issue: Did Finn commit a crime even though he accidentally struck the mail carrier?

Law: A battery is an intentional, harmful, nonconsensual touching of another. An assault is either an attempted battery or a negligent injury of another with a deadly weapon.

Analysis: This example highlights the (often confusing) differences between assault and battery. While a battery is always intentionally, the law of assault developed to address behavior that was just shy of a battery. In Finn's case, he likely did not intentionally strike the mail carrier, so he couldn't have committed a battery. But he was rather negligent in not paying attention to the road, so at a minimum he committed an assault as a car has been treated as a deadly weapon.

Bonus: As you can see, there are basic problems with the common law crimes in the context of this case, which is why most states have separate statutes dealing with striking people with vehicles. For example, in Finn's Ohio, they have a vehicular assault law that would likely apply in this situation.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

90210: I Know What You Did Last Summer

90210: To New Beginnings
(originally aired Sept. 8, 2009)

Facts: At an end of the school year party, Naomi (wrongly) accuses Annie of sleeping with Naomi's boyfriend, Liam. Annie, who's been drinking, denies the allegation but Naomi continues to berate Annie in front of everyone. Annie calls the police on the party and runs out in tears.

While driving home, Annie is still emotionally distraught and driving erratically. Because of poor lighting, she does not see someone walking in the road and she runs him over. She knows she hit someone but does not stop. Instead, she heads home and hides in her bedroom all summer checking news stories about a comatose man (John Doe) who was the victim of a hit and run.

Right before the school year starts, Mr. Doe dies as a result of the accident.

Issue: Did Annie murder John Doe?

Law: Murder is the intentional killing of another person. Involuntary manslaughter---a lesser-included offense to murder---is the unintentional killing for another person due to the actor's reckless conduct.

Analysis: Looks like Annie might be graduating from high school into a correctional facility. While Annie likely did not intentionally hit Mr. Doe, her hitting him with her car was the proximate cause of his death, and her behavior that night was reckless: driving after drinking, swerving on the road, and in an extreme emotional state. This is a classic case of involuntary manslaughter.

There aren't enough facts to know if Annie was intoxicated but even if she were intoxicated, it's not a defense to manslaughter because manslaughter is not a specific intent offense. Recall that the defense of voluntary intoxication can only negate the intent in specific intent offenses, and voluntary intoxication is all Annie could argue because it appears she knowingly consumed alcohol before driving.

Bonus: Most states also make it a crime to leave the scene of an accident (i.e., a hit and run). According to California Vehicle Code § 20,000 (which applies in the 90210 zip code), a driver who leaves the scene of an accident that results in serious injury or death of another faces imprisonment "in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not less than 90 days nor more than one year," as well as a possible fine of $1,000 to $10,000. But the judge can, "in the interests of justice," reduce or eliminate the confinement.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August Recess

We will resume our regular programming later this month in advance of the launch of the fall television season premiere.

Meanwhile, enjoy two recent articles from the ABA on their ranking of top legal television shows:

The Top 25


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ideas Soliciation

With few new (or interesting) shows on television this summer, I'm noticeably lacking in sources for new posts. And since I'm about to hit 200 visitors, I thought I'd solict you for ideas from movies, television, literature, whatever.

Please post your ideas in the comments section. Assuming I'm familiar enough with the facts, I'll write up a post.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter (Part II): Not Without My Horcrux

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter travel to a magical cave over a stormy coast, in hopes of recovering a magical locket belonging to Voldemort. After travelling across an enchanted lagoon, they arrive at an island, where they see a case under a pool of potion. Dumbledore (with Harry's assistance) drinks all of the potion and Harry takes the case before they head back to Hogwarts. After Dumbledore is killed, Harry opens the case and sees the item inside is a forgery placed there by R.A.B., who took the original many years ago.

Issue: Did Dumbledore and Harry commit a crime even though the locket is a forgery?

Law: Larceny is the intentional taking of another's property with the intent to permanently deprive the person of his property.

Analysis: Likely. Although Dumbledore and Harry did not take any of Voldemort's property, they left the cave with a case believing it belonged to Voldemort, i.e., with the intent to permanently deprive Voldemort of the locket. Because Dumbledore and Harry did not complete the crime of larceny against Voldemort, they are only guilty of attempted larceny because they took a substantial step toward committing the underlying larceny (carrying away the case with the fake locket). At the same time, they are probably guilty of larceny of R.A.B.'s property, under a theory of transferred intent.

But, you're probably thinking that Dumbledore and Harry were justified in their actions because it was to prevent a greater harm in the form of Voldemort. This is the defense of necessity, which excuses some criminal conduct if there is an imminent danger and the harm from the conduct would be less than the harm from the imminent danger. Harry (since Dumbledore is dead and can't be prosecuted anymore) has a good argument here.

Bonus: They may also be guilty of conspiracy to commit larceny as there appears to be an agreement between Dumbledore and Harry to retrieve this item, even though Harry may not have known exactly what they were going to do at the time he agreed to help Dumbledore and at the time they left the cave with the fake locket.

For an additional post on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, click here.


Harry Potter (Part I): Transferrence

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Romilda Vane slips some love potion into a box of chocolates and leaves them for Harry Potter to eat. Harry's roommate, Ron Weasley, eats some of the chocolates and falls into a trance. Harry finds Ron and takes him to Professor Slughorn, who's an expert in potions. Slughorn gives Ron a tonic and Ron recovers, without any physical damage. To celebrate, Slughorn opens up a bottle of mead and pours a glass for each of them. Ron drinks first, collapses, and starts foaming at the mouth. Harry acts fast and saves Ron. They later learn that Draco Malfoy, hoping to avoid Voldemort's command that he kill Albus Dumbledore or face his own death, switched Slughorn's mead for the poisoned bottle, hoping Slughorn would give the poisoned bottle to Dumbledore.

Issues: Assuming the common law extends to the magical world, did Romilda commit a
crime against Ron, Harry, both, or neither? Did Draco commit a crime against Ron even though he intended the poison for Dumbledore?

Law: Poisoning without the intent to kill (and without causing death) is a battery. Attempted murder is taking a substantial step to taking another's life with the intent to actually take another's life. Under the theory of transferred intent, a person transfers his intent to injure or kill one person if he accidentally injures or kills a different person by the same act.

Analysis: Romilda likely committed a battery against Ron and attempted battery against Harry. Although Romilda intended to poison Harry with the love potion, she actually committed a battery against Ron by poisoning. While Ron physically unharmed by the poisoning, it was an offensive touching that he did not want. In sending the chocolate to Harry, Romilda also took a substantial step toward committing a battery by poisoning against Harry.

Draco is also likely guilty under a transferred intent theory. He intended for Slughorn to give the poisoned mead to Dumbledore (and to kill Dumbledore in the process). Instead, Ron drank some of the mead and almost died. Since no murder took place, Draco is only guilty of the attempted murder of Ron since he had the intent to kill and took a substantial step in placing the poisoned mead in Slughorn's office. Similarly, Draco is also likely guilty of attempted murder of Dumbledore.

Now, Draco and his fancy lawyer will (and should) argue that Draco only did what he did because Voldemort threatened to kill Draco if he did not kill Dumbledore. This is the defense of duress, which excuses conduct done under the imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm and the reasonable belief that the threat is real. However, duress does not extend to murder, so it is unlikely Draco could use this defense in the case of attempted murder.

For an additional post on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, click here.


Friday, July 17, 2009

I Love You, Beth Cooper: A Final Exam

Ed. Note: Because this movie was so awful, I spent a lot of time thinking during the show that the facts of this movie would be great for a criminal law exam since many of the fundamental criminal law issues came up. Now, I doubt the screenwriters were thinking about criminal law at the time (or a good plot, for that matter), but I thought it would be amusing to see what possible crimes (and defenses) were part of the story.

Here's the breakdown:

Class valedictorian Denis gives his graduation address, wherein he professes his love for head cheerleader Beth Cooper. He also implies that Beth's boyfriend Kevin is a loser, his best friend Rich is gay, and Greg the bully has been sexually abused. In short, people are not happy with Denis, and after his speech Greg gives Denis a menacing look that causes Denis to recoil in fear.
Did Greg assault Denis? Likely. An assault is an attempted offensive touching of another or placing someone in fear or apprehension of such contact. Because Denis recoiled from Greg's gesture, Greg likely put Denis in fear of a beating.
Kevin finds Denis and grabs him.
Did Kevin commit a battery toward Denis? Likely. A battery is the use of force against another that causes injury or an offensive touching (a/k/a a completed assault). Denis did not like or consent to Kevin's touch that pulled on Denis's clothes. Because Kevin used nonsensual force against Denis, he likely committed a battery.
Kevin and his two friends are still angry with Denis and want to get back at him. So the three guys, who are high on cocaine at the time, drive over Denis's lawn, bust open the backdoor to Denis's house, and shoves Denis.
Did Kevin and his pals' form a conspiracy? Likely. A conspiracy is an agreement between at least two people to commit an offense, and all parties to the agreement are liable for the acts of other conspirators if those acts are within the scope and objective of the conspiracy. It appears that Kevin and his friends agreed to go to Denis's house and committed an overt act when they drove on Denis's lawn. Under accomplice liability, they are all liable for all subsequent acts any of them commit against Denis.

Did Kevin commit a burglary? Likely. A burglary is the breaking and entering into the dwelling of another with intent to commit an offense. Kevin bust open a door, which satisfies the first part of burglary. Before he broke into the house, Kevin shouted about beating up Denis, which shows his intent to commit an offense (batter) at the time he broke into the house.

Did Kevin commit another battery of Denis? Likely. A battery is the use of force against another that causes injury or an offensive touching. Kevin's punching of Denis caused an injury to Denis's face and it was surely nonconsensual.
  • Can Kevin and friends avail themselves of the voluntary intoxication defense? Probably not. Under the defense of voluntary intoxication, Kevin can argue that the cocaine made him unable to form the specific intent needed in conspiracy and burglary. However, it appears that Kevin and friends were predisposed to commit these offenses and simply used cocaine before committing these acts. Nothing about these incidents suggest Kevin (or his friends) were unable to form the specific intent due to the cocaine use.
Kevin then throws a microwave oven at Denis, missing Denis but creating a huge hole in the wall (and destroying the microwave). Eventually, Denis and the others escape without Kevin.
Did Kevin commit property damage? Likely. Property damage (or vandalism) is the intentional defacing or destruction of another's property. While Kevin may not have intended to damage the wall or microwave, his throwing the microwave was an intentional act that caused the various property damage.

Did Kevin assault Denis by throwing the microwave at him? Likely. As discussed, an assault is an attempted offensive touching or placing one in fear of such a touching. Kevin failed to hit Denis in the head with a microwave. This was certainly offensive. Moreover, Denis was placed in fear of getting hit by the microwave. Therefore, Kevin's act likely satisfied both forms of assault.
Beth, a notoriously bad driver, drives them all to the woods, where they drink alcohol. Rich, Cammy, and Treece see a field of cows, hop over a fence and unsuccessfully try to tip over a cow.
Did Rich, Cammy, and Treece's trespass and attempt to damage property? Unlikely and likely, in part. Criminal trespass is the entry of another's property for an unlawful purpose (as opposed to civil trespass which is the just the intentional, nonconsensual entry of another's property). Here, Rich and the ladies wandered on to the property after seeing the cows but it's unclear if they only entered the property for an unlawful purpose, so they are unlikely liable for criminal trespass.

However, they did attempt to damage one of the cows. An attempt is the taking a substantial step toward committing an offense with the intent to commit the offense. Here, they talked about tipping over a cow and pushed on one of the cows with the intent of tipping it over. Unfortunately for them (but thankfully for the cow), they were unable to move the cow. But, in the process they likely took a substantial step toward damaging the cow.

Did Rich, Cammy, and Treece also commit conspiracy to damage property? Likely. At some point, the three entered into an agreement to tip over the cow (damage property) and they took an overt step to tipping the cow (pushing on it). They are also likely liable for any damage to the cows as a result of their act, if the damage is reasonably foreseeable.
The gang gets back in the car, with Beth again at the wheel. To freak everyone out, Beth drives with the headlights off and crashes into a car where Denis's parents are engaged in maritals.
Did Beth's damage property? Likely. Property damage is just that, the damage of another's property. The issue here is whether the damage was the result of Beth's intentional act or negligence. At a minimum, she was negligent in driving with her lights off, and criminal property damage can be based on an intentional or negligent act.
Denis, Beth, and the gang wind up at a house party, where Kevin finds Denis and punches him several times. In an effort to rescue Denis, Beth drives Kevin's Hummer into the house, destroying a wall but allowing Denis an opportunity to escape. The drive away in Kevin's car.

The gang heads to their locked high school, get inside until Kevin shows up and tries to stomp on Denis, until he is distracted by Rich snapping at towel at Kevin's behind. Denis, Beth, and the gang escape and leave in Beth's car (leaving Kevin's car behind) and spend the rest of the evening in a cabin in the woods. Denis returns home the next morning to parents angry at him for trashing their house.
Did Kevin commit another battery of Denis? Likely. See above for an explanation of the last time Kevin punched Denis.

Did Beth damage property? Likely. Beth drove Kevin's car into another person's house. The car was damaged and the house lost a wall. So she's likely liable for damage to the car and to the house.
  • Can Beth assert self-defense of Denis as a defense to her property damage? Unlikely. The defense of others allows someone to use force against an aggressor of a third-party to the same extent the third-party can use self-defense. Under self-defense, someone can use force against an aggressor if there is a reasonable belief of imminent, unlawful force. The amount of repelling force must be proportional to the aggressor's force (i.e., you can't use deadly force to repeal a non-deadly force assault). Here, Beth could have used force against Kevin since Kevin was using force against Denis, but driving a car into a wall is disproportionate to what Kevin was doing to Denis. She likely has no defense for this act.
  • Can Beth assert the defense of necessity as a defense to her property damage? Unlikely. The defense of necessity excuses some criminal conduct if there is an imminent danger and the harm from the conduct would be less than the harm from the imminent danger. Here, driving a car into a house created greater harm than Kevin punching Denis around for a bit. Therefore, Beth likely has no defense for this act.
Did Beth commit a larceny of Kevin? Likely. A larceny is the taking of another's property with intent to permanently deprive the person of his property. Beth took Kevin's car without permission and gave no indication that she was going to return the car. She drove the car to another location and, but for Kevin arriving with her car, there's no indication she was not going to keep driving Kevin's car for the time being.

Did Kevin assault Denis? Likely. Refer above for the definition of assault. Kevin tried to stop on Denis and he would have done so, but for Rich intervening and Denis running away.

Did Rich commit a battery of Kevin? Likely. Rich snapped a towel at Kevin's behind, which was an nonconsensual act and an offensive touching to Kevin.
  • Can Rich assert self-defense of Denis as a defense to Rich's batter of Kevin? Likely. As discussed, you can act in defense of a third-party if the third-party is faced with an imminent threat and you use proportionate force against the aggressor. Kevin was trying to stop on and beat up Denis (a battery) and Rich responded by snapping a towel at Kevin. While the towel snap was also a battery it was, arguably, of less force than what Kevin was using against Denis, and therefore is likely an appropriate form of defense of another.
Total: 13 or 12 (if you excuse Rich's battery based on a valid defense). I excluded Kevin's pals for counting purposes--under accomplice liability, assume they are also individually liable if Kevin is liable. Same for the girls with Rich in the field.

Did you spot anything I missed?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Hangover: The Tyson or the Tiger

The Hangover (2009)

Facts: Doug, his two best friends (Phil and Stu), and his future brother-in-law Alan go to Las Vegas for one last weekend of bachelor mayhem before Doug's wedding. To start the night, the guys head to the roof of Caesar's Palace, where Alan offers a bottle of Jagermeister and shot glasses. Unknown to the other guys, Alan dropped what he thought were pills of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (a/k/a ecstasy) into the bottle of Jager; In reality, the pills were flunitrazepam (a/k/a roofies--or "floories," if you prefer). The men then began their night of debauchery, which involved a lot of alcohol consumption.

The next morning they woke up, very hungover, and found a tiger in their bathroom. They do not remember anything that happened after they had the shots of Jager on the roof. Mike Tyson, the owner of the tiger, confronts the guys and tells them to return his tiger. They bring the tiger back, at which point Tyson shows video footage of them taking the tiger from his property via the front drive gate.

Issue: Did the guys commit a burglary, a larceny, or both OR did their intoxication negate everything?

Law: A larceny is the taking of another person's property with the intent to permanently deprive the person of the property. A burglary is the breaking and entering into the dwelling of another with intent to commit an offense.

Involuntary intoxication is a defense to criminal conduct if the accused unknowingly ingests the substance that causes the intoxication.

Analysis: Probably no crime here. On their face, the facts seem to satisfy the elements of larceny and burglary. With the burglary, they opened the gate of Tyson's house they committed a breaking because they had to move something to enter the property. The issue is then whether they had the intent to commit an offense, which in this case would be the larceny. On the larceny, they clearly took Tyson's property (the tiger) but did they intend to permanently deprive Tyson of the tiger or were they just borrowing it? The best argument against them is that they never gave an indication that they were simply borrowing the tiger, of course the guys will say it was just a prank and they were going to return the tiger later in the day. That doesn't help us answer this case, though.

The real issue here is whether their behavior is excused because there were unknowingly drugged with roofies that made them unable either to control their actions or to form the necessary intent to commit these acts. Doug, Phil, and Stu did not know that Alan put anything in their drinks, meaning they have a strong argument that they could not have intended to commit either the larceny or the burglary.

Alan could (and should) argue that he mistakenly believed he was taking a different drug and should also benefit from this defense; however, Alan's mistake is not completely innocent as he knew he was putting some illegal substance into the drinks. Alan would also want to argue for the defense of voluntary intoxication (since he caused his own intoxication) as this defense is only available for specific intent crimes, such as burglary and larceny--they both require an addition level of intent above the basic intent to commit the crime: intent to commit an offense (burglary) and intent to permanently deprive (larceny).

Bonus: Assuming the intoxication defenses do not work, the guys are probably also guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit larceny because they entered into an agreement and committed an overt act by going to Tyson's house. As we've discussed, conspiracy does not merge into a completed offense and you can be found guilty of both.

Double Bonus: Assuming the guys were simply intoxicated from their excessive alcohol consumption, they could argue they were unable to form the specific intent needed to commit burglary, larceny, and conspiracy (also a specific intent offense).