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?

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