Elements of Crime
Elements of a Crime (Actus Reus & Mens Rea) Model Lesson Plan Source: Original lesson plan. Handout #2 from David Crump, Criminal Law: Cases, Statutes, And Lawyering Strategies, Lexis Nexis 2005 pg. 117-18.
I. Goals: by the end of this class sstudents should have a sthrong foundation for reading criminal statutes and differentiating ssimilar crimes. II. Objectives a. Knowledge objectives: as a result of this class sstudents will be better able to: i. define “Actus Reus” and “Mens Rea” ii. understand the different gradations of Mens Rea iii. nderstand the differences between Washington’s homicide statutes b. Skills objectives: as a result of this class sstudents will be better able to: i. read a statute carefully and apply it to fact patterns ii. present and defend their interpretations of the law c. Attitude objectives: i. Sstudents should understand that the severity of criminal punishments can vary greatly depending on the defendant’s mental state in a manner that is largely consistent with the general societal belief that intentionally wrongful acts are worse than unintentional, but still wrongful acts. ii.
Sstudents should carefully consider the potentially harsh results that occur when legislatures replace mens rea with strict liability. III. Methods (1)Distribute Handout #1 (Hypos) (2)Read the introductory hypothetical aloud as a class. Ask for volunteers to answer the questions. a. The class should come to the conclusion that Frank did “cause” Bill’s death in the sense that if he hadn’t moved the mirror in the particular way he did at that exact time, the window washer wouldn’t have been blinded and Bill wouldn’t have slipped. This is a good example of “but for” or “actual causation” as used in Handout #2.
However, the law typically only imposes liability where the defendant’s conduct is the “proximate cause” of the harmful event/ crime. b. However, it seems like Frank didn’t do anything “wrong. ” Try to elicit why this result seems wrong and write the class’s ideas on the whiteboard. (3)Distribute Handout #2 (Elements) (4)Handout #2 Walk through the Elements handout. Be careful to explain that not all of the elements are always present in a criminal statute. For example, attempted murder doesn’t have a harm element and parking violations don’t have a mens rea element, e. g. ne can receive a parking citation for parking in a handicapped spot even if it was unintentional or an accident. Furthermore, the elements aren’t perfectly discrete and there is some overlap. (5)Distribute Handout #3 (Statutes) a. Explain that the groups will be analyzing the hypos with respect to the statutes provided in Handout #3. The Grades of Homicide are meant to demonstrate the changes mens rea. b. Walk through the statutes and give a thumbnail sketch of i. First degree murder: 1. Premeditated killing. An intentional killing that was deliberate and contemplated prior to the killing. . Extreme Indifference. Covers the possibility that someone knows that what they are going to do will result in the death of another person, but at the same time doesn’t “intend” to kill. See the bomb hypo in handout # 1. ii. Second degree murder 1. Intentional killing without premeditation. The classic example is a passion killing where the homicide occurs in the heat of the moment. iii. First degree manslaughter 1. Recklessness. Conscious awareness of an unacceptable risk to human life. Recklessness is ssimilar to extreme indifference, but the risk that human life will be lost is less. v. Second degree manslaughter 1. Criminal negligence. Gross deviation from standard of care. v. Statutory rape 1. No mens rea. Strict liability with a limited affirmative defense where minor misrepresents age. In an effort to protect minor children, state legislatures have placed an increased burden to ascertain age on the older party. (6)Break into groups of 3-5 to apply statutes to Hypos 1-5. Have groups designate a reporter and a recorder. The recorder should write each of the group members’ names on the top of handout #1 and also record the group’s aanswers on the space provided.
The Reporter is responsible for explaining the group’s reasoning and conclusion when the class reconvenes. (7)Reconvene Class: call on each group to present their analysis of one hypo. Ask questions to push them in the right direction if you think they missed something or ask questions forcing them to defend their aanswers if you think they got it right. Note to teacher: suggested aanswers to the hypotheticals are on a separate sheet at the end of this lesson plan. (8)Take-away: mens rea standards vary widely from premeditated intent to strict liability.
You need to read statutes carefully to determine the correct standard. IV. Evaluation a. Group performance on written responses to Hypos1-5 and class discussion. V. Assignment a. Write a one page response to the following question: Shcould Melvin be punished for his relationship with Laura? If not, please explain why. How do you think Washington’s statutory rape statute should be changed? If you think that Melvin should be punished, please explain why. Handout #1: Hypothetical Scenarios Introductory Hypo: Frank is helping his friend move into a downtown Seattle condo.
While unloading a large mirror from the moving truck, the bright sunlight hits the mirror and reflects against the 40th floor of the skyscraper across the street which temporarily blinds a window washer and causes him to stumble. During this moment of temporary blindness, lasting about a second and a half, the window washer inadvertently kicks over his window washing bucket onto the street below. The water and soap from the bucket hit the sidewalk right in front of Bill the jogger. Bill was unable to stop before stepping on the slippery sidewalk, causing him to lose his balance and fall.
When Bill fell, he hit his head on the sidewalk. Bill died two weeks later from his head injury. Suppose that Washington law provides: Anyone who causes the death of another person shall be guilty of murder. Wcould Frank be guilty of murder under this law? Shcould he be? Group Exercise Hypos Instructions: Nominate someone in your group to be the recorder and another person to be the class reporter. Read each hypothetical and determine which statute, if any, applies to the facts of the hypothetical and whether the defendant has violated the statute.
Hypo #1: Sarah is held at gun point by Roger on a rooftop. Roger tells Sarah that she must shoot and kill Steven. Sarah pleads with Roger to let her go and that she does not want to kill Steven. Roger tells Sarah that unless she successfully shoots and kills Steven, he will kill Sarah and her entire family. Roger has a violent reputation and Sarah has no reason to believe that Roger will not follow through with his threat. Roger identifies Steven walking on the other side of the street and tells Sarah to take the shot.
Fearing for the safety of her family and herself, Sarah takes careful aim at Steven, gauges the wind and change in elevation, and fires a precise shot penetrating Steven’s heart. What crimes if any has Sarah committed?