Criminal law questions and answers

  • Inchoate Offenses – Attempt

Question:

Ros was found parked in front of her boss’s home early one evening. The next door neighbor testified that Ros had been waiting there for more than two hours. When arrested, Ros was searched. The police officers discovered a pistol in her purse.

On these facts, can Ros be convicted of attempted murder?

Answer:

No. The crime of attempt seeks to punish culpable individuals who have moved in the direction of committing a crime, coupled with a serious purpose to achieve that end. Lying in wait and getting ready to commit a crime would be viewed in most jurisdictions as evidence of a substantial step toward the commission of a crime, or an act in close proximity to the commission of a crime. People v. Staples85 Cal. Rptr. 589 (Cal. App. 1970). It would, thus, satisfy the act requirement for the crime of attempt. Still, the government must also demonstrate that Ros intended to commit the crime. If she were to say nothing, and there were no prior incidents between the parties, the mere fact that she was at the house with a weapon would not show, beyond a reasonable doubt, the high state of mind needed for a successful attempt prosecution. Such a state of mind could be shown with prior altercations between Ros and her boss, threats made by Ros, statements made by her to others about her intent to harm her boss, and so on. On these facts, however, conviction is unlikely.

  • Crimes – Kidnapping

Question:

Taylor came up to Professor Hortense after class and demanded that she remain in the classroom after all the students left. She resisted doing so, at which point Taylor told her, “Look, I have a loaded pistol in my back pack. If you don’t stay here for another 10 minutes or so, I will shoot you.” The professor remained for 10 minutes while Taylor yelled at her about her poor teaching. After 10 minutes, Taylor allowed her to leave.

Did Taylor kidnap the professor?

Answer:

Yes, the kidnapping was complete very soon after Professor Hortense remained in the room against her will. While Taylor will raise a number of fairly serious points in response to the prosecution, none will succeed. It is true that the professor was forced to remain in the room rather that required to move to another location. Kidnapping, however, involves either the removal of the victim or her confinement. Moreover, the fact that the confinement took place in a public area is of no import. The key to the crime is that the defendant has forced the victim to move, or not move, against her will. Finally, the mere fact that the confinement was limited to a ten-minute period does not matter. Essentially, any period of unlawful movement or confinement is sufficient for the purpose of the crime of kidnapping. While some modern statutes have degrees of the crime, linked to the time of the movement/confinement, these laws do not usually redefine the crime; they simply alter the punishment depending on the seriousness of the offense.

  • Crimes – Homicide

Question:

James was seriously injured in a car accident when the driver of another car swerved into his lane. After being transported to the hospital, James’s heart was still beating. Nonetheless, he was connected to a respirator, was being tube-fed, but exhibited no reflexes or brain stem activity.

If the doctors disconnect him from life-support, is the driver of the car that hit James guilty of a homicide offense under modern statutes?

(A) No, because James’s heart was beating at the time of the doctors’ actions.

(B) No, because the doctors killed James when they turned off the life-support.

(C) Yes, because James was brain dead.

(D) No, because a homicide offense cannot be based on a car accident.

Answer:

Answer C is the best answer. At common law, death was defined as the cessation of respiratory and cardiac function. Thus, under the common law, James would not have been considered dead when the doctors removed his life support. Under many modern statutes, however, death is defined as the loss of all reflexes or brain activity. State v. Fierro603 P.2d 74 (Ariz. 1979). Because James was legally dead at the time his life support was removed, the doctors could not be considered an intervening cause of his death. Under modern statutes, James’s death would be the result of the act that caused the trauma, which was the car accident. Although answer A would be the best answer under the common law, death has been statutorily redefined in the modern statutes as noted above. Thus, answer A is not the best answer. While it may be tempting to say that the doctors hastened James’s death, modern statutes define death as brain death. Because James was legally dead when the doctors disconnected the life support, answer B is not correct. Answer D is not the best answer. If a car accident is caused by truly reckless behavior it may well be the basis of an involuntary manslaughter, or even murder, as discussed [in Criminal Law Q&A].

  • Crimes – The Property Offenses: Larceny, Embezzlement, False Pretenses

Question:

Juanita was the manager of the flower store. As such, she had full responsibility for ordering and pricing goods, hiring and firing employees, and promoting the store generally. One day she took home a fancy plant, sold it to her friend, and kept the money.

What crime has she committed?

(A) Embezzlement.

(B) Larceny.

(C) False pretenses.

(D) Robbery.

Answer:

The best answer is A. Juanita was in “possession” of the plant, meaning that she had authority regarding the legitimate use and maintenance of the good, a key requirement for embezzlement. State v. Frasher265 S.E.2d 43 (W. Va. 1980). Answer B is wrong, as larceny involves a theft committed by someone not in possession, but only in mere custody, of the good. Answer C is also wrong, as title did not pass here (the rightful owner was not giving the plant to Juanita). Although Juanita was the manager, she was not authorized to sell goods for her personal use. Answer D is not correct, as a robbery is defined as the taking of property by force or threat of force, not present here.

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