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Actus Reus And Omissions Outline

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This is an extract of our Actus Reus And Omissions document, which we sell as part of our Criminal Law Outlines collection written by the top tier of New York University School Of Law students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Criminal Law Outlines. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

Actus Reus/Omissions
Requirement of criminal liability which involves the (1) commission of a voluntary act or an (2)
omission (failure to act) when there is a legal duty to act

Legal duty + breach duty by failing to act

Ensure people are not punished for bad thoughts alone o
Ensure people are not punished for involuntary acts due to coercion,
unconsciousness, hypnosis etc.
Ensure that there is notice (enumerated legal duty) before punishing a failure to act/omission

Voluntary acts o
Voluntary act: conscious and volitional movement of the human body that is willed by the actor

Acts out of habit would still be voluntary o
Martin - statute requires public appearance (core element that made conduct criminal); voluntariness requirement is presupposed in statute because presupposed by legislature, Martin was compelled to appear > not guilty o
Whether there is a voluntary act also depends on the timeframe you are considering

Ex. In case of taking a drug and falling asleep at the wheel causing accident, gov could argue taking the drug is voluntary but def would counter that the driving conduct that caused the accident was not voluntary, as it was conduct done during unconsciousness o
Policy reasons:

Utilitarian - you cannot deter involuntary acts

Retributive - a person is not culpable for an action if it was not voluntary o
MPC 2.01(1) - not guilty unless criminal liability is based on a conduct including a voluntary act or omission to perform act of which he is physically capable

Implies that not all elements must be voluntary/leaves courts to decide the key voluntary act

MPC 2.01(2) - Voluntary act NOT (1) reflex or convulsion, (2) bodily movement during unconsciousness or sleep, (3) conduct during hypnosis or resulting from hypnotic suggestion, (4) bodily movement that otherwise is not a product of the effort or determination of the actor, either conscious or habitual

Omissions (more common issue) - criminalized if there is a breach of a legal duty o
Generally, there is no duty to aid o
Arguments for/against general duty to rescue


Solve collective action problem

Promote public safety and sense of community

Prevent or mitigate danger

Retributive goal - punish people who let bad things happen

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