A coherent practice of mens rea (‘guilty mind’) ascription in criminal law presupposes a concept of mens rea which is insensitive to the moral valence of an action’s outcome. For instance, an assessment of whether an agent harmed another person intentionally should be unaffected by the severity of harm done. Ascriptions of intentionality made by laypeople, however, are subject to a strong outcome bias. As demonstrated by the Knobe effect, a knowingly incurred negative side effect is standardly judged (...) intentional, whereas a positive side effect is not. We report the first empirical investigation into intentionality ascriptions made by professional judges, which finds (i) that professionals are sensitive to the moral valence of outcome type, and (ii) that the worse the outcome, the higher the propensity to ascribe intentionality. The data shows the intentionality ascriptions of professional judges to be inconsistent with the concept of mens rea supposedly at the foundation of criminal law. (shrink)
This article examines the operation of “reasonable steps” as a statutory standard for analysis of the availability of the defence of belief in consent in sexual assault cases and concludes that application of section 273.2(b) of the Criminal Code, as presently worded, often undermines the legal validity and correctness of decisions about whether the accused acted with mens rea, a guilty, blameworthy state of mind. When the conduct of an accused who is alleged to have made a mistake about (...) whether a complainant communicated consent is assessed by the hybrid subjective-objective reasonableness standard prescribed by s. 273.2, many decision-makers rely on extra-legal criteria and assumptions grounded on their personal experience and opinion about what is reasonable. In the midst of debate over what the accused knew and what steps were “reasonable” given what the accused knew, the legal definition of consent in section 273.1 is easily over-looked and decision-makers focus on facts that are legally irrelevant and prejudice rational deliberation. -/- That is precisely what we see here; the result is often failure to enforce the law. The author proposes: -/- (a) that section 273.2 be amended to reflect the significant developments achieved in sexual consent jurisprudence since enactment of the provision in 1992; and -/- (b) that, in the interim, the judiciary act with resolve to make full and proper use of the statutory and common law tools that are presently available to determine whether the accused acted with mens rea in relation to the absence of sexual consent. (shrink)
The exculpatory rhetorical power of the term “honest belief” continues to invite reliance on the bare credibility of belief in consent to determine culpability in sexual assault. In law, however, only a comprehensive analysis of mens rea, including an examination of the material facts and circumstances of which the accused was aware, demonstrates whether a “belief” in consent was or was not reckless or wilfully blind. An accused's “honest belief” routinely begs this question, leading to a truncated analysis of (...) criminal responsibility, and error. The problem illustrates how easily old rhetoric perpetuates assumptions that no longer have a place in Canadian law. (shrink)
In this ground-breaking article submitted for publication in mid-1986, Lucinda Vandervort creates a radically new and comprehensive theory of sexual consent as the unequivocal affirmative communication of voluntary agreement. She argues that consent is a social act of communication with normative effects. To consent is to waive a personal legal right to bodily integrity and relieve another person of a correlative legal duty. If the criminal law is to protect the individual’s right of sexual self-determination and physical autonomy, rather than (...) simply to regulate the type and degree of force that may be used to obtain compliance from a victim, the point of reference must be the individual complainant, as a person who makes choices, not social norms or objective tests based on the ordinary person. To determine whether consent is voluntary, attention must be directed to the presence or absence of factors that had a coercive impact on the individual complainant, a specific person with a collection of social, cultural, and psychological experiences, needs, fears, values, and priorities. Individuals have the right to exercise self-determination in accordance with their own values and perceptions, not those of a mythical victim. Accordingly, Vandervort argues that the prosecution may show either refusal, the absence of affirmative voluntary agreement (including passivity or the absence of consent due to unconsciousness), or circumstances that invalidate any apparent consent. Any of these prove the absence of consent for the purposes of establishing the actus reus of sexual assault. -/- The definition of consent as the affirmative communication of voluntary agreement is also shown to have a variety of implications for the interpretation and application of the law of sexual assault and the handling of evidentiary issues at trial in sexual assault cases. Key among these is the pivotal significance of the legal definition of consent as a tool to bar availability of the defence of “mistaken belief in consent.” Vandervort argues that in many cases the defence of “mistaken belief in consent” is based on ignorance of the law of consent, mistake about the legal definition of consent, or a failure to appreciate the legal significance of facts that are well-known, and not on a mistaken belief in an erroneous set of facts. The broad proposition asserted here is that a statutory criminal law is enforceable only if all defences based directly or indirectly on belief in the validity of extra-legal norms that authorize infringement of rights protected by the criminal law are barred. This proposition and the characterization of some mistakes about consent as legal, not factual, are also shown to be useful to exclude rape-myths and stereotypical assumptions---the stuff of which “social” definitions of consent have long been constructed---from the decision-making process at trial. -/- . (shrink)
Superior responsibility has been a widely recognised form of responsibility for omission in both treaty and customary international law. Superiors are held responsible for the acts of their subordinates when they fail in fulfilling their duties to prevent or punish crimes of subordinates. Duties to prevent and punish arise only after the superior knows about the subordinate’s crimes or has a reason to know about it. ‘Has a reason to know’ is a form of constructive knowledge and could be defined (...) as absence of actual knowledge about subordinates’ crimes where that knowledge should exist because of information available to the superior from the content of which it could be easily concluded that there is a possibility that subordinates intend to commit, are committing or have already committed crimes and the lack of that knowledge is a cause of willful disregard of his duties or at least disregard based on gross negligence. (shrink)
It is widely agreed that the top three Model Penal Code culpability levels suffice for criminal liability, but the fourth is controversial. And it isn’t just the particular MPC wording; that negligence should be on the list at all is controversial. My question is: What makes negligence so different? What is it about negligence that gives rise to the view that it should not suffice for criminal liability? In addressing it, I draw attention to how we conduct the debate, and (...) how our framing of the issues is shaping it. My hope is to prompt thought and discussion on just what we want the element of mens rea to provide, and to draw attention to background assumptions that shape our views of what it should take for negligence to count as a species of mens rea. (shrink)
This article discusses the role of the mental in the analysis of criminal liablity. The relation between the general conditions for mens rea and those of criminal liability are considered. Claims made by John Gardner and Heike Jung are considered. Their suggestion that there is a hard and fast distinction between the principles of moral and criminal culapability are considered and shown to have some absurd conclusions.
In ethical terms, intention is widely felt to be the strongest basis for the attribution of personal responsibility for conduct and outcomes. By contrast, in tort law intention is a much less important ground of liability than negligence. This article analyses the meaning of intention in tort law and its relationship to other concepts such as voluntariness, recklessness, motive, and belief. It also discusses difficulties associated with proving intention and other mental states, and the idea of a general principle of (...) tort liability for intention. The key to explaining the relatively minor role of mens rea in tort law is found to lie in the emphasis tort law gives to the interests of victims, and to social values, in constructing its concept of responsibility. This approach also helps to explain the greater importance of mens rea in criminal law. (shrink)
The evolution of criminal law in Western legal systems is often portrayed as a path leading from objective to subjective notions of criminal responsibility. By examining the historical development of the notions of subjective responsibility, this article suggests that the function of a wrongdoer’s subjective mental state, in both its substantive and procedural aspect, as an element in the process of attributing criminal responsibility, remains much the same today as it was in antiquity. This is indicated by what subjectivity, as (...) an essential condition of culpability, is said to imply: the distinction between intentional and unintentional acts. Although the notions of intent and malice aforethought are attested to in various sources on ancient Athenian law, there are several kinds of cases in which the role played by these aspects—traditionally referred to as mens rea —remain unsolved in contemporary jurisprudence and legal practice. Yet despite the difficulties of establishing facts in particularly complex criminal cases, setting the boundary between “intentional” and “unintentional” remains crucially important in determining criminal responsibility and thus in distinguishing the “licit” from the “illicit,” which is the very foundation of the rule of law. (shrink)
Before the recent presidential election, a bipartisan congressional effort was made to pass a criminal justice reform bill. The bill faltered in part because of a proposed default mens rea provision: statutes silent on mens rea, that were not explicitly identified as strict liability by the legislature, would be taken to require for guilt proof of knowledge with respect to each material element. This paper focusses on a prominent line of disagreement about the default mens rea provision. (...) Proponents argued that it would reduce the number of unjust verdicts in corporate cases. They noted that there have been convictions of corporations and corporate officers for public welfare offenses in instances in which there was good reason to believe that the defendants lacked mens rea. They touted the legislation, then, as a way of reducing the false positive rate. Opponents noted that the provision would also reduce the rate of true positives in corporate prosecutions—convictions of those possessing mens rea who could not be proven to—and opposed the legislation on those grounds. Both sides, then, accepted that the relevant question was, in part, numerical: under the provision, would the reductions in guilty verdicts of those lacking mens rea outnumber and outweigh the increases in acquittals of those possessing it? This paper critically examines this numerical approach for assessing and justifying the default mens rea provision. The paper argues that there is a small domain under which it is appropriate to reason in such numerical terms about a default mens rea provision, but that that domain is so small as to make such arguments inappropriate when it comes to sweeping legislation, such as that proposed. The paper further argues that in light of this conclusion the default mens rea provision must be examined non-numerically, through appeal to principled considerations about the necessary conditions for morally justified infliction of punishment. When such arguments are freed from numerical considerations of the kind that dominated the public discussion of the legislation, they decide the matter: the default mens rea provision deserves bipartisan support. (shrink)
The gendered subcultures of our society may have different value systems. Consequently, sexual activity that involves members of these subcultures may be problematic, especially concerning the encoding and decoding of consent. This has serious consequences for labelling the activity as sex or sexual assault. Conceiving consent not as a mental act but as a behavioural act (that is, using a performative standard) would eliminate these problems. However, if we remove the mental element from one aspect, then to be consistent we (...) must remove it from all; and, as a result, the “mistaken belief” defense would be eliminated and mens rea would become insignificant (in other words, if what the woman means is irrelevant, then what the man believes or intends should also be irrelevant). This consequence suggests major changes to our current conceptions of legal justice, which changes, if undesirable, prompt reconsideration of the initial proposal to use a performative standard for consent. (shrink)
Definitional problems in the law of rape prompted the recommendation by the Home Office Sex Offences Review Team (Setting the Boundaries: Reforming the law on sex offences, 2000) that the ‘defence’ of mistaken belief in the victim's consent should be denied to defendants unable to show that they took reasonable procedural care to establish consent: such failure would have amounted to recklessness. This article contends that this proposal did not go far enough in recognizing the moral culpability of those who (...) make unreasonable mistakes in this context, but went too far in characterizing all those making such mistakes as reckless. It contends that the mens rea of rape should be defined in terms of three degrees of culpability: first degree rape would require knowledge as to the absence of consent, whilst second degree rape would need proof of recklessness as to whether the victim consents. Third degree—i.e. negligent—rape would be subject to a defence of mistaken belief in consent, provided it could be shown that the mistake was neither procedurally nor substantively negligent. The provisions of the Government's Sexual Offences Bill, 2003, are also found wanting; they will create a law in danger of generating miscarriages of justice whilst failing to perform the law's educative function of registering the wrongness of rape. (shrink)
In 1987, apprehension that “unreasonable mistakes of fact” might negative mens rea in sexual assault cases led the Canadian Parliament to enact “reasonable steps” requirements for mistakes of fact with respect to the age of complainants. The role and operation of the “reasonable steps” provisions in ss. 150.1(4) and (5) and, to a lesser extent, s. 273.2 of the Criminal Code, must be reassessed. Mistakes of fact are now largely addressed at common law by jurisprudence that has re-invigorated judicial (...) awareness of the evidentiary requirements for the availability of defences at common law and explicitly defines “honest belief” as a belief that is neither reckless nor willfully blind. As a consequence of these common law developments, the defence of mistake of fact with respect to age is rarely available as a matter of law. Properly used, these common law analytic tools afford minors and under-age sex-workers better legal protection from sexual exploitation than has often been achieved in practice over the last 25 years with the “reasonable steps” requirement under ss. 150.1(4) and (5). -/- Socio-economic inequalities ensure that aboriginal children and youth are disproportionately affected by the non-enforcement, under-enforcement, and selective enforcement of laws enacted to protect minors against sexual assault and participation in sex work. Continued reliance by prosecutors and judges on out-moded jurisprudence in the screening, prosecution, and disposition of these cases in the criminal justice system reinforces existing patterns of inequality and disadvantage and violates basic principles of human rights. (shrink)
In a recent book, Neil Levy argues that culpable action – action for which we are morally responsible – is necessarily produced by states of which we are consciously aware. However, criminal defendants are routinely held responsible for criminal harm caused by states of which they are not conscious in Levy’s sense. In this chapter I argue that cases of negligent criminal harm indicate that Levy’s claim that moral responsibility requires synchronic conscious awareness of the moral significance of an act (...) is too strict, and that tracing conditions cannot be successfully used to bolster Levy’s account. Instead, current legal practices indicate that criminal responsibility requires the capacity for diachronic agency and self-control, not synchronic conscious control. (shrink)
Under the “Willful Ignorance Principle,” a defendant is guilty of a crime requiring knowledge he lacks provided he is ignorant thanks to having earlier omitted inquiry. In this paper, I offer a novel justification of this principle through application of the theory that knowledge matters to culpability because of how the knowing action manifests the agent’s failure to grant sufficient weight to other people’s interests. I show that, under a simple formal model that supports this theory, omitting inquiry manifests precisely (...) the same degree of disregard of others’ interests as manifested in knowingly acting criminally. Several surprising implications of this view are described, including that when the agent’s method of inquiry has a non-zero false positive rate, his omission of inquiry does not make the same contribution to his culpability as knowledge, while it does, by contrast, when the false negative rate is non-zero. (shrink)
This paper explores the meaning of the word “felony” in thirteenth and fourteenth century England, i.e., during the first two centuries of the English criminal trial jury. To compile a working definition of felony, the paper presents examples of the language of felony drawn from literary and religious sources, in addition to considering the word’s more formulaic appearance in legal records. The paper then analyzes cases ending in acquittal or pardon, highlighting the factors that might take a criminal case out (...) of the realm of felony. It suggests that the very definition of felony and felonious behavior—and thus the essence of criminal responsibility—may be bound up with the idea of mens rea during this period. The paper aims to uncover broader societal understandings of the nature of guilt and innocence, and to highlight connections and disconnections between the formal criminal law of felony, with its heavy emphasis on capital punishment, and popular and ecclesiastical understandings of culpability. (shrink)
All observers of our legal system recognize that criminal statutes can be complex and obscure. But statutory obscurity often takes a particular form that most observers have overlooked: uncertainty about the identity of the wrong a statute aims to punish. It is not uncommon for parties to disagree about the identity of the underlying wrong even as they agree on the statute's elements. Hidden in plain sight, these unexamined disagreements underlie or exacerbate an assortment of familiar disputes—about venue, vagueness, and (...)mens rea; about DUI and statutory rape; about hate crimes, child pornography, and counterterrorism laws; about proportionality in punishment; and about the proper ambit of the criminal law. Each of these disputes may hinge on deeper disagreements about the identity of the wrong a statute aims to punish, and these deeper disagreements can be surprisingly hard to resolve, fueled as they are by the complex inner structure of our penal laws and the discretionary mechanisms of their administration. (shrink)
In Regina v. Murray, (2000, Ont S.Ct.J.) the learned trial judge, Justice Gravely, errs in his interpretation and application of the law of mens rea in the offense of willfully attempting to obstruct justice under section 139(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada. In view of his findings of fact and law, including the determination that the accused knowingly and intentionally committed the actus reus of the offense and the absence of any suggestion that he lacked awareness of any (...) relevant facts, there is no question in law but that Kenneth Murray was liable to be, and actually should have been, convicted. Nonetheless, the trial judge concluded that Murray’s alleged belief, that his actions were required by his duty to his client, raised a reasonable doubt about his intention to obstruct justice and entitled him to be acquitted. -/- In his reasons for judgment, the trial judge analyzes mens rea as if there is a “color of right” defense to the offense of obstruction of justice. In law, however, no such defense exists to this offense. Consequently, even if Mr. Murray did “honestly believe” that he had a duty to his client not to disclose the existence of the video tapes, that belief could not provide him with an exculpatory defence. In Canada, pursuant to common law and section 19 of the Criminal Code, mistakes of law do not excuse accused persons from responsibility for criminal conduct in the absence of a statutory exception. No exception exists for the offense of obstruction of justice. Yet the Crown did not choose to appeal and thereby signaled its acceptance of the legal analysis adopted by the trial judge. By contrast, if the analysis proposed in this piece had been adopted, the Crown should have prevailed at trial and, if unsuccessful at trial, would have had a right of appeal on a question of law. -/- At least two tendencies converge as significant influences shaping the outcome in the Murray case. The central tendency, discussed in Part I of this article, is the trial judge’s treatment of the accused’s alleged mistake about his legal duty as if it were a mistake about a question of fact which therefore could give rise to a reasonable doubt about intention or culpable awareness. This approach to mistaken beliefs ignores the distinction between mistakes of law and mistakes of fact, and then characterizes all mistakes as mistakes of fact. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in the case law. In recent years however, as explained below, the judiciary has rejected that approach in a number of leading cases and ruled that mistakes which are actually mistakes about the meaning, scope, or application of the law are subject to the general rule and do not provide an accused with an exculpatory defense. The relationship between mistake of law and mens rea in Canadian criminal law has also been the subject of critical scholarly comment in Canada in recent years. The Murray decision provides evidence that, despite clarification by the Supreme Court, in some lower courts the unrefined approach to mistaken belief continues to shape the legal analysis of criminal culpability, even when the mistaken belief is overtly a belief about the law. This will not change until the proper characterization of mistaken beliefs as legal or factual becomes a deliberate and common-place aspect of case analysis at the trial court level. -/- The other tendency, discussed in Part III of this article, is one that often appears as a companion to the first - the judicial tendency to perceive and invoke analytical legal ambiguity in favour of accuseds more readily in cases in which the impugned conduct involves the discretionary exercise of authority which, when used appropriately, is fully legitimate and essential to the normal functioning of the existing socio-legal order. Of course, courts are strongly influenced by the arguments put to them by counsel. And counsel, acting on behalf of client groups with particular group interests may, consciously or unconsciously, favour the development of those lines of analysis which are protective of that interest or associated institutional interests. One of the reasons for scrutinizing the Murray case is that it provides a concrete context for discussion of those issues in relation to an actual decision made by Crown prosecutors. The case provides an occasion to examine a specific example of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, its implications for the administration of criminal justice, and its broader potential impact on the public interest. [See also errata in UNBLJ 2002 volume 52 at pp 309-310.]. (shrink)
This piece proposes amendments to section 273.2 of the Canadian Criminal Code. Section 273.2, enacted in 1992 and revised in 2018, specifies circumstances in which belief in consent is not a defence to sexual assault. The amendments proposed here are designed to ensure that the wording of this statutory provision properly reflects the significant jurisprudential developments related to mens rea and the communication of voluntary agreement (i.e., affirmative sexual consent) achieved by Canadian judges since the original enactment of section (...) 273.2 in 1992. Revisions to the Model Jury Instructions posted by the National Judicial Institute are also considered. (shrink)
Philosophical naturalism, according to which philosophy is continuous with the natural sciences, has dominated the Western academy for well over a century, but Michael Rea claims that it is without rational foundation. Rea argues compellingly to the surprising conclusion that naturalists are committed to rejecting realism about material objects, materialism, and perhaps realism about other minds.
Brain–computer interfacing (BCI) aims at directly capturing brain activity in order to enable a user to drive an application such as a wheelchair without using peripheral neural or motor systems. Low signal to noise ratio’s, low processing speed, and huge intra- and inter-subject variability currently call for the addition of intelligence to the applications, in order to compensate for errors in the production and/or the decoding of brain signals. However, the combination of minds and machines through BCI’s and intelligent devices (...) (IDs) can affect a user’s sense of agency. Particularly confusing cases can arise when the behavioral control switches implicitly from user to ID. I will suggest that in such situations users may be insecure about the extent to which the resulting behavior, whether successful or unsuccessful, is genuinely their own. Hence, while performing an action, a user of a BCI–ID may be uncertain about being the agent of the act. Several cases will be examined and some implications for (legal) responsibility (e.g. establishing the presence of a ‘guilty mind’) are discussed. (shrink)
In debate about the nature of persistence over time, the view that material objects endure has played the role of "champion" and the view that they perdure has played the role of the "challenger." It has fallen to the perdurantists rather than the endurantists to motivate their view, to provide reasons for accepting it that override whatever initial presumption there is against it. Perdurantists have sought to discharge their burden in several ways. For example, perdurantism has been recommend on the (...) grounds that: (i) it solves several of the puzzles that raise the problem of material constitution; (ii) it is (at least) suggested by the special theory of relativity (hereafter "SR"); (iii) it is the only view that makes sense out of the possibility of intrinsic change; (iv) it is the only view consistent with the doctrine of Humean supervenience; and (v) it makes better sense than its competitor out of the possibility of fission. There are primary and most powerful claims that have been made on behalf of perdurantism. They are individually persuasive and together they constitute a formidable assault upon the hegemony of endurantism. Endurantists of course, have not been without reply. However, since endurantists typically respond to these claims one at a time and in different ways, it is easy to get the impression that perdurantism offers a single, neat solution to a host of problems whereas endurantism requires a patchwork of different strategies. But this impression is an illusion. In Rea 1995, I argued that though perdurantism does solve some of the puzzles that raise the problem of material constitution, it does not solve the problem of material constitution itself. Thus, the problem of material constitution really has no bearing on the debate between endurantists and perdurantists. In his paper, I will show that the same is true with respect to SR, the problem of intrinsic change, the doctrine of Humean supervenience, and the possibility of fission. In short, I will argue that none of (ii-v) is true and that therefore the doctrine of temporal parts stands unmotivated. (shrink)
The willful ignorance doctrine says defendants should sometimes be treated as if they know what they don't. This book provides a careful defense of this method of imputing mental states. Though the doctrine is only partly justified and requires reform, it also demonstrates that the criminal law needs more legal fictions of this kind. The resulting theory of when and why the criminal law can pretend we know what we don't has far-reaching implications for legal practice and reveals a pressing (...) need for change. (shrink)
Metaphysics: The Basics is a concise and engaging introduction to the philosophical study of the world and universe in which we live. Concerned with questions about reality, existence, time, identity and change, metaphysics has long fascinated people but to the uninitiated some of the issues and problems can appear very complex. In this lively and lucid book, Michael Rea examines and explains key questions in the study of metaphysics such as: • Can two things be in the same place at (...) the same time? • Do creatures of fiction exist? • Are human beings free? • Is time travel possible? • Is there just one world or many worlds? With a glossary of key terms and suggestions for further reading, the book considers key philosophical arguments around Metaphysics, making this an ideal starting point for anyone seeking a full introduction to the debates both within and about metaphysics. (shrink)
I provide a brief history of the common law governing the criminal liability of intoxicated offenders, and the codification and application of the intoxication rules in Canada. I argue that the common law and its statutory application in Canada violate a number of principles of criminal justice. I then argue that the rules cannot be saved by attempts to subsume them under principles of prior fault. I end with a modest proposal for law reform.
Arguments for the importance of neuroscience reach across many disciplines. Advocates of neuroscience have made wide-ranging claims for neuroscience in the realms of ethics, value, and law. In law, for example, many scholars have argued for an increased role for neuroscientific evidence in the assessment of criminal responsibility. In this article, we take up claims for the explanatory role of neuroscience in matters of morals and law. Drawing on our previous work together, we assess the cogency of neuroscientific explanations of (...) three issues that arise in these domains: rule-following, interpretation, and knowledge. We critique these explanations and in general challenge claims as to the efficacy of the neuroscientific accounts. (shrink)
Mereological Universalism is the thesis that, for any disjoint Xs, the Xs automatically compose something. In his book, Material Beings, Peter van Inwagen provides an argument against Universalism that relies on the following crucial premiss: (F) If Universalism is true, then the Xs cannot ever compose two objects, either simultaneously or successively.1 I have argued elsewhere (Rea 1998) that van Inwagen’s defence of (F) fails because it relies on the false assumption that Universalism is incompatible with the view that, for (...) some Xs, what the Xs compose depends upon how the Xs are arranged. However, Matthew McGrath (1998) has recently provided a new – and in his opinion, better – formulation of van Inwagen’s argument for (F). Furthermore, he claims (contrary to what van Inwagen himself apparently thinks) that four of the ten assumptions listed at the outset of Material Beings are ‘jointly sufﬁcient for the falsity of Universalism’. (1998: 121) Those assumptions, as they appear on page 121 of McGrath 1998, are as follows. (shrink)
Anglo-American criminal law traditionally demands a criminal purpose for an attempt conviction, even when the crime attempted requires only foresight or recklessness. Some legal philosophers have defended this rule by appeal to an alleged difference in the moral character or intentional structure of intended versus non-intended harms. I argue that there are reasons to be skeptical of any such differences; and that even if conceded, it is only on the basis of an unworkable view of criminal responsibility that such a (...) distinction would support a rule restricting attempts to criminal purpose. I defend instead the continuity thesis, according to which attempts are functionally continuous with endangerment offenses: both are legal efforts to regulate unreasonably dangerous conduct. The upshot of the continuity thesis is that there is little substantive difference between attempt and endangerment in principle, no matter how they are labeled in law. (shrink)
Doug Husak frames a worry that makes sense in the abstract, but in reality, there is not much to worry about. The thesis that intentions are irrelevant to permissibility (IIP) is a straw man. There are reasons to think that the moral significance of intentions is not properly registered in criminal law. But the moral basis for criticism is not nearly as extreme as the IIP, and the fixes are not that hard to make. Lastly, if they are not made, (...) some people may not get the punishments they deserve, and there will be some extra inequities in the criminal law as a result. But these inequities are not so great that change must be made now. The moral categories that are used may be too crude, but they are also familiar and easy to work with, and that counts for something. (shrink)
Despite amendments to the sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code, decisions about the availability and operation of the defence of belief in consent remain vulnerable to the influence of legally extraneous considerations. The author proposes an approach designed to limit the influence of such considerations.
Notwithstanding the demands of retributive desert, strict criminal liability is sometimes defensible when the strict liability pertains, not to whether conduct is to be criminalized at all, but to the seriousness of the actor’s crime. Suppose an actor commits an intentional assault or rape, and accidentally brings about a death. Punishing the actor more seriously because the death resulted is sometimes justifiable, even absent proof of his independent culpability as to the death. But what punishment is proportionate for such an (...) actor? Should he be punished as harshly as an intentional or knowing killer? This article offers a framework for analysing these difficult questions. After rejecting a broad forfeiture justification for strict liability in grading, it articulates a more promising set of arguments, premised on the actor’s ‘change of normative position’ by choosing to commit a crime. Three principles of culpability sometimes justify strict liability in grading: holistic culpability, attention to the degree of unjustifiability of the risk, and rough comparability in culpability. Strict liability in grading can be appropriate when the risk of committing the more serious crime (i) is a risk intrinsic to the less serious crime or (ii) is minimally foreseeable. The article also addresses the relevance of moral luck, ie the principle that the fortuitous occurrence of a result or circumstance increases the actor’s just deserts. Even if moral luck is recognized, it cannot fully justify strict liability in grading. (shrink)
The availability of the defence of belief in consent under section 265(4) is a question of law, subject to review on appeal. The statutory provision is based on the common law rule that applies to all defences. Consideration of the defence when it is unavailable in law and failure to consider it when it is available are both incorrect. A judge is most likely to avoid error when ruling on availability of the defence if the ruling: (1) is grounded on (...) sound analysis of the substantive basis for the defence and its relationship to the principles of criminal responsibility; and (2) uses precise legal criteria to govern practical application of section 265(4) to the evidence in specific cases. The guidelines proposed in Part I are based on analyses of the substantive defence and culpable awareness and were developed to ensure that appropriate criteria are properly used when section 265(4) is applied. When a trial judge rules that the defence is available in law, the trier of fact must determine whether the defence is available on the facts as found, based on the evidence in the case. The model jury instructions proposed in Part II are designed to ensure that deliberations by the trier of fact are also guided and shaped by appropriate legal criteria. At both stages, the objective is to ground the deliberation process on fact, not fiction, and to regulate the exculpatory effect of the defence by using legal norms to exclude excuses based on extra-legal considerations such as sexual/racial fantasy, stereotype and myth, or community attitudes and custom. (shrink)
In order to be properly applied, criminal law must determine what conduct warrants punitive action. Figuring out exactly how one must act to be criminally liable is a difficulty that faces any legal system. In many jurisdictions criminal recklessness is regarded as an important notion for liability. However, recklessness is difficult to define, and attempts at this exercise have been a problem in legal philosophy since the mid-twentieth century, and persist today. This thesis discusses accounts of recklessness with the aim (...) of defining it in a way that overcomes several problems which have arisen in recent legal history. It is widely accepted, as well as prima facie intuitive, that people can be culpable for acts committed recklessly. Despite this, whether or not a state of mind is reckless is difficult to define, let alone define in a way that is not only conceptually sound, but also pragmatically apt. Recklessness occurs when an agent engages in some risky activity, but factors like the agent’s attitude and whether the risk is foreseen have been cited as relevant when ascertaining their recklessness. I discuss some difficulties in legally framing recklessness, before criticising some definitional manoeuvres made by judges and scholars in the past. With some problems in previous accounts noted, I consider the foundations of culpability in general. I suggest that two accounts of culpability – the agency theory and the choice theory – are both plausible, and each correlates to a prominent contemporary position on recklessness. After serious consideration of both positions, I conclude that the position advocated by Antony Duff, which I see as in keeping with the agency theory of culpability, is both more generally useful for criminal law and much more coherent with our everyday practices of blaming and punishing. (shrink)