Undermining the Criminal Intent Requirement. March 2. 5, 2. 01. Dew. Developed over the course of hundreds of years, the Anglo. These provisions, however, are under attack by America. The loss of this guilty mind requirement would destroy Americans. How the Supreme Court of the United States rules (if the Court does choose to rule) on.
This attack does not come from the courts. Now is the time to remind our legislators that core liberties, once lost, are at best difficult, if not impossible, to restore. Modern Criminal Law Modern criminal law is far different from the criminal law of 1.
Courts See Moms as Guilty till Proven Innocent. By Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher New York Daily News June 20, 2004. Till Proven Innocent (2004): Review, Trailer, Photos. Review: A brutal double murder in a hotel room. A suspect confesses at the scene.
Common- law crimes like murder, rape, and robbery all were once morally blameworthy. Today, such moral clarity is in short supply: There are 4,5.
Smokey Bear emblem without authorization) that most Americans would not consider . This requirement is also changing, and not for the better. Today, there is a place where you are presumed to be guilty until you prove yourself innocent, a place where you can be imprisoned without any proof you intended to commit a crime. And this seismic shift in the state. Florida Today: The Shelton Case In a case currently pending before the Supreme Court, Shelton v.
In other words, does the citizen have the burden of proving he did not intend to violate the law? The case arises in the unfortunate context of a drug charge, but that does not mean it is unimportant, and it certainly is no reason for conservatives to be unconcerned.
The underlying principle is simple and of universal applicability: If the government cannot prove that an individual knew his acts were potentially criminal, then that individual should not be criminally liable. In 1. 99. 6 and again in 2. Florida Supreme Court held that knowledge of the illicit nature of a substance is an element that the state must prove in drug prosecutions. To be sure, many defendants would falsely claim, . Moreover, if an individual really did not know the nature of what he was holding, then he is not guilty of a crime. There is no value, the court said, in convicting someone who innocently believed he was carrying sand or talcum powder. This burden of proof was modest in nature and of little true concern to Florida prosecutors.
In response to those decisions, the Florida legislature amended Florida. Because the burden of persuasion is on the defendant, the federal district court that recently reviewed the law concluded that, for all practical purposes, . In October 2. 00. Mackle Shelton was arrested for, among other things, possession and delivery of cocaine. At trial, the judge instructed the jury that in order to convict Shelton, the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt (1) that Shelton delivered a certain substance and (2) that the substance was cocaine. Under those instructions, the jury found Shelton guilty and sentenced him to 1.
Shelton appealed to the state appellate court and the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that imposing such a harsh penalty without a meaningful mens rea requirement (that is, without a requirement that he had acted with a guilty intent) violates due process protections under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U. S. Neither the appellate court nor the Florida Supreme Court, however, addressed the constitutional issue raised by Shelton, and both upheld his conviction.
Shelton then filed a federal habeas petition in a federal district court in Florida, arguing that the Florida drug law was facially unconstitutional because it eliminated the mens rea requirement for a drug offense, under which he was sentenced to 1. The district court granted Shelton. If the mens rea requirement has been completely removed, the court reasoned, the statute must be analyzed under prior Supreme Court decisions about strict liability offenses. If the mens rea requirement is still an element of the offense, the presumption that the defendant had the requisite mens rea unless he proves otherwise would, in the district court. In Shelton, the district court determined that the Florida drug law satisfied none of the three Staples elements.
To the contrary, it concluded that: The penalties for violating Florida. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court, holding that the Supreme Court has yet to address the strict liability issue directly and that Florida.
Meanwhile, in a different case, the Florida Supreme Court, by a thin majority, held last year that the same drug statute considered in Shelton was facially constitutional. The court emphasized that the primary responsibility for defining the elements of a criminal offense rests with the legislature and concluded that, because the law prohibits an affirmative act of possession and because there is no lawful purpose for an unauthorized person to handle a controlled substance, the legislative decision to eliminate intent as an element of the crime did not violate due process. District Court, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals each relied on Supreme Court precedent and came to diverging conclusions on the same issue demonstrates the lack of clarity in this area of the law. Shelton has petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case, and the Court.
Why Is Shelton So Important? The Shelton case matters profoundly. Historically, the law has required that before an individual can be deemed a criminal, he must have acted with intent to do wrong. The burden of proving that he intended to do wrong was placed on the government. Accidents and mistakes are not considered crimes: . The requirement that a crime involve culpable purposeful intent has a solid historical grounding.
As Justice Robert Jackson wrote: The contention that an injury can amount to a crime only when inflicted by intention is no provincial or transient notion. It is as universal and persistent in mature systems of law as belief in freedom of the human will and a consequent ability and duty of the normal individual to choose between good and evil. A relation between some mental element and punishment for a harmful act is almost as instinctive as the child. Unqualified acceptance of this doctrine by English common law was indicated by Blackstone. It means that guilty intent is no longer the hallmark of criminality.
And even though the elimination of all mens rea requirements. For example, one court held a company strictly liable for the death of certain migratory birds . The Florida statute, if read this way, is just the latest and most extreme example of this trend. What Shelton portends is, in effect, a standard of near- absolute liability. One is entitled to wonder whether contemporary legislators who have enacted vague criminal statutes and have empowered bureaucrats to implement regulations with onerous criminal penalties have lost sight of a fundamental truth: .
This is too fundamental to be compromised. Criminal Law and the Guilty Mind The Supreme Court may choose not to resolve the issues present in Shelton. If the Court does indeed decline to intervene. It is imperative that legislatures draft laws that protect the innocent by requiring the government to prove a mens rea (guilty mind) and an actus reus (bad act) beyond a reasonable doubt before branding somebody a criminal and depriving him of his liberty, quite possibly for many, many years. If they do not, then we may all truly be criminals, and we will have lost sight of a profoundly important insight: that the criminal law ought to be reserved for truly culpable behavior.
Dew is a Visiting Legal Fellow in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Show references in this report. Hide References. State, 6. So. 2d 7. 36, 7. 44 (Fla. State, 8. 08 So. 2d 1. Fla. State, 9. 20 So. Fla. Sec’y, Dep’t of Corrections, 8.
F. Supp. 2d 1. 28. M. D. Fla. 2. 01.