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Monday, February 7, 2011

Criminal Law and Federalism: Explained!


As many of you may or may not know, the United States system of governance is based on a system called "federalism." While I could go on at length about the details of this system ad nauseam, the cliff notes version is that power is split between the state and federal government. This means that there are 51 relevant sources of law (plus city laws!), one from the federal government, and one from each state.

One of the fundamentals of any criminal law discussion is to know what area of law governs the topic, for the results could be much different depending on what state your are in, or if you're being charged with violating a federal statute. For this, and following discussions, for the sake of clarity, assume that we are in "Shepard Jurisdiction," which is independent of any state. Basically, I'll be talking about topics that are applicable to most, if not all of the states.

The first topic in this criminal law adventure is the "felony murder rule." This is a relatively simple concept, so I won't explain it in too much detail. The felony murder rule applies to situations where one or more persons are involved in the commission of a felony (must be co-conspirators, hostages at a bank don't apply). The rule tells us that when one or more persons (A, B, C, and D, for example) are involved in the commission of a felony (Bank Robbery, for example), and a murder is committed by one (A), the rest are equally culpable, without a required showing of mes rea (the bad mind, basically intent to commit the crime). That means that although B, C, and D had no intention of committing the murder, nor did they even know A would fly off the handle and shoot the bank teller in the head when he refused to give him the money, or even if A had brought a gun to the bank, they will all be guilty of first-degree murder.

The felony murder rule can seem harsh, which it is, but it is primarily used to curb the passive assent some have when crimes are being committed. That is to say, deter people from becoming involved in felonies in the first place. While the rule is typically only used for violent felonies, when the murder is committed during the felony or in furtherance of the felony, there have been some unfortunate examples of exactly how harsh it can be.



In Hines v. State: 578 S.E.2d 868 (Ga. 2003), Hines was convicted of first degree murder after he accidentally shot his friend in the back while hunting. If you've been carefully looking at the requirements of felony murder thus far, you'll know something is missing: the underlying violent felony. It turns out Mr. Hines was a convicted felon, and his possession of a hunting rifle was an inherently dangerous activity, and actually a felony.

So, as you can see, the felony murder rule is quite controversial, with some saying it takes away the requirement of mens rea, and others saying that it helps prevent murders from happening. Let me know what you think in the comments below!



As any prudent law student should say, I would be remiss if I didn't inform you that this blog is for information purposes ONLY. Any construction of it to create some sort of legal advice is on the readers own poor judgment, as a 1l is probably the second worst person you could get legal advice from (the first being a non-law student).


Also, due to the overwhelmingly split result, I'll focus primarily on criminal law for my discussions on law, and continue splitting my posts between MMA and law. Thanks for all that gave me advice!

50 comments:

  1. I think it prevents murder from happening. Or at the very least, it causes criminals to turn on each other, causing murders to be solved more easily.

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  2. Interesting post!
    I think it's unfair to treat each case with a blanket rule, especially in serious cases; every situation is too complex to apply one set of rules! Each case is individual!

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  3. hahahah law & mma. I love it. This was really informative... I feel a little foolish at how much I didn't know. Thanks for posting!

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  4. Personally, I'm of the opinion that if you do the time, that should be the end of it. Now if you want to add a a parole sentence to the end of a prison sentence, I can probably understand that. But accidents happen, and people change. Should one action really follow you for the rest of your life? Hell, it could be argued that permanent records, and things of the sort ADD to crime, instead of diminish it. How many employers are really willing to hire an ex-con? If they can't get a legit job, they're given no choice but to return to crime. Now, I could be wrong, and these people may return to crime no matter what. Well, if that's the case, they'll probably wind up behind bars again. At least give them a chance though.

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  5. I think my Government was after starting to move this kind of law system but We'd have to change our entire political landscape first.

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  6. Fool me once, shame on you, have a whoops and death to you? It's not perfect by any means.

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  7. It may seem unduly harsh but can you blame lawmakers for that? Being involved in a felony in the first place has to assume some kind of inherent risk.

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  8. Laughed at that disclaimer, would have been funny if a law blog got sued lol

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  9. Do you know where I could get like a database of all laws? How do lawyers reference this I mean.. just books? What books are these? Like.. where are official laws easily accessible? This has to be available for the public. Where can I find cases to cite? And also, if a judge rules something or another, is that basically a rule set in stone?

    Like in the 80s some judge ruled that only corporations could make income tax, and a group of tax people stopped paying income tax successfully. How do I find all of this shit out?

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  10. hey that's interesting. that's why in e.g. reservoir dogs they didn't like the crazy shooter guy. it would have heped that moved if they explained that.

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  11. @Tasty

    If you're interested in looking up laws, you'll basically have two options
    1.) Pay for a service (westlaw/lexis). I don't recommend this, because it can be quite expensive. On the other hand, you can search literally any law, court document, case, regulation, etc, so it is quite handy. I only use it because I get it free for going to law school.
    2.) Use patchwork free services, such as google scholar, government websites, or court websites.

    Option 2 is much more difficult and time consuming to search for things, though it is possible.

    As for your second question, when a judge makes a ruling, it sets "precedent." Judges in higher courts can overrule the lower courts decision, while lower courts are bound by the doctrine of "stare decisis" (latin for let the decision stand). Typically, judges don't like to overrule cases, because it is viewed as taking away credibility from the law, but if a case was clearly erroneously decided, it will likely be overruled. Judges can also overrule only part of a decision, so that the remaining parts will still be good law.

    Cases can also be distinguished, meaning that the court does not overrule the previous decision, but merely 'steers' the interpretation of the law in a new direction.

    Also, it may help to know jurisdictional hierarchy.

    States are considered sovereign, so unless it's a constitutional issue, they're separate from the federal court system.

    State Courts (non-constitutional issues)
    Supreme Court > Court of Appeals > Trial Court (lowest)
    *NY is the exception, because they like to be confusing, so in NY:
    Court of Appeals > Superior Court > Supreme Court (lowest)

    Federal Courts:
    Supreme Court of the United States > Court of Appeals (circuit courts) > District Courts

    Constitutional Issues:
    Federal Court > State Courts

    Hope this helps!
    P.S. I'll do a full length post on jurisdiction in the coming week. (maybe a special v-day present!)

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  12. Law and Order of the MMA SUPERHOUSE! Unbelievable

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  13. love the Law & mma haha, very informative post man

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  14. My friend is a felon, he's a fucking scumbag. We should just execute them

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  15. Wow that's some heavy reading! Well done!

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  16. Most of that info was new to me and I considered myself reasonably educated in law for somebody who isn't a law student. Thanks for the interesting information.

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  17. I'm didn't know about this law. Very good post. And LOL at Laww & MMA.

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  18. Big wall of text but it was sure worth the read, thanks mate.

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  19. really good post. found it interesting and very thought provoking

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  20. really cool blog, keep up the great work

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  21. Worth the read, cheers. Following

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  22. USA has the biggest prison population in the world per capita. When in prison they will be forced to work or be confined to solitary conditions.

    Well done, USA reinvented slavery.

    Great blog btw, keep it up

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  23. Wow, definitely worth the read. Thanks for posting

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  24. Very thought-provoking.

    Following!

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  25. you've done your research, good post

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  26. This was a good read. I didn't realize that much thought went into that.

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  27. Nice write up, I learned a few things.

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  28. wow. this is really in depth.. i didnt know a lot of that stuff and some of the stuff i did know i never really thought that deeply about before..

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  29. It's not my position to judge the law, I'm not an elected official and my views are too liberal that they verge on anti-social.

    That being said, I don't disagree or agree with the law, but the way they used it on the hunter was more than unfair.

    Obviously the law wasn't intended for that, from what I gather it was intended so idiots don't go over the edge and kill a poor Asian behind the counter during a robbery.

    So yeah, I feel sorry for the hunter convicted of felony murder, but this is a great chance for either local law makers, or anyone else with influence to make sure the law doesn't catch people guilty of essentially nothing and edit it or whatever, if that's even possible.

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  30. Very great read. Look forward to more whether MMA or law.

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  31. I always thought about going into law school, seems to boring though, but those guys are making bank

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  32. Wow. I hate when laws are taken on a strict "three strikes" policy. Cases should be judged individually, not lumped together.

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  33. That's some good stuff, very imformative

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  34. pretty interesting stuff and points here.

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  35. MMA together with Law, seems to be a real paradox.

    supporting.

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  36. Finally a law blog. I'm a pre-law student and have been hoping to come across one of these.

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  37. the system is totally messed up. on the other hand mma they are basically a bunch of murders on the brink of exploding on any given day.

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  38. never actually watched an MMA match, but i do karate, so id prolly like it xD

    morning coffee'd
    documenteddistraction.blogspot.com

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  39. thanks for posting! I'm glad to be able to understand parts of the law now.

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