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|1||Show/Hide More||VI.A. Causation|
While much of our study of criminal law has focused on two elements of a crime—actus reus and mens rea—criminal law also concerns itself with the resulting harm. Causation, the subject of this section, focuses on how the harm comes about. Attempt, the subject of the next section, considers criminal liability when the result of the crime does not occur at all.
In most criminal cases, causation does not pose very difficult problems. As in other areas of law such as torts, causation requires a showing of both the “but-for cause,” or cause in fact, and “proximate” or legal cause. The cases in this section examine causation by looking at scenarios in which the but-for cause can be difficult to ascertain, or when the proximate cause becomes too strained or remote. Consider why the courts find causation in some cases and not others. What rules, beyond a sense of moral culpability, govern causation?
|2||Show/Hide More||VI.B. Attempt|
Attempt, an “inchoate” offense, lies somewhere between merely thinking about committing a crime and successfully completing it. How far should someone have to go before his actions are criminal? On the other end of the spectrum, if someone fully intends and attempts to commit a crime—say, fires a bullet intending to kill a person—why should he punished less because he missed, or because he grievously injured but did not kill the target? Why does the law take into account the actual result at all, if the act and the mens rea are the elements that establish individual blameworthiness?
The cases in this section consider the level of mens rea and actus reus needed for an attempted crime. Consider how the court adjusts these requirements in attempt cases to balance a broad variety of social aims, such as punishing blameworthiness; deterrence; creating incentives for abandonment; minimizing the arbitrariness of criminal punishment; and giving potential criminals the opportunity to change their minds.
May 27, 2016
Griswold Reading Groups
Harvard Law School
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