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Greetings from the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Bar Association. This is the second edition of Law Wise for 2005. Our topic this month centers around one of the issues contained in the mock trial materials that allows us to delve into criminal law – what is involuntary manslaughter and under what circumstances do we hold people accountable for their actions even if they did not intend the consequence?
Calendar of Events
Case Summary & Criminal Law Overview
Since many of our readers are involved in mock trial, we are using that hypothetical case, People v. Donovan, to discuss the different levels of murder and show the consequences of a seemingly simple prank.
In People v. Donovan, three people die in an exit ramp collision. During the investigation, investigators find the missing "Do Not Enter" sign at the home of university student Chris Donovan. The case addresses the issues of involuntary manslaughter and the admissibility of incriminating statements (not addressed in this issue).
First, a brief overview of criminal law will aid the discussion. Criminal law involves prosecution by the government of a person for an act that has been classified as a crime. In a criminal case the state initiates the suit and persons convicted of a crime may be incarcerated, fined, or both.
A "crime" is any act or omission (of an act) in violation of a public law forbidding or commanding it. Though there are some common law crimes, most crimes in the United States are established by local, state, and federal governments. Criminal laws vary significantly from state to state. There is, however, a Model Penal Code (MPC) that serves as a good starting place to gain an understanding of the basic structure of criminal liability.
Crimes include both felonies (more serious offenses – like murder or rape) and misdemeanors (less serious offenses – like petty theft or jaywalking). Felonies are usually crimes punishable by imprisonment of a year or more, while misdemeanors are crimes punishable by less than a year. However, no act is a crime if it has not been previously established as such either by statute or common law.
All statutes describing criminal behavior can be broken down into their various elements. Most crimes consist of two elements: an act, or actus reus, and a mental state, or mens rea. Prosecutors have to prove each and every element of the crime to yield a conviction. Furthermore, the prosecutor must persuade the jury or judge "beyond a reasonable doubt" of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged. In comparison, in civil cases, the plaintiff needs to show a defendant is liable only by a "preponderance of the evidence," or more than 50 percent.
Murder of any type is a felony in Kansas. However, there are four classifications of murder that contain different elements and different punishments. (1) Murder in the first degree is the killing of a human being committed intentionally and with premeditation or in committing/ attempting to commit a felony. (2) Murder in the second degree is the killing of a human being committed intentionally or unintentionally but recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. (3) Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of a human being committed (a) "upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of a passion" or (b) "upon and unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force." (4) Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of a human being committed recklessly or other specific instances including "during the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner."
In this case, we are dealing with involuntary manslaughter because the person who took the traffic sign wanted to put it on his wall, and while it was unlawful to take the traffic sign, he did not have any intent to harm someone. However, since he did not consider the consequences of his actions, three innocent people died when no traffic sign was in place to tell them that the ramp was not to be entered. This type of situation is tragic for all those concerned. Three lives were lost and a college student with his whole future ahead of him is facing serious prison time because he did not think through the consequences of his action. Do you think he should be accountable for what happened? What do you think the punishment should be? Keep in mind all the parties involved.
See Terrific Technology for the link to a more complete overview of criminal law courtesy of Cornell University.
The Kansas Bar Association, with funding from the Kansas Bar Foundation, is making available grant funds to be used by schools in developing peer mediation and youth court programs. The $500 grants can be used to produce seminars, hire consultants, and/or pay for supplies, or other expenses associated with starting or continuing a program.
Peer mediation programs are defined as programs, which are developed to reduce in-school conflicts between students by using students to mediate the disputes. Youth courts are programs that use students in youth court settings to hear minor violations and to decide on appropriate disciplines.
Applications for grant funds should be in letter format and should include the following information:
The deadline to submit grant applications is April 8, 2005. If you receive a grant, your school/organization will be required to forward any evaluation information resulting from the conflict resolution program to the KBA. This detailed information will help continue the funding of conflict resolution programs.
If you have any questions or wish to submit an application, contact Janessa Akin at the Kansas Bar Association, (785) 234-5696, P.O. Box 1037, Topeka, KS 66601-1037 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Regional Tournaments of the Kansas Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (YLS) Annual High School Mock Trial Competition took place Saturday, March 5th. One Regional Tournament was held at the Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe, and another was held at the Sedgwick County Courthouse in Wichita. Twenty-two teams, made up of six to eight high school students, from nine different schools participated in the competition. The six schools who qualified for the State Competition, to be held on April 2 at the Sedgwick County Courthouse, include:
The KBA YLS have put on this competition for at least the last eight years. They provide breakfast and lunch for the students during the competition, as well as a $3,000 scholarship to the State Champion, to be used for travel and to compete in the National Competition. Registration for this competition is $50 for the first team and $25 for any additional teams, with a $200 maximum. This year, awards were given to students participating in the Wichita Regional Tournament. Students from the Independent High School won the "Best Witness," "Best Direct or Cross Examination," and "Best Opening Statement/Closing Argument." The Wichita South team won the "Good Sport" Award. These awards will be given out at the State Competition as well.
If you know a school or teacher who would like more information about this competition, please contact Janessa Akin at the Kansas Bar Association for details.
Grades: 6-8, 9-12
Subjects: Civics, Current Events, Language Arts, Social Studies
Overview of Lesson Plan: Through discussion and writing, students express their views about the causes, circumstances, and impact of the Feb. 29, 2000, shooting in Buell, Mich., of a 6-year-old girl by a classmate.
Suggested Time Allowance: 1 hour
Objectives: Students will:
Further Questions for Discussion: --Who do you think should be held responsible for a child’s actions if a murder is involved? --Do you think that children can be protected from crimes involving guns by keeping guns away from kids? --In your opinion, what is the desired resolution in Buell, Mich.? By what means can they achieve that end? --What words of hope and comfort can you offer to this community? If you were a member of the Buell community, what would you --need to hear or have happen to be comforted?
Evaluation/Assessment: Students will be evaluated on written journal entries, participation in class and round-table discussions, and persuasive essays.
Vocabulary: evict, dilapidated, clapboard, comprehend, prosecutor, sympathetic, parole, violation, narcotics, warrant, involuntary, manslaughter, guardian, neglect, jurisdiction, probate, custody, nonchalant, consequences, intent, quarrel, makeshift, ajar, weathered, mangled
Fine Arts – Create a collection of songs that would offer support to the community of Buell. Record the songs (or record one of your own) and send your recording to Buell.
Journalism – Write a Letter to the Editor responding to the featured article.
Science – The article mentions the boy’s emotional distance from the situation. During critical or dangerous situations, people have been capable of withdrawing themselves completely. Research the mind’s ability to cope with such situations.
The Law-Related Education Inventory has many resources to help teach about law-related topics. To order a catalog, call Janessa Akin at the Kansas Bar Association, (785) 234-5696. The Kansas Bar Association and the lawyers in your community sponsor the Law-Related Education Inventory. The clearinghouse will mail free copies of law-related posters, games, mock trials, booklets, lesson plans, and other aids. It is open Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The director of the Teachers College Resource Center, which houses the Law-Related Education Inventory, Marla Darby, can be reached at Darbymar@esumail.emporia.edu/.
By: Jackie Glasthal, The New York Times Learning Network, and Bridget Anderson, The Bank Street College of Education in New York City
Grades: 6-8, 9-12
Subjects: American History, Civics, Language Arts, Social Studies
Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students will consider the moral and legal issues involved in distinguishing a verdict of murder from one of manslaughter (criminally negligent homicide).
Suggested Time Allowance: 1 hour
Objectives: In this lesson, students will:
[Note to Teachers: Examples might include someone driving while too tired or intoxicated, a police officer who accidentally shoots an innocent person while attempting to stop a criminal, a doctor or nurse who treats a patient with a medication to which they have a bad reaction, or young people who cause a death or injury during an incident meant as a practical joke, or fraternity pledge hazing.]
Point out that, though criminal laws often vary from state to state, there are certain basic categories of severity into which a homicide, or death by another person, generally falls (copied into a handout for easier reference):
(Definitions compiled from a variety of sources, including: http://www.legal-definitions.com/, http://reference.allrefer.com/encyclopedia/N/negligen.html, and http://www.iejs.com/Law/Criminal_Law/Negligent_Homicide-Manslaughter.htm)
To begin their research, instruct each group to determine which category they would classify their assigned "accidental death." Then have them use the Internet to research the details of a case reflecting a similar situation (or, if students are examining a real-life case, they should look at the details for that particular case). Encourage students to use these questions to guide their research:
Once research is completed, each group should decide upon a "verdict" for their scenario and then compare their own "verdicts" with those of the judge or jurors in the actual lawsuit. Prior to leaving class, each group member should have a copy of the notes taken during class to be used for the Wrap Up/Homework.
Further Questions for Discussion:
Students will be evaluated based on thoughtful participation in both whole-group and small group discussions, thorough completion of scenario/case research, and a well-supported essay about the scenario/case that they researched and an examination of their opinion regarding the verdict of the scenario/case.
Law Wise is published by the Kansas Bar Association during the school year. The Kansas Bar Foundation, with Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts funding, provides support for this publication. Published free, on request, for teachers or anyone interested in law-related education, it is edited by Crystal Marietta, Pittsburg, (620) 231-5620.
For further information about any projects or articles, contact Ron Keefover, Education and Information Officer of the Office of Judicial Administration, Topeka, (785) 296-4872, or Janessa Akin, Public Services Director of the Kansas Bar Association, Topeka (785) 234-5696.
Law Wise is printed at the Kansas Bar Association, 1200 Southwest Harrison, P.O. Box 1037, Topeka, Kansas 66601-1037.