Monday, September 26, 2011

Denver criminal defense lawyer / states of mind

One critical argument a Denver criminal defense lawyer can make, besides technical arguments like exclusion of the evidence based on lack of probable cause, is that the prosecution failed to prove each of the elements of the case. The elements of each case is different obviously. The Denver criminal defense lawyer in a DUI case will probably be arguing about whether the driver was in a condition to safely operate the car. In a murder case, maybe there will be a contest as to whether "that defendant" actually committed the crime. That will allow the Denver criminal defense lawyer to argue an alibi, or a mistaken identity. But basically the elements of all the crimes can be classed into a few different categories.

The one I want to talk about is states of mind. No, the government cannot make it a crime to think something. That would be against the First Amendment. But that's not really what states of mind are about. For example, everybody would agree that it's a lot worse to wait for someone at home, then bludgeon them to death with a blunt object than to kill somebody in a knifefight. Yes, both crimes are murder. The person killed somebody and they shouldn't have. Yes, both crimes are bad. However, we as a society should make a distinction between these two things. The only real distinction here is what the person was thinking in killing them. So as hard as it may be to figure out what somebody was thinking when they committed murder, it is still important and necessary for that to be a crime element.

The states of mind go all the way down from intentional down to negligent. One reason I was thinking about this post is because of the Reno air crash. Some people have asked me if there could be criminal convictions for that. The answer is probably no, and it comes back to states of mind. In a few cases, you can be criminally convicted for being negligent. But those cases are exceptional and usually regulatory crimes (i.e. there has to be a regulation specifically in place that someone knew about). Otherwise the lowest state of mind would be recklessness. You would have to argue that the people who run the show were reckless in allowing the old aircraft to fly, or reckless in having the stands so close to the action. Since that would be very hard to prove, it is almost certainly a better case for a civil action. In a civil action, the plaintiffs can get money for proving basic negligence.

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