Friday, February 13, 2009

The Model Penal Code

The Model Penal Code, or MPC, is a text that was developed by the American Law Institute (ALI) in 1962. It is a statutory text that provides a standardization of a variety of crimes. Like the UCC, or Universal Commercial Code, the text has been adopted in various parts by many jurisdictions. The current version of the code was last updated in 1981.

Like many codes developed by legal think tanks, the MPC was designed to help legislatures in their efforts to update and standardize the criminal laws of the United States. The model penal code was adopted with the idea that the penal code should be what "contemporary reasoned judgment" finds appropriate to punish. Basically, this means that they tried to figure out what a reasonable person at the time of the development of the MPC would judge the penal law to be and to do.

When writing the model penal code, the ALI conducted a survey of the criminal law system that existed at the time in the United States. This survey looked at the prohibitions, sanctions, excuses, and authorities that are used throughout the country. When it was written, the MPC was thought to be a combination of what the ALI deemed to be the best rules for the criminal justice system in the United States. Since it was written, the MPC has occupied an important role in establishing a standardized system to the codified penal laws of the United States.

It is widely noted that the greatest contribution that the MPC made to the entire criminal law system is its standardized terms to describe the mental state required for a particular crime. Under the common law system, a judge frequently wasn't quite certain what exactly "mens reas" meant for a particular crime. Fortunately, the MPC stepped in and wrote out definitions for the mental states required for a crime to be valid. The highest level of mental state is purposefully. Next come knowingly and recklessly. The fourth state is negligently. Some crimes, such as malum in se crimes, require no mental state and use strict liability.

Under the MPC, if a specific crime as written requires a mental state of recklessly in the jurisdiction and the person on trial had a purposefully mental state at the time of the crime, the person still meets the requirements. Basically, the recklessly or mental state requirement is sort of like an at least situation. If the statute says "it is illegal to do X recklessly," it could be said that "it is illegal to do X at least recklessly."

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Joseph Devine

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