7.7 – Actual Answer 1 – Issue Spotter

Actual Answer 1

Harold Gunton may be acquitted for the § 716 charge since he lacks the specific mens rea required of the crime. Under Southlandia Code § 716, a person who “knowingly possesses any quantity of methamphetamine (meth) is guilty of a first-degree felony.” The actus reus of the crime is possessing any quantity of meth. There is no contention on this. Mr. Gunton’s action was voluntary in transporting and possessing the briefcase, which happened to have meth. However, the prosecutor must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Gunton “knowingly” possessed the prohibited drug.

The state of mind required for the crime is knowledge that the requisite legal circumstances exist. Under the willful blindness doctrine in common law, the knowledge necessary for the crime does not need to be true knowledge when the defendant has a (1) high probability of the existence of the fact in question and (2) took deliberate measures steps to avoid learning of the truth. U.S. v. Jewell demonstrates an application of this doctrine. The defendant in Jewell was arrested for possessing marijuana, which was in a hidden compartment of a car he was driving. The 9th circuit rejected the defendant’s argument that only positive knowledge would suffice in satisfying the required state of mind by the statute and stated that “if a party has his suspicion aroused but then deliberately omits to make further enquiries, because he wishes to remain ignorant, he is deemed knowledgeable.” Unlike the defendant in Jewell who had suspicion that marijuana would be involved because he was offered it initially, Mr. Gunton had no suspicion let alone “high probability” of the existence of meth since Harold was known to illegally sell guns instead of meth. Mr. Gunton made no deliberate attempt to shield himself from any suspicion that meth would be in the briefcase since he didn’t even have any awareness that Harold was “in that line of business.”

Under the Model Penal Code § 2.02(7), “knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence unless he actually believes that [attendant circumstance] does not exist.” The willful blindness doctrine only requires the “high probability” the standard and does not require the “deliberate [shutting of one’s] eyes that the common law requires. Under such analysis, Mr. Gunton will not be able to meet the “knowingly” state of mind required because he did not have a high probability of suspicion that meth was in the brief case. Even if he meets such a standard, however, the MPC also provides a mistake of fact defense since it allows for an exception on the defendant that “actually believes that [the circumstance] does not exist.” Since his mistake negates the specific intent element required by the offense, a court may find Mr. Gunton not guilty of the § 716 charge.

Regarding the § 731(b) charge, however, a court may convict Mr. Gunton of 1st degree misdemeanor. Under § 731(b), “whoever possesses more than one ounce of [meth] is guilty of first-degree misdemeanor.” This is a strict liability crime in which any violation is a conviction of the crime. Since this is a strict liability crime, Mr. Gunton cannot raise a mistake of fact, in which he may have reasonably thought that the briefcase contained guns instead of meth. Therefore, because he was found with 12 ounces of meth, he may be convicted of a 1st degree misdemeanor.

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Actual Answer 1

Good answer

Let's look at some actual answers to get a sense of the better and worse ways to approach this question. I think it's really helpful because, as I stressed before, for any exercise like this, for any exam, what matters is how your answer stacks up against the competition, not about writing the platonically perfect answer, because it's all relative. It's all graded on a scale.

We put this out there for early users of this class and asked folks to write up some answers, and these are all actually law students. These answers, actually, are all incredibly impressive. It just really speaks to the high quality of 7Sage students, but obviously recognizing that this is somewhat of an artificial exercise, but I think that actually we got some great examples that will give us some tips about how to approach exams.

Let's start by looking at number 1. The one that I've labeled as number 1. Let's take a look at this. Make sure you've read it, and then just catch up and start listening from here. What's good about this? Well, one thing that's good is it starts off by stating a conclusion. It's a conclusion about a Section 716. That's okay. It would have been better to start off by saying an overall conclusion about the overarching question, addressing both Section 716 and Section 731, but it at least starts off with a conclusion.

Restates this text of the statute. Generally, that's not really going to be necessary because you assume that the reader knows the text of the statute. You might emphasize particular language, but you don't necessarily need to restate this, but does helpfully tee up the analysis by zeroing in on the "knowingly" language.

Here, the answer does split up a little bit, the common law analysis and the Model Penal Code analysis. I think it might've been helpful just to a little bit more clearly state whether the author thought there were different answers under the two different provisions, or it was the same answer. The analysis ends up getting a little bit blended together here, but some good stuff here in the sense that the author is making analogies to the Jewell case, identifies Jewell as helpful, and is really digging in to the text of the Model Penal Code. That's good.

What's less good, the Section 731[b] analysis is too abbreviated. As I said, this is an easier issue, but remember, we're being asked to do both Model Penal Code and common law for Section 731[b], and here, the author really forgot about that. I think this is a symptom of maybe not having the outline in place before writing. Just jumped into strict liability and there's not straightforward strict liability under the Model Penal Code.

This is certainly a solid answer. I think a student might get a pretty decent grade with an answer like this but is not going to be at the very top of the class. Let's now look at number 2.

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