7.9 – Actual Answer 3 – Issue Spotter
Actual Answer 3
Harold Gunton, a 76-year old farmer, drove an $800 payment across state lines along with a closed briefcase, the contents of which remained mysterious to him. The contents turned out to be 12 ounces of methamphetamine and Harold was subsequently charged with 2 counts: 1) knowingly possessing methamphetamine and 2) posessing more than one ounce of methamphetamine. An analysis of Harold Gunton's facts and circumstances, under both the Model Penal Code and the Common Law, leads me to the conclusion that Harold will be found not guilty of both charges.
Firstly, according to the Model Penal Code, Harold Gunton will not be found guilty of "knowingly" possessing methamphetamine. The Model Penal Code states that in order for an act to be "knowingly" committed, the defendant must be aware of his or her actions and the results that will ensue from those actions. Harold Gunton knowingly transported $800 dollars across state lines, but that is all he did knowingly. Harold Gunton was not at all cognizant of the nature of what was inside of the closed briefcase, and so by no stretch of the imagination can he be considered to have been aware of his actions. Nor did Harold Gunton know, according to all available evidence, the person to whom he was delivering the briefcase or the consequences that would ensue from that person acquiring the briefcase. Furthermore, according to the Model Penal Code, the defendant may be found "knowingly" to have committed the crime, if he or she is aware of a high probability that the fact in question exists. While it is true that Harold Gunton may have had an awareness of a high probability that there were guns in the closed briefcase, he did not have a fraction of a percentage of awareness that there were drugs in the briefcase. As possession of firearms is a very different matter than the possession of methamphetamine, Harold Gunton can be said to have absolutely failed the necessary condition for "knowingness" on this account as well. The final element in the same Model Penal Code statute states that the defendant can not be found guilty if he or she actually believes the fact to not exist. If Harold Gunton had been stopped on his way back from delivering the briefcase and been asked if he had just delivered methamphetamine, he would have answered emphatically, "No."
Secondly, when we approach the matter from the Common Law view, it still holds that Harold Gunton did not "knowingly" possess methamphetamine, and therefore it is clear to me that he will not be found guilty. According to the opinion of United States v. Jewell, the defendant can be found to have "knowingly" violated the statute in question if he or she took deliberate steps to avoid knowledge of the fact. Firstly, Harold Gunton did not deliberately avoid opening the closed briefcase in order to deliberately avoid the knowledge of what was inside. He deliberately avoided opening the closed briefcase because Albert Jones instructed him not to. Mr. Gunton, as a long time resident of Southlandia, dignified, and widely liked by Southlandia's residents, respected a fellow-resident's wishes. Furthermore, even if we do manage to throw our assumption of Harold Gunton's basic sense of propriety by the wayside, this fact remains: if Harold Gunton did not avoid opening the briefcase out of respect but out of a self-serving motive to not see what was in the case, he did so because he had some suspicion that the case contained firearms, not methamphetamine. Therefore, in this interpretation too, it cannot be reasonably said that Harold Gunther deliberately avoided knowing that there was methamphetamine in the case.
A similar line of reasoning brings me to the conclusion that Harold Gunton will also be found not guilty of the second statute of possession of methamphetamine. According to both the Model Penal Code and precedent, there is a stark difference between "mistake of law" and "mistake of fact." It can be argued that Harold Gunton should have been aware of the contents of the briefcase and that he should have been aware of the statute forbidding the possession of more than one ounce of methamphetamine, and if he was not aware of this statute that is no defense against the charge. However, that argument is not a sufficient reason to find him guilty of this possession. Harold Gunton's having mistakenly been in possession of well-over 12 ounces of methamphetamine was a mistake of fact. He was under the impression that he was in possession of, at the worst, some type of firearms, and at the best, nothing illegal at all. We can therefore offer the robust defense that he was unequivocally mistaken about the fact that he was committing the crime that he has been subsequently charged with.
In conclusion, it is impossible to say that Harold Gunther either "knowingly" or even truly "possessed" the 12 ounces of methamphetamine he is being charged with, and the prosecution will have to be very liberal with their interpretation of both the Model Penal Code statutes and the precedents of Common Law to be able to convict him on either of these accounts. Harold Gunther will be acquitted in this case.
Actual Answer 3
Let's look at number 3. One thing to note about this one is it starts out with a summary of the facts. A couple of sentences there. It's not a lot of wasted time, but it's not really helpful. We can assume that the reader has read the facts. You only need to restate them as is necessary to apply the law to the facts, so you kind of lose a little momentum right at the beginning.
At least we do have a nice conclusion at the beginning. "An analysis of Harold Gunton's fact and circumstances under both the Model Penal Code and the common law leads me to the conclusion that Harold will be found not guilty of both charges." I know up front exactly what this writer has concluded with respect to the key questions.
Another thing structurally that's nice is this author really does distinguish throughout between the Model Penal Code and the common law, and so first addresses the first statute. Could have been a little bit clearer about that. Sort of, "First, will not be found guilty of knowingly possession of methamphetamine." You might want to just remind the reader, "Hey, this is which statute I'm talking about." It was clear enough to me from context, but could have been a little clearer.
Goes through the knowingly analysis. One thing to note is that there's a little bit maybe of too much time dealing with the fact that Gunton didn't have actual knowledge. That's right, Gunton did not have actual knowledge under the Model Penal Code definition, but the harder question is the willful blindness question, which this author does get to later in this paragraph. Then applies Jewell, uses that to try to flesh out the common law rule.
One thing that's a little bit interesting, I think that the author here may be going a little bit beyond the facts here, or maybe making assumptions that are a little bit too favorable, in the sense that the author says, "Well, defendant avoided opening a briefcase because he was instructed not to. He was just trying to respect a fellow resident's wishes. He did so out of respect, not out of a self-serving motive." I think that goes a little bit beyond the facts you've been given. You've been told he was doing this for money. I think that maybe we're crossing the line a little bit more into advocacy.
It's fine to be an advocate in the right situation. Remember, you are supposed to be the defendant's lawyer here. Nonetheless, you've been asked to predict, not to come up with the most self-serving justification for your client, but to just predict what a court would say. I'm not sure you have enough there to do that.
With respect to the second charge, again the author does seem to recognize you need to address the questions under both approaches. Ends up only doing one analysis because the author concludes that the same analysis applies. I don't think that's quite the right way to think about it, because I think this author doesn't really dig into the statutory interpretation. What is the mens rea that is required by the statute? Which is a question you need to address before we even start thinking about questions about mistake, because we don't know what the statute requires in terms of proof. I think that's a place where this answer would have lost some points, but nonetheless, there are some things that were good about this answer as well.
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