Socratic/Case Method discussion of Arcane v. People

Click HERE to read the case.

Prof:

Let us apply the concepts that we learned about a completed criminal act. We know first that there must be a voluntary act and we have defined the nature of the act both with respect to common-law cases and the Model Penal Code.

Ms. Smith, please brief for us the case of Arcane v. People. What happened in the lower court?

Ms. Smith:

The Defendant was convicted of possession of marijuana in the lower court after a jury trial.

[NOTE: The Professor’s point in asking this question was most likely to emphasize the need to understand the procedural posture and background of the case. This is an important case-reading skill.]

Prof:

What were the arguments of the parties on appeal?

Ms. Smith:

The state apparently argued that, by renting the room in which the marijuana was present, she possessed the marijuana. The defendant argued that merely renting a room in which marijuana was present did not constitute possession under the statute.

[NOTE: The case does not set forth the parties’ arguments. The professor expected the student to deduce the arguments that each party probably made from the context of the court’s discussion. Understanding the arguments made by each party is essential in the Case Method .]

Prof:

What is the voluntary act — the actus reus that is claimed as a criminal act in this case?

Ms. Smith:

Knowing and voluntary possession or control.

[What DOES the professor want from Ms. Smith here? The professor is testing Ms. Smith’s knowledge of the terminology of the law. Knowing and voluntary possession or control of a controlled substance is generally considered a voluntary criminal act.]

Prof:

How does this “act” differ from the criminal acts we have seen in the earlier cases?

[NOTE: Here the professor wants Ms. Smith to examine factual behavior and compare it to a legal definition. The idea is to reinforce knowledge, which is necessary for comprehension .]

Ms. Smith:

An act for the purpose of criminal law definitions is usually a voluntarily bodily movement, whereas possession or control is passive, a circumstance rather than an activity.

Prof:

What is the issue in the case?

[Based on your case brief the professor wants an answer something like this:]

Ms. Smith:

The issue is whether an individual may be convicted of possession and control of a controlled substance or narcotic when she, while controlling the room where it is located, has no special ability to use or handle or direct others to use or handle or dispose of the substance as distinct from any one else in the room.

Prof:

What did the court hold?

[NOTE: The holding is generally an answer to the issue(s) posed. For example:]

Ms. Smith:

No. An individual may not be convicted of possession and control of a controlled substance in the absence of evidence that she, in addition to controlling the room in which the substance was located, possessed (definition of possession) or controlled the substance by exercising dominion over it through transporting, handling or using it or having the power to transport , handle, use or dispose of it.

Prof:

Thus the law concerning a particular element or factor of this legal test, for example, whether the defendant had any narcotic drug “under his or her control” often can be understood only when one considers a number of rules read together. The synthesis of a statute and several cases in which the courts have applied the words of the statute to a particular set of facts may generate a rule of law. In the situation in Arcane neither the statute, nor the earlier Fremen case provides a straightforward definition of “knowingly under his or her control.”

Now, let’s try to take this concept a step further. Would a delivery person or a professional courier, or a postal employee, who delivered a package containing marijuana, be within the scope of the statute?

[NOTE: The professor here wants you to apply the rule you have derived to other situations. Analysis and application of the rule.]

Ms. Smith:

Each of these persons will have simple possession e.g. physical possession (in their hands, in their delivery pouch, etc and some dominion and control), but they are unaware of the nature of the contents (no knowing possession) and are controlled by the directions for the delivery or the specifics of their jobs that limit their exercise of dominion i.e. power to use, locate, dispose or designate usage. Thus, this type of unknowing possession and restricted control is beyond the reach of the statutory language and policy.

Prof:

Do you think it was the legislature’s purpose to attempt to control this type of possession? Why or why not?

[Here the professor wants you to again recall the “mens rea” provision of the statute” — knowingly” — to emphasize the general goal of criminal sanctions: to punish harmful acts done with “evil intent.” The point is again to reinforce knowledge and comprehension of these concepts. The professor also seeks to have you look more broadly at the policy reasons underlying the law, and how those reasons influence the application of the rule to different facts.]

Ms. Smith:

The legislature’s purpose was most likely to attempt to deter certain conduct, specifically the use and trafficking in narcotics. This is the point behind the mens rea requirement. Thus, in situations like this, where there is little chance of deterrence, the legislature’s purpose would not be satisfied.

Prof:

To whom does this rule apply?

[NOTE: Here the professor wants to see if you understand the scope of an appellate decision in an individual case for the purpose of precedent in future cases. Knowledge of basic concepts.]

Ms. Smith:

To this defendant and others accused in the future whose factual and relational circumstances cannot be reasonably distinguished or contrasted from this situation.

Prof:

We can see that legal rules are not applied abstractly to a group of nameless, faceless persons, but rather to specific people in factual circumstances and within the context of the goals or policies that the rule is intended to serve in the those circumstances.

What are the objectives that the Court infers that are not within the policies and goals of this statute?

[Here the professor wants again for you to read the case carefully to explore the scope of the statute and the rule that has evolved from the synthesis of the statutory language and the two interpretive cases. Reinforcing analysis .]

Ms. Smith:

The court seems to be particularly concerned that freedom of association not be infringed upon saying that the legislature has not seen fit to require a citizen to control others who may be engaging in criminal activity.

[NOTE: Think back to the concept of synthesis stated earlier and then think about how the language of the statute here might be augmented to construct a new rule that reflects both the statute itself, its discussion of possession and the clarified meaning of control provided by the Supreme Court and the earlier Appellate Court decision.]

Prof:

What rule would emerge from the synthesis of this statute, this case and the earlier case?

[NOTE: Here the professor as she stated wants you to state in your own words the developed rule. Comprehension, analysis, synthesis.]

Ms. Smith:

The synthesis of this statute and this case provides a rule something like this:

One can be convicted under the narcotic statute where 1) she possesses marijuana; that is, holds it physically or to carries on one’s person, or 2) controls the marijuana— exercises dominion by means of (the Court’s interpretation in Fremen and Arcane), transporting the marijuana into the room, handling it, using it, directing others to transport, handle or use it or to designate its usage, movement, location, or disposition.

Prof:

Why is it insufficient to show control that the defendant rented the room?

[NOTE: Here the professor wants to reinforce a careful reading of the case and statute and to demonstrate your understanding of the limits of the rule. Reinforcing analysis.]

Ms. Smith:

Control of the room did not necessarily imply control over the substance because there was no evidence that the defendant could exercise dominion over it by using it, handling it, transporting it, disposing of it, or directing others to do any of those things.

Prof:

Why is it insufficient to show “control” that the defendant knowingly invited the people into the room who possessed marijuana and smoked it?

Ms. Smith:

For the same reasons. There was no showing that the defendant could control or had an obligation to control the behavior of the other people in the room.

[ Ms. Smith gets an A+ for participation today. She demonstrated not only amazing knowledge and comprehension, but an ability to analyze, synthesize and apply the rule to new factual situations as well; through evaluation, she understood the essential attributes of the rule, including its policy, and how those attributes — and thus the rule — would differ under a new fact scenario.]

Prof:

Accordingly, “control” has a more definite meaning that suggests transporting, handling, using, or directing others to do so, in addition to the language of the statute in which control is not precisely defined. In this way do you begin to understand the variety of broad or narrow rules that may emerge from a statute and its specific interpretation by the Courts?

Thus the final state of the legal rule is a synthesis of both the language of the statute and the interpretation of that statute through cases involving real people involved in a specific factual circumstance.