Oblique intent

Why the name? Well criminal law afficionados will recognise the phrase 'oblique intent' as referring to a problem of mens rea:can a person who intends to do x (such as setting fire to a building to scare the occupants) also be said to have an intention to kill if one of the occupants dies? This is a problem that has consumed an inordinate amount of time in the appeal courts and in the legal journals, and can be taken to represent a certain kind of approach to legal theory. My approach is intended to be more oblique to this mainstream approach, and thus to raise different kinds of questions and issues. Hence the name.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

On criminal codes

When we think of criminal codes it is normal, at least for me, to think of the great codifications of criminal law that took places from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But of course there is another sense of 'criminal code' - that of a code for criminals - and this is perhaps why the former sort are often referred to as penal codes (though this is confusing as they do not only detail punishments, but also codify forms of permissible and impermissible conduct). The relationship between crime and punishment in the modern criminal law is a complex one, and is a topic that I  shall return to in future posts, but for now I want to say something about criminal codes as codes for criminals.

The thought is prompted by the death of the famous crime writer, Elmore Leonard, last month. As a notable
stylist, he is well known for his 10 rules of good writing (the writer's code). Slightly less well known are his rules for successful armed robbery (from the novel Swag). These are:
1. Always be polite on the job, say please and thank you. 
2. Never say more than is necessary. 
3. Never call your partner by name – unless you use a made-up name. 
4. Dress well. Never look suspicious or like a bum. 
5. Never use your own car. 
6. Never count the take in the car . 
7. Never flash money in a bar or with women   
8. Never go back to an old bar or hangout once you have moved up. 
9. Never tell anyone your business. Never tell a junkie even your name. 
10. Never associate with people known to be in crime.
All of this seems eminently sensible - and of course in the novel things start to go wrong for the protagonists when they start to ignore their own rules.

While I don't want to encourage crime, it does make me wonder what other rules for the successful commission of crime we might come up, based on what seem to be common errors. Here is a start on my alternative criminal code (based on cases I have read about):
  • If you are fraudulently claiming disability benefit, it is probably better not to participate in a 10K race; and if you must, try to avoid having your picture taken at the finishing line.
  • If you are planning to poison someone do not tell the chemist that the poison you are buying is to kill rats, especially if there is not trace of a rodent problem at your home.
  • Most people offering their services as contract killers on the internet are probably undercover police officers (from the recent Canadian case of Ryan)
  • If the you and your associate in crime are arrested, it is best to avoid discussing your exploits within earshot of the police.
If you know of other rules, please add them below.

1 comment:

  1. If you decide to carry out a burglary, try to avoid calling the police whilst in the act.