Supernatural Actus Reus
dcruz at LAW.USC.EDU
Wed Dec 17 14:40:36 PST 1997
On Wed, 17 Dec 1997, Doug Laycock wrote:
> [snip] Consider
> three cases, the first of which is probably not rare:
> 1. Angry defendant thinks to himself, or says out loud, "I wish he
> would just drop dead."
> 2. Angry defendant prays to God to strike victim dead, believing
> such prayer to be efficacious.
> 3. Angry defendant offers burnt offering to induce God to strike
> victim dead, believing such ceremony to be efficacious.
> 1 and 2 differ only in that defendant 2 has a religious belief that
> his words will be efficacious. 2 and 3 differ only in that the two
> religions practice different modes of prayer. Neither of these differences
> can be the basis of criminal liability.
Doug's phrasing of the difference between 1 and 2 obscures, to my eyes,
the differences between the case. Consider:
1.5 Angry defendant says out loud, "He shall drop dead now,"
believing defendant's own words to be efficacious.
Thus, part of the difference between Doug's 1 and 2 as I read them was
not only that the defendant in 2 has a _religious_ belief that his words
will be efficacious, but that the defendant has any belief at all that
his words will be efficacious. Utterances like those in 1 typically, I
would suggest (with nothing other than my own necessarily limited
experience as a basis), convey strong emotions but are not regarded by
their utterers as even potentially efficacious speech acts, rather than
Whether this should make a difference, I don't know. 1.5 does, however,
suggest to me the generally unhappy comparison between religious belief
-David Cruz, USC Law (Cal.)
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