Nulla poena sine lege: This Latin phrase simply means that there can be no punishment for an act where there is no law against it. For example in the bullying suicide case of Megan Meier, Megan committed suicide after a neighbor’s mother posed online as a young, male admirer, wooed her and dumped her. Prosecutors wanted to do something, but had a hard time finding a law to support their claim that a crime had been committed.
Corpus delicti rule: The Latin phrase means “body of evidence,” as in the evidence or proof that a murder has actually occurred. Usually a body is handy, but in some cases there is no body, so the burden to prove that there was a murder rests with the prosecution. The rule also restricts the admissibility of confessions obtained outside a court room. A person can’t be convicted of a crime to which he confessed without corroborating evidence. There were actually a couple of cases in England long ago where innocent people were convicted, some having confessed, and even hanged, only to find that the supposed murder victim was alive and well.
This legal concept may very well come into play in the trial of Pedro Hernandez, who recanted his alleged confession of having killed Etan Patz in 1979. Despite several searches prosecutors have not released details about any evidence obtained that might corroborate Hernandez’ confession. Add to this Hernandez’ history of mental illness, and a judge will probably find that his confession alone is not enough to convict.
Felony: A felony is any crime punishable by death or that requires incarceration in a state facility. All other crimes are considered misdemeanors.
In California, crimes that could be considered either are called wobbler crimes. In such cases prosecutors can choose whether to charge an individual with a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the person’s history and the severity of the crime. Weirdly enough, anyone convicted of a wobbler felony may later petition the court to have it reduced to a misdemeanor. If this is successful, the individual may regain certain rights denied convicted felons, such as the right to own or possess firearms.
The impending trial of Hiccup Girl Jennifer Mee would be an example of felony murder. Mee is accused of luring a man she met online into an alley where two accomplices were waiting. They robbed and killed the man. Mee is being tried for murder, just as though she pulled the trigger.
Depraved-heart murder: A murder that results from an act so reckless and indifferent to the safety of others that it demonstrates a complete disregard for human life. This concept of depraved indifference was probably the motivation behind the murder charges leveled against Casey Anthony in the death of her daughter Caylee.
Infamous crimes: A crime that renders the person convicted so untrustworthy that it disqualifies them as a witness. This categorization was introduced mostly to prevent the presentation of evidence the does not merit belief. Prosecutors run into it when using testimony of convicted killers in court.
Ingmar Guandique, currently serving 60 years for the murder of intern Chandra Levy may get a new trial because a key government witnesses against him, another convict, seems to have given and untrustworthy testimony.
Barratry: The filing of frivolous law suits.
Recently a lawsuit made headlines when Larry Sandola, sentenced in Washington State to 31 years for the shooting murder of a former business partner, filed suit against the victim’s family for violation of privacy and emotional distress caused by their opposing to his request to serve his sentence in his native Canada. An attorney for the family called the move “a simple case of using the courts as harassment.”
Criminal contempt: Acting disrespectfully towards the court in an effort to bring disrepute to the court or to obstruct the administration of justice.
Idahoan Robert Peterson was charged with criminal contempt after a courtroom display that made it onto Youtube. Peterson, who was cited for riding his bike at night without a light, decided to stage a protest before the judge claiming he had no name and could not be charged. Peterson wound up getting tasered; he probably would have done better to have just up and paid the fine.
Cruel and unusual punishment: Punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, such as burning at the stake, crucifixion, or breaking on the wheel and any punishment whose method is cruel or degrading and whose amount is disproportionate to the crime. This includes excessive fines. The general guideline is that the punishment should not shock the conscience.
The question of whether or not execution is cruel and unusual has been bandied about by the courts for years. The exclamation of prisoner Richard Cobb, 29, of “Wow! That is great. That is awesome! Thank you, warden! Thank you (expletive) warden!” during his execution by lethal injection will not doubt have death-penalty proponents and detractors alike buzzing for years.
Mayhem: In criminal law mayhem refers to an act that willfully and violently disables a person in such as way as to render them unable to fight or defend themselves. This includes hacking off, maiming or disfiguring a person’s extremities, tongue, eye, nose, ear or lip.
Such crimes are not as unusual as one might think. Police in Nevada were searching for Roberto Flores in 2012, in connection with his having bitten the lips off not one, but two women on two separate occasions, both times in a jealous rage.
Malicious mischief: Intentional damage to another’s property, like vandalism.
In May 2001 a gay couple’s suitcase shown to the left was vandalized by airport baggage personnel at a Texas, Airport, the couple’s dildo, soiled and exposed through the broken zipper. Unfortunately their suit was dismissed due to a preexisting contract with the airline, printed in fine print on the ticket agreement, not to hold the airline responsible for the acts of its employees.
Expungement: The lawful act of physically destroying arrest records, legal records and court proceedings so that no one may ever access them, read them, or use them again. In some cases a defendant may ask a court to order that a crime be expunged from their record.
In an effort to curb the sex trade, many cities across the country are offering to expunge a first-time arrest for solicitation from an individual’s record in exchange for a small fine and the attendance of “John School,” usually a one-day class that focuses on the negative side of prostitution.