The Court of Appeals in Beachum v. US decided on December 20, 2018, analyzed and ruled on whether the DC Stalking Statute as written was constitutional.
Section 22-3133 (a)(3) in pertinent parts provides that:
It is unlawful for a person to purposefully engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific individual . . . [t]hat the person should have known would cause a reasonable person in the individual’s circumstances to: (A) Fear for his or her safety or the safety of another person; (B) Feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or (C) Suffer emotional distress.
The appellant argued that § 22-3133 (a)(3) is unconstitutional, because it permits findings of guilt and ultimately a conviction based on a defendant’s negligent failure to realize that his conduct would cause a reasonable person to feel fear, serious alarm, or emotional distress.
That is, in short — negligence alone cannot be the basis for a criminal conviction without specific or a general intent.
In particular, the statute requires that the defendant engage in a purposeful conduct directed at a particular individual, but it permits conviction even if the defendant neither knew nor intended that the defendant’s conduct would engender fear, serious alarm, or emotional distress – again lacking criminal intent.
The Court reiterated that the Constitution does not forbid crimes that require only a showing of negligence. There is no constitutional bar or impediment to strict liability crimes or a prohibition against imprisonment for conviction on a strict liability basis.
Moreover, the strict liability criminal offenses—including Felonies are not unprecedented in the District of Columbia as the DC Council has enacted several such statutes and it is well established that and settled the legislature may dispense with intent as an element of criminal liability when the regulation is in the exercise of the police power for the benefit of the people.
Although some of the regulatory, general public interest, and lower level criminal statutes do not require specific intent and a crime may be only established based on criminal negligence, the more severe and serious criminal statutes and crimes all do require specific or general intent and the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard may not be easily swayed or proven by mere negligence.
Refer to our DC Criminal Lawyer page for more information on this topic.