Does Criminal Law Matter? Thoughts on Dean v. United States and Flores-Figueroa v. United States
31 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2010
This paper argues that recent decisions by the Supreme Court mark a dramatic, and potentially troubling, departure from the traditional, doctrine-centered approach to criminal statutory interpretation. Traditionally, courts have relied on substantive criminal law background principles in resolving the question what mental state, if any, a particular statutory element requires. In two recent cases, however, the Supreme Court has resolved this mens rea question exclusively on the basis of supposed textual cues. This paper’s primary objective is just to make explicit the interpretive choice behind the Court’s analyses in the two cases. But the paper also will argue that both cases illustrate shortcomings in the Court’s new non-doctrinal, text-centered approach to criminal statutory interpretation.
Keywords: criminal law, statutory interpretation, mens rea
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation