Dynamic Incorporation of the General Part: Criminal Law's Missing (Hyper)Link

64 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2014 Last revised: 18 Jul 2015

See all articles by Eric Alan Johnson

Eric Alan Johnson

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2014


In theory, the law that defines criminal offenses is exclusively statutory. In practice, though, criminal statutes often leave important offense-requirements undefined or even unexpressed. In particular, criminal statutes often fail to address questions that belong to the criminal law’s so-called General Part — questions like what counts as a “cause,” for example, or what culpable mental states are required of accomplices. When courts face fundamental questions like these, as the Supreme Court did twice last year, they often turn for guidance to the judge-made law of the General Part, which is vast and rich. But this resort to judge-made criminal law raises a difficult, if usually unacknowledged, methodological question: How, if it all, does the judge-made law of the General Part bear on the interpretation of statutes that define individual criminal offenses?

This Article argues that the answer to this question lies in the idea of dynamic incorporation — in the idea that the words of criminal statutes sometimes contain hyperlinks, so to speak, to bodies of still-evolving judge-made law. It argues, specifically, that when criminal statutes leave critical offense-requirements undefined or unexpressed, and these requirements fall within the subject matter of the General Part, the courts’ best alternative usually is to fill the “gap” by dynamically incorporating the judge-made law of the General Part. In support of this view, the Article compares dynamic incorporation to the alternatives — static incorporation, for example, and strict construction — and shows that only dynamic incorporation provides a workable solution to the gap-filling problem.

Keywords: Criminal law, statutory interpretation

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Eric Alan, Dynamic Incorporation of the General Part: Criminal Law's Missing (Hyper)Link (December 1, 2014). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 48, 2015, Forthcoming; University of Illinois College of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2532599

Eric Alan Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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