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What Is the Model Penal Code?

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  • 0:03 The Model Penal Code
  • 1:20 Levels of Culpability
  • 2:24 The MPC as Law
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joe Ricker
The Model Penal Code (MPC) was established to offer a standard and universal text to help define criminal activity and determine what the punishment for that activity should be.

The Model Penal Code

In 1962, the American Law Institute published a text that helped to standardize penal law and clearly define criminal offenses and their recommended punishments. That text is the Model Penal Code (MPC). The main goal of the Model Penal Code was to have a standardized document that would help individual states develop and maintain legislature consistent with what's considered just and appropriate for penalizing criminal behavior. From there, prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys have a consistent model on which to base their arguments and determinations for criminal acts, as well as recommended punishments.

The MPC establishes the general rule, the various degrees of offense for that specific rule, what penalty should be imposed, and how parole or probation should be considered. There are two major things that the MPC does for prosecutors. First, it establishes elements of behavior or conduct, which essentially gives prosecutors a way to determine if a person has committed a criminal act or if the person's actions are criminal, which can be established by the defining language in the MPC. The second thing the MPC does is help prosecutors determine the responsibility of the person who committed the criminal act by helping them decide what level of responsibility they can prove.

Levels of Culpability

A significant contribution that the MPC has provided for the American justice system are definitions for the levels of culpability, or how responsible an offender is for the crime they've committed. Culpability is also known as Mens rea, which translates to ''criminal mind''. A person who plans and carries out a homicide, for example, purposely commits that crime. The MPC helps lawyers and judges recommend the appropriate charge and penalty for committing certain crimes based on culpability. The four most commonly used levels of culpability are:

  • Purposely: the offender had knowledge and intent of their actions
  • Knowingly: the offender was aware that their actions might result in a crime
  • Recklessly: the offender dismisses the potential for committing a crime
  • Negligently: the offender should have been aware that their actions could have caused the crime

As you can see, culpability ranges in levels of responsibility from purposely to negligently, and these levels of responsibility are used to determine an appropriate punishment for the offender.

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