State v. Nations

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, 1984.

676 S.W.2d 282.

Dressler, pp. 145-148


Facts: Nations owns a disco where police officers found an underage girl dancing for tips.  Nations was charged with child endangerment and was found guilty.


Issue: Did the state show that the defendant acted knowingly in endangering the welfare of a child?


Rule: In Missouri, the Criminal Code dictates that in order to prove that someone did something with knowledge, you must show that they were aware of the attendant circumstances necessary to constitute an offense.


Analysis: The court basically punishes the Missouri legislature and the people of Missouri for not adopting the Model Penal Code in full.  The court suggests that if the state wanted Nations to be convicted in this case, they should either have made the standard of culpability “recklessness” instead of “knowledge” for the offense of child endangerment, or else they should have had a provision incorporating so-called “wilful blindness” as a version of knowledge.


Conclusion: The court overturned the conviction.


Notes and Questions


1.     The court seems to equate “high probability” with “substantial and unjustifiable risk”.  Furthermore, the court equates “awareness” with 100% certainty.  According to the footnotes, the Model Penal Code treats “wilful blindness” as a form of knowledge in order to settle the question of whether it falls under the category of “knowledge” or “recklessness”.  The Model Penal Code treats it as a matter of knowledge because when a finder of fact infers knowledge, the evidence they have is “proof of notice of substantial probability of [a fact’s] existence”.  “Wilful blindness” to existing facts, the drafters argue, can only be proven the same way.

2.     I think I would like to have more evidence to find out if Nations was willfully blind, but the last paragraph of the decision strongly suggests that Nations was deliberately avoiding the age issue.  Under Model Penal Code § 2.02(7), if Nations knew there was a high probability that the dancer was underage, she would be found to have “knowledge” of this fact and would be guilty.

3.     It looks like the second definition of “wilful” gives a crime a tripartite specific intent.


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