Alabama Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

Alabama Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Introduction to Criminal Law

  • Purpose of Criminal Law: To deter wrongful behavior, punish offenders, and maintain social order.
  • Burden of Proof: Prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
  • Sources of Criminal Law: Statutes (Alabama Criminal Code), case law, and the Model Penal Code (MPC) as a persuasive source.

II. Elements of a Crime

  • Actus Reus (Guilty Act): A voluntary physical act or an illegal omission that constitutes the physical component of a crime.
  • Mens Rea (Guilty Mind): The mental state or intent required for a particular crime.
  • Concurrence: The principle that the actus reus and mens rea must occur together.
  • Causation: The requirement that the defendant’s conduct be the legal cause of the offense.
  • Harm: The damage or injury caused by the defendant’s actions.

III. Homicide

  • Murder: The unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought.
  • Manslaughter: The unlawful killing of a human being without malice.
    • Voluntary Manslaughter: Killing in the heat of passion as a result of adequate provocation.
    • Involuntary Manslaughter: Killing that occurs during the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or as a result of criminal negligence.
  • Relevant Alabama Case Law: Ex parte Washington, where the Alabama Supreme Court held that intent to kill can be inferred from the use of a deadly weapon.

Case Example: People v. Knoller (2007)

  • Issue: Whether the defendant’s actions showed an implied malice required for second-degree murder.
  • Rule: Implied malice requires a subjective awareness of a high degree of risk to human life.
  • Analysis: The defendant’s maintenance and handling of dangerous dogs showed a conscious disregard for human life.
  • Conclusion: The court found sufficient evidence of implied malice for second-degree murder.

IV. Mens Rea

  • Specific Intent: The defendant had the subjective desire to bring about a specific result.
  • General Intent: The defendant need only be generally aware of their actions.
  • Strict Liability: Liability that does not require proof of intent.
  • Model Penal Code (MPC) Levels of Culpability: Purposeful, knowing, reckless, and negligent.

V. Causation

  • Factual Cause (Cause-in-Fact): The defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of the harm.
  • Proximate Cause (Legal Cause): The harm was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct.
  • Intervening Causes: Events that occur after the defendant’s act and contribute to the harm.

VI. Parties to Crime

  • Principal: The primary actor who commits the criminal act.
  • Accomplice: A person who assists or encourages the principal.
  • Accessory: A person who assists the principal after the crime has been committed.
  • Withdrawal: A defense for accomplices if they effectively withdraw from the crime before it’s committed.

VII. Inchoate Offenses

  • Attempt: The act of trying to commit a crime, but failing to complete it.
  • Solicitation: Encouraging, requesting, or commanding someone else to commit a crime.
  • Conspiracy: An agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act.

Case Example: Bratton v. State (1984)

  • Issue: Whether the evidence was sufficient to prove the defendant’s intent to commit theft, a necessary element of burglary.
  • Rule: Intent to commit a crime can be inferred from the defendant’s actions and circumstances surrounding the event.
  • Analysis: The defendant’s possession of burglary tools and proximity to the crime scene supported the inference of intent.
  • Conclusion: The court upheld the burglary conviction.

VIII. Defenses to Criminal Liability

  • Justification: Argues that the conduct was right under the circumstances (e.g., self-defense).
  • Excuse: Argues that the defendant should not be held accountable due to some personal condition or circumstance (e.g., insanity).
  • Insanity Defense: A defendant may be found not guilty by reason of insanity if at the time of the act, they lacked the ability to understand the wrongfulness of their actions or conform their conduct to the law.
  • Duress: A defense claiming that the defendant was forced to commit a crime under the threat of immediate harm.
  • Entrapment: A defense where the defendant claims they were induced by law enforcement to commit a crime they would not otherwise have committed.

Case Example: Insanity Defense – Durham v. United States (1954)

  • Issue: The appropriate standard for determining insanity as a criminal defense.
  • Rule: A defendant is not criminally responsible if their unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect.
  • Analysis: The court considered various tests for insanity and emphasized the need for a standard that adequately reflects mental health principles.
  • Conclusion: The court adopted the “product test,” which was later superseded by other standards.

IX. Crimes Against Property

  • Larceny: The trespassory taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the intent to permanently deprive.
  • Robbery: Larceny from a person’s presence by force or threat of force.
  • Burglary: Unlawful entry into a building with the intent to commit a felony therein.
  • Arson: The malicious burning of another’s dwelling.
  • Embezzlement: Fraudulent conversion of property by a person to whom it was entrusted.

Case Example: Larceny – State v. Brown (1997)

  • Issue: Whether the defendant’s act constituted larceny.
  • Rule: Larceny requires the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property.
  • Analysis: The defendant’s concealment of merchandise and attempt to leave the store without paying evidenced the intent to steal.
  • Conclusion: The court affirmed the conviction for larceny.

X. Crimes Against Persons

  • Assault: An attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another, or a threat that puts a person in immediate fear of bodily harm.
  • Battery: The unlawful application of force to another person causing bodily harm or an offensive touching.

XI. Alabama Specific Provisions

  • Alabama Capital Offense: Certain murders categorized under Alabama law as capital crimes may be punishable by death or life imprisonment.
  • Alabama Drug Offenses: Alabama has specific statutes regulating controlled substances, with severe penalties for the manufacture, distribution, and possession of illegal drugs.
  • Alabama DUI Laws: Alabama has strict laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with specific blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits and penalties.

XII. Conclusion

This study guide covers the fundamental concepts of criminal law relevant for a 1L law school class in Alabama. It’s essential to delve deeper into each topic and explore more case law to fully prepare for the final exam. Remember that the application of these principles may vary based on the facts of each case and the evolving state statutes and judicial interpretations.

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