California Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

California Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Principles of Criminal Law

A. Actus Reus (the act)
– Definition: A voluntary physical act, or a lawful act done in an unlawful way.
– Omission as actus reus requires duty to act, created by statute, contract, relationship, or voluntary assumption of care.

B. Mens Rea (the mental element)
– Specific Intent: intent to achieve a specific result (e.g., theft, assault with intent to commit a felony).
– General Intent: awareness of factors constituting the crime (e.g., battery).
– Malice: reckless disregard of a high risk (e.g., murder).
– Strict Liability: no mens rea required; liability is based solely on the actus reus (e.g., statutory rape).
– Model Penal Code (MPC) approach to mens rea: purpose, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence.

C. Concurrence
– The principle that the actus reus and mens rea must coincide in time.

D. Causation
– Actual Cause (“cause in fact”): the defendant’s conduct was the “but-for” cause of the harm.
– Proximate Cause (“legal cause”): foreseeability test; whether the harm was a natural and probable consequence of the defendant’s conduct.

E. Inchoate Offenses
– Attempt: specific intent to commit a crime and a direct but ineffectual act toward its commission.
– Solicitation: enticing, encouraging, or commanding another to commit a crime with the intent that the person solicited commits the crime.
– Conspiracy: agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime and an overt act in furtherance of the crime.

II. Homicide

A. Murder
– First Degree Murder: premeditated, deliberate killing, or certain felony murders.
– Second Degree Murder: all other murders, typically those that are intentional but not premeditated, or murders with malice aforethought.

B. Manslaughter
– Voluntary Manslaughter: a killing in the heat of passion resulting from adequate provocation.
– Involuntary Manslaughter: a killing resulting from criminal negligence or during the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony.

C. Felony Murder
– The killing during the commission or attempted commission of a felony (inherent dangerousness or enumerated felonies under California law).

D. Case Law
– People v. Knoller (2007): In assessing implied malice for second-degree murder, the California Supreme Court held that a defendant’s knowledge that her conduct endangers life is not sufficient; the defendant must subjectively know that the conduct is life-threatening.

III. Rape and Statutory Rape

A. Rape
– Definition: non-consensual sexual intercourse, accomplished through force, threats, or where the victim is incapable of giving consent.
– California uses a “totality of the circumstances” test to evaluate consent.

B. Statutory Rape
– Unlawful sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent.
– Strict liability offense in California.

C. Case Law
– People v. Williams (1992): The California Supreme Court held that reasonable belief in the age of the minor is not a defense to statutory rape in California.

IV. Theft and Robbery

A. Theft (Larceny)
– Unlawful taking and carrying away of property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it.

B. Robbery
– The taking of personal property from another person or immediate presence, against the person’s will, by means of force or fear.

C. Case Law
– People v. Nguyen (1993): The California Court of Appeal held that the slightest movement of property is sufficient for theft if it is done with the intent to steal.

V. Defenses

A. Justification and Excuse
– Self-Defense: defending oneself from imminent harm.
– Necessity: breaking the law to prevent a greater harm.
– Duress: committing a crime out of fear for one’s life or safety due to threats from another.
– Insanity: when a mental illness prevents understanding the wrongfulness of the act or conforming conduct to the law.

B. Case Law
– People v. Anderson (2007): The California Supreme Court held that the test for insanity is whether the defendant was incapable of knowing or understanding the nature and quality of his act or could not distinguish right from wrong.

VI. Attempt, Solicitation, and Conspiracy

A. Attempt
– As previously defined under Inchoate Offenses.

B. Solicitation
– As previously defined under Inchoate Offenses.

C. Conspiracy
– As previously defined under Inchoate Offenses, with the additional element of an overt act required under California law.

D. Case Law
– People v. Swain (1996): The California Supreme Court clarified that an overt act towards accomplishing the crime must be more than mere preparation.

VII. Review of California Penal Code

  • California Penal Code (CPC): students should review the relevant sections of the CPC for the crimes discussed, as the CPC may contain specific statutes that define crimes and defenses differently from the common law or as interpreted by case law.

VIII. Policy and Theory

  • Theories of Punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.
  • The Model Penal Code: Although not law in California, the MPC’s influence on modern criminal law theory and its mens rea provisions are noteworthy.

This study guide is a foundational overview of key criminal law topics likely to be covered in a 1L Criminal Law course focusing on California law. Students should deepen their understanding and application of these concepts through case briefs, class discussions, and reviewing additional case law and statutory provisions not covered in this guide.

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