Iowa Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

Iowa Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Introduction to Criminal Law

A. The Nature of Criminal Law

Criminal law involves the prosecution by the government of a person for an act that has been classified as a crime. It differs from civil law in that it seeks to punish and deter, whereas civil law typically aims to compensate the victim.

B. Sources of Criminal Law

  • U.S. Constitution
  • Iowa Code
  • Case Law

C. Principles of Punishment

  • Retribution
  • Deterrence
  • Incapacitation
  • Rehabilitation

II. Elements of a Crime

A. Actus Reus (Guilty Act)

This refers to the physical act of the crime. The act must be voluntary and a physical action.

B. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind)

This encompasses the state of mind that the defendant had when committing the actus reus. There are various levels of mens rea, including intent, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence.

C. Concurrence

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

D. Causation

The defendant’s conduct must cause the harm or result that constitutes the crime’s material elements.

III. Homicide

A. Murder

The unlawful killing of another human with malice aforethought.

1. First-Degree Murder

An intentional killing that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated, or that occurs during the commission of a felony.

2. Second-Degree Murder

An intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable “heat of passion,” or a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender’s obvious lack of concern for human life.

B. Manslaughter

The unlawful killing of a human without malice.

1. Voluntary Manslaughter

A killing that occurs in the “heat of passion” as a result of provocation.

2. Involuntary Manslaughter

A killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence.

C. Justifiable Homicide

Killings that are permitted under the law, such as self-defense or defense of others.

IV. Iowa-Specific Crimes

A. Iowa Code § 707.2 – Murder in the First Degree

Defines first-degree murder and distinguishes it from other homicides with specific criteria.

B. Iowa Code § 707.3 – Murder in the Second Degree

Outlines what constitutes second-degree murder in the state.

C. Iowa Code § 707.4 – Voluntary Manslaughter

Specifies what voluntary manslaughter is under Iowa law.

D. Iowa Code § 707.5 – Involuntary Manslaughter

Details what actions constitute involuntary manslaughter.

V. Defenses to Criminal Liability

A. Justification

Actions that are deemed justifiable under the law, such as self-defense.

B. Excuse

A defense that acknowledges the wrongfulness of the action but asserts the defendant should not be held fully responsible due to circumstances like insanity or duress.

C. Insanity

A legal defense that claims the defendant was not responsible for their actions due to mental health conditions.

D. Infancy

Defense based on the age of the defendant, asserting they are too young to understand the wrongfulness of their actions.

E. Intoxication

May negate the mens rea for specific intent crimes but is generally not a defense to criminal conduct.

F. Mistake

A mistake of fact may be a defense if it negates mens rea, whereas a mistake of law is seldom a defense.

VI. Inchoate Crimes

A. Attempt

An action taken in preparation for committing a crime that falls short of actual commission.

B. Solicitation

Requesting, encouraging, or demanding someone else to commit a crime.

C. Conspiracy

An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime.

VII. Parties to Crime

A. Principals in the First Degree

Individuals who actually commit the crime.

B. Principals in the Second Degree

Individuals present at the crime scene and assist in its commission.

C. Accessories Before the Fact

Individuals who aid, abet, or encourage the commission of the crime but are not present at the scene.

D. Accessories After the Fact

Individuals who assist knowing a crime has been committed to help the offender avoid detection or punishment.

VIII. Case Law Review

Case: State v. Lough (Iowa 1984)


Whether the defendant’s actions constituted first-degree murder or a lesser degree of homicide.


Iowa law defines first-degree murder as a willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing or one committed in the perpetration of certain felonies.


The court examined evidence of the defendant’s planning and premeditation to determine if the crime met the criteria for first-degree murder under Iowa law.


The court concluded that the defendant was guilty of first-degree murder due to the premeditated nature of the killing.

IX. Procedural Aspects

A. Fourth Amendment

Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

B. Fifth Amendment

Protection against self-incrimination and double jeopardy.

C. Sixth Amendment

Right to a speedy and public trial, a neutral jury, and legal counsel.

D. Eighth Amendment

Protection against excessive bail and cruel or unusual punishment.

X. Study Tips

  • Read and brief all assigned cases, focusing on the elements of the crime and the application of legal principles.
  • Understand the distinctions between different degrees of crimes, especially homicide.
  • Memorize the elements of defenses and when they can be applied.
  • Review the Iowa Code for the specific language and elements of crimes and defenses.
  • Engage in hypothetical problem-solving using fact patterns to apply the law.
  • Discuss complex issues with peers or professors to deepen understanding.
  • Use flashcards for key terms, elements of crimes, and defenses.
  • Practice previous exam questions and seek feedback on answers.

This study guide is intended to provide a broad overview of criminal law as it applies in the state of Iowa, with particular attention to the Iowa Code and relevant case law. Students should supplement this guide with class notes, readings, and case law briefs to prepare comprehensively for the final semester exam in Criminal Law.

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