Maine Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

Maine Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Introduction to Criminal Law

A. Purpose of Criminal Law

  • Deterrence: Prevent future crimes by making the consequences of breaking the law undesirable.
  • Retribution: Punishing wrongdoing as a means of societal revenge.
  • Incapacitation: Removing criminals from society to prevent them from continuing to harm others.
  • Rehabilitation: Helping criminals reform into law-abiding citizens.

B. Sources of Criminal Law

  • Statutes: Laws enacted by legislatures, including the Maine Criminal Code.
  • Case Law: Judicial interpretations of statutes and principles from appellate decisions.
  • Model Penal Code (MPC): Influential in many states, though not law, it provides a reference point for analysis and comparison.

II. Elements of a Crime

A. Actus Reus (Guilty Act)

  • Voluntary act requirement: An act must be a voluntary bodily movement.
  • Omissions as basis for liability: Legal duty to act (statutory duty, contract, relationship, voluntary assumption of care, creation of peril).
  • Possession as an act: Knowing possession can be enough for actus reus if it is a voluntary act or omission after control has been acquired.

B. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind)

  • Specific intent: The defendant intends the consequences of the act (e.g., intent to kill in murder).
  • Malice: Reckless disregard of a high risk (e.g., murder, arson).
  • General intent: Awareness of acting in a prohibited way (e.g., battery).
  • Strict liability: No mens rea required; usually for public welfare offenses (e.g., statutory rape).

C. Causation

  • Actual cause: But-for test – but for the defendant’s conduct, the result would not have occurred.
  • Proximate cause: Legal cause – was the result a foreseeable consequence of the conduct?

III. Homicide

A. Murder

  • First-degree murder: Premeditated killing with malice aforethought.
  • Second-degree murder: Intentional killing without premeditation or a depraved heart killing.
  • Felony murder: Killing during the commission or attempted commission of a felony.

B. Manslaughter

  • Voluntary manslaughter: Killing in the heat of passion after adequate provocation.
  • Involuntary manslaughter: Unintentional killing from criminal negligence or during an unlawful act.

C. Case Law

  1. State v. Williams (1983): Established the modern standard for criminal negligence in Maine.
    • Issue: Whether the defendant’s failure to seek medical care for his child constituted criminal negligence.
    • Rule: Criminal negligence requires a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would observe.
    • Analysis: The court examined the circumstances of the child’s illness and the parents’ failure to act.
    • Conclusion: The defendant was criminally negligent due to the gross deviation from reasonable parental behavior.

IV. Defenses to Criminal Liability

A. Justification and Excuse

  • Self-defense: Use of force to protect oneself from an immediate threat of unlawful force.
  • Defense of others: Use of force to protect another person from an immediate threat.
  • Necessity: Conduct that would otherwise be criminal is justifiable if the defendant is avoiding a greater harm.
  • Duress: Compelled to commit a crime due to the threat of immediate force against oneself or another.
  • Insanity: Lack of criminal responsibility due to mental illness or defect.

B. Case Law

  1. State v. Love (1995): Addressed the limits of self-defense in Maine.
    • Issue: Whether the defendant’s belief that deadly force was necessary was reasonable.
    • Rule: Self-defense requires a reasonable belief that deadly force is necessary.
    • Analysis: The reasonableness of the defendant’s belief is judged from the standpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation.
    • Conclusion: The defendant’s use of deadly force was not justified as it was not a reasonable belief.

V. Inchoate Offenses

A. Attempt

  • Specific intent to commit a crime and a substantial step toward its commission, beyond mere preparation.

B. Conspiracy

  • Agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

C. Solicitation

  • Requesting, encouraging, or demanding someone else to engage in criminal conduct with the intent that the crime be committed.

VI. Parties to a Crime

A. Principal

  • The person who actually commits the crime.

B. Accomplice

  • A person who assists or facilitates the commission of a crime with intent to promote or facilitate the offense.

C. Accessory

  • A person who assists after the crime has been committed, with knowledge of the crime, and with the intent to help the principal avoid arrest or punishment.

VII. Conclusion

This study guide has provided an overview of the foundational concepts in Criminal Law as relevant to Maine law school students. Remember to review the Maine Criminal Code for specific statutes and always compare and contrast with the MPC when applicable. To prepare for your final semester exam, study the landmark cases, understand the nuances of legal principles, and apply the IRAC method to hypothetical situations. Good luck!

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