Michigan Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law
I. Principles of Criminal Liability
A. Actus Reus (The Physical Act)
- Definition: A voluntary physical act (or unlawful omission) that causes social harm.
B. Mens Rea (The Mental State)
- Definition: The state of mind that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Specific Intent: Intent to bring about a specific result.
- General Intent: Awareness of factors constituting the crime; intent is inferred from the act.
- Strict Liability: No mental state required; the act itself is criminal.
- Definition: The actus reus and mens rea must occur simultaneously.
- Actual Cause: “But for” the defendant’s conduct, the result would not have occurred.
- Proximate Cause: Legal cause; it is fair to impose liability.
- First-Degree Murder: Premeditated, deliberate killing, or felony murder.
- Second-Degree Murder: All other kinds of murder.
- Voluntary Manslaughter: Intentional killing in sudden heat of passion as a result of adequate provocation.
- Involuntary Manslaughter: Unintentional killing resulting from a reckless act.
C. Felony Murder
- Definition: Any death caused during the commission of, or in an attempt to commit, a predicate felony.
A. Justification and Excuse
- Self-Defense: Use of force to protect oneself is justified when facing an imminent unlawful threat.
- Necessity: Conduct that would otherwise be criminal is justified by a need to avoid a greater harm.
- Duress: Committing a crime because of the threat of immediate harm by another.
- M’Naghten Rule: Defendant did not know the nature of the act or that it was wrong.
- Model Penal Code Test: Defendant lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality or conform conduct to the law.
- Voluntary Intoxication: Rarely a defense, but may negate specific intent.
- Involuntary Intoxication: Can be a defense to both general and specific intent crimes.
- Mistake of Fact: Can negate mens rea if the mistake is honest and reasonable.
- Mistake of Law: Generally not a defense, unless it negates a specific intent element.
IV. Parties to Crime
- Definition: Those who engage in the act or omission that constitutes the criminal offense.
- Definition: Those who aid, counsel, or encourage the principal before or during the commission of the crime.
C. Accessory after the Fact
- Definition: Someone who, knowing a crime has been committed, helps the principal or an accomplice avoid capture or trial.
V. Inchoate Offenses
- Definition: An act done with intent to commit a crime, and constituting a substantial step towards committing the crime.
- Definition: An agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act.
- Definition: Inciting, counseling, advising, urging, or commanding another to commit a crime with the intent that the person solicited commit the crime.
VI. Case Law Examples
A. People v. Aaron (1980)
- Issue: Whether malice aforethought is a necessary element of murder.
- Rule: Malice is presumed from the act of killing unless it falls within a recognized exception (e.g., accident).
- Analysis: The court held that malice is an essential element of murder, and intent to kill cannot be inferred merely from the commission of the underlying felony in the felony murder rule.
- Conclusion: Aaron reversed the automatic presumption of malice in felony murder cases, requiring intent to be proven.
B. People v. Pickett (2015)
- Issue: Whether a mother’s failure to remove her children from an abusive environment constitutes involuntary manslaughter.
- Rule: A legal duty to act must be established for omission to constitute actus reus.
- Analysis: The court found that a parent has a legal duty to protect their children from foreseeable harm, and failure to act on this duty can satisfy the actus reus for manslaughter.
- Conclusion: Pickett was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter due to her omission to act.
C. People v. Couch (1991)
- Issue: Whether a defendant’s voluntary intoxication can negate the specific intent element of a crime.
- Rule: Voluntary intoxication may be a defense if it negates an element of the crime.
- Analysis: The court held that because the defendant was intoxicated, he may not have formed the specific intent necessary for first-degree murder.
- Conclusion: The case was remanded for a determination of the level of intent at the time of the crime.
This study guide outlines key concepts and cases relevant to a Michigan 1L criminal law course. As you prepare for your final exam, ensure you understand the nuances of each concept and can apply the facts of the cases to different scenarios using the IRAC method. Remember to also stay current with any changes to Michigan laws that may impact these principles.