Nebraska Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

Nebraska Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Overview of Criminal Law
Criminal law in the United States, including Nebraska, is primarily concerned with conduct considered harmful or undesirable by the state. It sets out the definitions of criminal offenses, the rules and procedures for prosecution, and the punishments and rehabilitative measures that may be applied to convicted offenders.

II. Principles of Criminal Liability

A. Actus Reus (The Criminal Act)
The physical element of a crime, which is a voluntary act or an omission when there is a duty to act.

B. Mens Rea (The Mental State)
The mental element of a crime, referring to the defendant’s intent or recklessness. Nebraska recognizes various levels of mens rea, including intent, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence.

C. Causation
The requirement that the defendant’s act or omission must have caused the harm or result that constitutes the criminal offense. There must be both actual cause (cause in fact) and proximate cause (legal cause).

III. Parties to Crime

A. Principal
The person who commits the criminal act or omits to act where there is a duty.

B. Accomplice
One who assists or encourages the principal in the commission of the crime and is criminally liable to the same extent as the principal.

C. Accessory After the Fact
A person who assists the principal after the crime has been committed, knowing that the crime has been committed.

IV. Inchoate Offenses

A. Attempt
The act of trying to commit a crime but failing to complete it. Nebraska requires a substantial step towards the commission of the crime, under Nebraska Revised Statute § 28-201.

B. Conspiracy
An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime, and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

C. Solicitation
The act of requesting, encouraging, or demanding someone else to engage in criminal conduct.

V. Defenses to Criminal Liability

A. Justification Defenses
1. Self-Defense: Protecting oneself from harm with reasonable force.
2. Defense of Others: Protecting another person from harm with reasonable force.
3. Defense of Property: Protecting one’s property from harm or theft.

B. Excuse Defenses
1. Duress: Committing a crime because of the illegal coercion or threat by another.
2. Insanity: Lacking the mental capacity to be held responsible for criminal actions.
3. Infancy: Children below a certain age (often under 14 in Nebraska) are presumed incapable of forming the required mens rea.
4. Mistake of Fact: A genuine, reasonable mistake that negates the required mens rea.

C. Procedural Defenses
1. Entrapment: Inducement by law enforcement to commit a crime the defendant had no predisposition to commit.
2. Double Jeopardy: Being tried twice for the same offense, which is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment and Nebraska law.
3. Statute of Limitations: The time limit for prosecuting a crime.

VI. Categories of Crimes

A. Crimes Against the Person
1. Homicide: The killing of one human being by another.
2. Assault and Battery: Causing physical harm or offensive contact to another, or causing an imminent threat of harm.
3. Sexual Offenses: Including rape and sexual assault.

B. Crimes Against Property
1. Theft: Taking someone’s property without consent and with the intent to permanently deprive.
2. Burglary: Unlawfully entering a structure with the intent to commit a crime therein.
3. Arson: The willful or malicious burning or charring of property.

C. Crimes Against Public Order and Morality
1. Disorderly Conduct: Acting in a disruptive manner in public.
2. Drug Offenses: The possession, distribution, or manufacture of controlled substances.

VII. Case Law Analysis (Using IRAC format)

Case: State v. Henderson, 291 Neb. 960 (2016)
Issue: Whether the evidence was sufficient to convict Henderson of attempted first-degree assault.
Rule: An attempt in Nebraska requires, beyond preparation, a substantial step towards the commission of the crime.
Analysis: Henderson engaged in conduct that was a substantial step toward the commission of assault, such as arming himself with a deadly weapon and searching for the victim.
Conclusion: The court affirmed Henderson’s conviction for attempted first-degree assault, as his actions constituted a substantial step towards committing the offense.

VIII. Conclusion
This study guide provides an overview of key criminal law concepts, defenses, and categories of crimes, tailored to the Nebraska jurisdiction. When preparing for your final semester exam, make sure to review Nebraska Revised Statutes, focus on understanding the interplay between actus reus and mens rea, and analyze case law using the IRAC format to understand how criminal liability is determined in Nebraska.

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