New Jersey Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

New Jersey Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. The Nature of Crime and Its Purposes

  • Criminal law serves the functions of deterrence, punishment, rehabilitation, and protection of society.
  • Mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (guilty act) are the two main components of a crime.
  • The Model Penal Code (MPC), which has been adopted in part by New Jersey, provides guidelines for determining these elements.

II. Hierarchy of Crimes

  • In New Jersey, crimes are categorized into indictable crimes (first, second, third, and fourth degree), disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses.
  • The seriousness of the criminal offense generally corresponds with the degree of punishment.

III. Actus Reus

  • A voluntary act or an omission where there is a legal duty to act.
  • Martin v. State (1944) – In this case, a man was arrested for public intoxication while he was in his home and taken to a public highway by police, where he was then charged. The court held that the man did not voluntarily place himself in public while intoxicated, which is necessary for actus reus.

IV. Mens Rea

  • Intention, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence are the different levels of mens rea.
  • The MPC distinguishes these levels and New Jersey follows this distinction.

V. Strict Liability Crimes

  • Offenses that require no mens rea and are based solely on engaging in the act.
  • Liability is imposed regardless of intent.
  • New Jersey v. Pelleteri (1996) – The court ruled that a strict liability offense does not require proof of mens rea, and the defendant was convicted for selling drug paraphernalia even though he claimed to have no knowledge of its intended use.

VI. Causation

  • Actual cause (but-for causation) and proximate cause (legal causation) are required to hold a defendant criminally liable for a result.
  • In New Jersey, the court looks for foreseeability and whether the defendant’s conduct was a substantial contributing factor to the result.

VII. Homicide

  • Homicide offenses range from murder, manslaughter (voluntary and involuntary), and death by auto.
  • New Jersey defines murder as causing death purposely, knowingly, or with extreme indifference to human life.
  • State v. Biegenwald (1987) – This case affirmed that a murder committed during the commission of a felony constitutes first-degree murder under New Jersey law.

VIII. Assault and Battery

  • Assault is an attempt to cause or purposely, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another.
  • Battery is the unlawful application of force to another person resulting in either bodily injury or an offensive touching.
  • New Jersey classifies simple assault and aggravated assault based on the severity of injury and the defendant’s intent.

IX. Sex Offenses

  • Include rape, sexual assault, and criminal sexual contact.
  • In New Jersey, sexual assault is an act of penetration under circumstances falling within several categories, such as force or coercion without consent.
  • State v. G.H. (2021) – This case addressed issues related to consent and the capacity to give consent within New Jersey’s sexual assault law.

X. Theft and Property Crimes

  • Theft in New Jersey is the unlawful taking or exercise of unlawful control over movable property with the intent to deprive the owner.
  • Robbery is a theft involving force or the threat of force.
  • State v. Williams (2005) – In this case, the court held that the use of force or intimidation must occur either during the commission of the theft or immediately flight therefrom for a robbery conviction.

XI. Inchoate Offenses

  • Include attempt, solicitation, and conspiracy.
  • New Jersey law requires a substantial step toward the commission of the crime for an attempt charge.
  • State v. Fornino (1988) – This case held that mere preparation is not sufficient for an attempt; there must be a substantial step that corroborates the defendant’s criminal intent.

XII. Defenses to Criminal Liability

  • Justification defenses include self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property.
  • Excuse defenses include duress, entrapment, insanity, and intoxication.
  • State v. Kelly (1984) – This case recognized the battered woman syndrome as a defense in New Jersey, allowing evidence of the syndrome as a form of self-defense in homicide cases.

XIII. Conclusion

This study guide has outlined the major concepts and case law relevant to criminal law in New Jersey, important for preparing for a final semester exam. It is crucial to understand the principles behind each concept and the application of New Jersey-specific statutes and case law when analyzing criminal law issues. Students should focus on the interpretation of laws and the outcomes of relevant cases to ensure a comprehensive understanding of criminal law in New Jersey.

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