New York Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law
I. Principles of Criminal Liability
A. Actus Reus (The Criminal Act)
- Definition: A voluntary act or an omission when there is a duty to act that forms part of a crime. Involuntary acts are excluded.
- Examples: Physical actions, omissions when under a legal duty to act, possession offenses.
B. Mens Rea (The Mental State)
- Definition: The mental state or intent required to be held criminally liable.
- Specific intent, general intent, and strict liability offenses are distinguished by the nature of the mens rea required. New York criminal laws identify four mental states: intent, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence.
- Factual Causation: The “but-for” test to determine whether the harm would not have occurred without the defendant’s conduct.
- Legal Causation: The proximity of the defendant’s conduct to the harm in terms of foreseeability and directness.
- Definition: The unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought.
- First Degree: Premeditated, intentional killing or felony murder; specific to certain enumerated felonies in New York.
- Second Degree: Intentional murder that does not meet the criteria for first-degree murder.
- Case Law: People v. Gallagher (establishing intent and premeditation standards for murder in New York).
- Voluntary Manslaughter: Intentional killing without malice, often in the heat of passion.
- Involuntary Manslaughter: Unintentional killing resulting from recklessness or criminal negligence.
C. Negligent Homicide
- Definition: Killing caused by a defendant’s criminal negligence.
III. Assault and Battery
- Attempted Battery: Attempt to cause physical injury to another person.
- Menacing: Placing another person in fear of imminent physical injury.
- Cases: People v. Williams (the definition of intent in assault cases).
- Definition: The unlawful application of force to another person resulting in bodily harm or offensive contact.
IV. Rape and Sexual Offenses
- Definition: Non-consensual sexual intercourse, with the required mens rea of intent or recklessness.
- Statutory Rape: Sexual intercourse with a person below the age of consent, treated as a strict liability offense in New York.
B. Other Sexual Offenses
- Include criminal sexual acts, sexual abuse, and forcible touching.
V. Theft and Property Crimes
- Definition: The unlawful taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the intent to deprive them of it permanently.
- Types: Petit larceny and grand larceny differentiated by the value of the property in New York.
- Definition: Unlawful conversion of property by someone in lawful possession of it.
C. False Pretenses
- Acquisition of property by intentional false statements with intent to defraud.
- Definition: The taking of property from a person by force or threat of force.
VI. Inchoate Crimes
- Definition: An act done with the intent to commit a crime, and a substantial step towards its commission but falls short of completion.
- Case Law: People v. Rizzo (failing to reach the victim was insufficient for an attempt in New York).
- An agreement between two or more persons to engage in unlawful conduct.
- Overt Act: New York requires an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.
- Asking, encouraging, or requesting someone to commit a crime.
VII. Defenses to Criminal Liability
A. Justification Defenses
- Self-Defense: Protecting oneself from harm with reasonable force.
- Defense of Others: Protecting others from harm with reasonable force.
- Defense of Property: Protecting property from harm with reasonable force.
B. Excuse Defenses
- Duress: Committing a crime to prevent serious harm to oneself or another.
- Insanity: New York recognizes the M’Naghten Rule, which focuses on the defendant’s ability to know right from wrong.
- Intoxication: Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a crime in New York unless it negates an essential element of the crime.
- Children under a certain age (usually 16 in New York) may not be held criminally responsible for their actions.
A. The Criminal Process
- Steps from arrest through trial, including arraignment, bail, plea bargaining, and trial.
B. Rights of the Accused
- Rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and New York laws, such as the right to counsel, to a speedy and public trial, to confront witnesses, and against self-incrimination.
IX. Case Law Reviews (IRAC Format)
People v. Gallagher
- Issue: Whether the defendant’s actions constitute premeditated murder.
- Rule: Premeditation and intent must be shown for first-degree murder.
- Analysis: The court analyzed the defendant’s actions leading up to the killing, the planning involved, and the nature of the act itself.
- Conclusion: The defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder based on the evidence of premeditation and intent.
People v. Williams
- Issue: What constitutes intent in an assault case in New York.
- Rule: Intent to cause physical injury needs to be established.
- Analysis: The court considered the defendant’s actions and statements to determine if there was an intention to cause injury.
- Conclusion: The defendant was found to have the required intent for an assault charge.
People v. Rizzo
- Issue: Whether the defendants’ actions constituted an attempt to commit robbery.
- Rule: An attempt requires a substantial step towards the commission of the crime.
- Analysis: The court examined whether the defendants’ actions came close enough to the completion of the crime to be considered a substantial step.
- Conclusion: The defendants were not guilty of an attempt as they did not reach the victim or complete a substantial step towards the commission of the robbery.
This study guide provides an overview of key concepts, legal principles, and case law relevant to a 1L criminal law class, with a focus on New York law. Students should supplement this guide with class notes, readings, and statutory materials to fully prepare for their final semester exam in criminal law.