New York Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

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.

C. Causation

  • 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.

II. Homicide

A. Murder

  • 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).

B. Manslaughter

  • 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

A. Assault

  • 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).

B. Battery

  • Definition: The unlawful application of force to another person resulting in bodily harm or offensive contact.

IV. Rape and Sexual Offenses

A. Rape

  • 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

A. Larceny

  • 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.

B. Embezzlement

  • 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.

D. Robbery

  • Definition: The taking of property from a person by force or threat of force.

VI. Inchoate Crimes

A. Attempt

  • 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).

B. Conspiracy

  • 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.

C. Solicitation

  • 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.

C. Infancy

  • Children under a certain age (usually 16 in New York) may not be held criminally responsible for their actions.

VIII. Procedure

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.

X. Conclusion

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.

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