Oklahoma Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Introduction to Criminal Law
Criminal law refers to a body of laws that apply to criminal acts. In instances where an individual fails to adhere to a particular criminal statute, he or she may face punishment by the government due to violating the law.

II. Principles of Criminal Liability
Criminal liability requires actus reus (an act) and mens rea (a guilty mind). Both elements must be present for a crime to have occurred.

  1. Actus Reus: Refers to the physical act of the crime. For instance, in the case of ‘People v. Decina’, 2 N.Y.2d 133 (1956), the court held that Decina’s act of driving while aware of his epilepsy constituted sufficient actus reus for manslaughter.

  2. Mens Rea: Refers to the mental intent to commit the crime. In the case of ‘Morissette v. United States, 342 US 246 (1952)’, the Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s state of mind or intent is a crucial element in determining his/her criminal liability.

III. Categories of Crime
Crimes are usually categorized as felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies involve more serious crimes (like murder or rape) while misdemeanors are less serious (like petty theft or jaywalking).

IV. Homicide
In Oklahoma, homicide is a felony and is either murder, manslaughter, or excusable or justifiable homicide.

  1. First-degree Murder: Premeditated intent to cause death. Case application: ‘Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987)’ where the court held the major participation in the felony committed, coupled with reckless indifference to human life, may be sufficient to constitute the “intent” for felony murder.

  2. Second-degree Murder: Depraved heart murder, felony murder, or intent to do serious bodily harm.

  3. Manslaughter: Unlawful killing without malice aforethought. It can be voluntary (heat of passion) or involuntary (criminal negligence). Case application: ‘People v. Knoller, 41 Cal. 4th 139 (2007)’ where the court stated that implied malice must show a high probability that death will occur, not just serious bodily harm.

V. Defenses to Crimes
Defenses to crimes include self-defense, defense of others, necessity, duress, insanity, and intoxication.

  1. Self-Defense: The use of force to protect oneself from an immediate threat of violence. Case application: ‘People v. Goetz, 68 N.Y.2d 96 (1986)’ where the court held that self-defense requires a subjective and objective belief in the necessity of using force.

  2. Insanity: A defense by excuse, in a criminal case, arguing that the defendant is not responsible for his or her actions due to an episodic or persistent psychiatric disease at the time of the criminal act. Case application: ‘M’Naghten’s Case (1843)’ which set forth the M’Naghten Rules for insanity defense.

  3. Intoxication: In Oklahoma, intoxication can be used as a defense if it negates the mens rea of the crime. It can be voluntary (defendant chose to consume drugs/alcohol) or involuntary (defendant was drugged).

VI. Inchoate Crimes
Inchoate crimes are undertaken to be a step toward, but falling short of, direct participation in the crime itself. In Oklahoma, inchoate crimes include attempt, solicitation, and conspiracy.

  1. Attempt: Act done with the intent to commit a crime, falling short of the actual commission. Case application: ‘People v. Rizzo, 246 NY 334 (1927)’ where the court held that a person is guilty of an attempt to commit a crime when his actions advance so near to the accomplishment that in all reasonable probability the crime itself would have been committed but for timely interference.

  2. Conspiracy: Agreement of two or more people to commit a crime. Case application: ‘United States v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10 (1994)’ where the court held that the crime of conspiracy requires agreement between two or more persons to commit an unlawful act.

VII. Conclusion
The study guide provides an overview of fundamental concepts in criminal law. It is advisable that students supplement this guide with detailed reading of Oklahoma’s statutes and case laws, class notes, and textbook readings to fully understand the nuances of criminal law.

Discover more from Legal Three

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading