Pennsylvania Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law
I. General Principles of Criminal Law
A. Actus Reus (Guilty Act)
Actus Reus refers to the physical action or conduct involved in a crime. It is a fundamental principle in criminal law that there must be a criminal act or omission before a person can be held liable for a crime.
B. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind)
Mens Rea is the intent or mental state of a defendant at the time of the crime. In Pennsylvania, Mens Rea is commonly categorized into four types: intentional, knowing, reckless, and negligent.
Causation is the link between the defendant’s conduct and the result of the crime. The prosecution must prove that the defendant’s conduct was the factual and legal cause of the result.
II. Types of Crimes
Homicide is the act of unlawfully killing another human being. In Pennsylvania, it is categorized into varying degrees, including murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter.
Assault is the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person. In Pennsylvania, assault can be categorized as Simple Assault or Aggravated Assault based on the severity of injuries and the intent of the defendant.
Theft involves unlawfully taking or controlling another person’s property with intent to deprive the owner of it. In Pennsylvania, theft can be categorized based on the value of the stolen property.
III. Defenses to Crime
Self-defense is a justification defense in Pennsylvania, where the defendant asserts that their actions were necessary to protect themselves from imminent harm.
Insanity is an affirmative defense where the defendant asserts that they were legally insane at the time of the crime.
IV. Case Law
A. Commonwealth v. Bishop (1997)
Facts: Defendant Bishop was charged with second-degree murder after he shot and killed his estranged wife’s boyfriend.
Issue: Can a defendant claim self-defense when the victim was unarmed?
Rule: In Pennsylvania, a defendant can claim self-defense if they reasonably believed that such force was necessary to protect themselves from death or serious bodily injury.
Application: The court found that Bishop did not reasonably believe that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, thus his claim of self-defense was not valid.
Conclusion: The court found Bishop guilty of second-degree murder.
B. Commonwealth v. Blakeney (2008)
Facts: Blakeney was charged with theft after he was found with stolen property.
Issue: Can a defendant be guilty of theft if they did not directly steal the property?
Rule: In Pennsylvania, a person is guilty of theft if they unlawfully take, or exercise control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive them thereof.
Application: The court found that Blakeney exercised control over the stolen property with intent to deprive the owner of it, thus he was guilty of theft.
Conclusion: The court found Blakeney guilty of theft.
This study guide provides a basic understanding of the principles of criminal law in Pennsylvania. However, for a thorough understanding, it is recommended to supplement this guide with casebooks, class notes, and statutory law.