Rhode Island Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law
I. INTRODUCTION TO CRIMINAL LAW
Criminal law focuses on society’s prohibition against certain actions and the subsequent punishment for those actions. It involves the principles, theories, and defenses of criminal law.
Key Case: Robinson v. California (1962): The Supreme Court held that a California law making it a criminal offense to be addicted to narcotics was in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.
II. ACTUS REUS
Actus Reus refers to the physical element of a crime. It’s an action that, in combination with mens rea (guilty mind), constitutes a crime.
Key Case: People v. Decina (1956): The defendant, knowing he was prone to epileptic seizures, caused an accident that killed four people. The court held that his voluntary act of driving constituted the actus reus of involuntary manslaughter.
III. MENS REA
Mens rea, or “guilty mind”, refers to the mental intent to commit a crime. There are four states of mind that constitute mens rea: purpose, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence.
Key Case: Elonis v. United States (2015): The Supreme Court ruled that, to prove a criminal threat, the government must demonstrate that the defendant intended to issue a threat or knew it would be perceived as one.
In Rhode Island, the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another, committed purposely and knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, is murder.
Key Case: State v. Gilmette (1978): The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that to be guilty of first-degree murder, there must be evidence that the defendant intended to cause the victim’s death.
V. RAPE AND SEXUAL OFFENSES
Rape is defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse. Rhode Island law further categorizes it into first-degree sexual assault (rape) and second-degree sexual assault (other non-consensual sexual activity).
Key Case: State v. Quattrocchi (1987): Rhode Island Supreme Court clarified the elements required for a conviction of first-degree sexual assault.
VI. THEFT AND ROBBERY
Theft is the taking of someone else’s property without their consent, while robbery is theft perpetrated through the use or threat of force.
Key Case: State v. DiCicco (1992): The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that in a robbery prosecution, the state must prove force or threat of force.
VII. DEFENSES TO CRIMINAL CHARGES
These can include insanity, duress, self-defense, and necessity. Each has specific requirements and defenses.
Key Case: State v. D’Alessandro (2012): Rhode Island Supreme Court examined the requirements for the insanity defense.
VIII. INCHOATE CRIMES
Inchoate crimes are steps towards committing a crime and include attempt, conspiracy, and solicitation.
Key Case: State v. McManus (1989): Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the state had to prove the defendant took a substantial step toward the commission of the crime to prove attempt.
IX. PARTY TO A CRIME
This refers to anyone involved in the commission of a crime, not just the primary offender. Parties to a crime can be charged as principals or accomplices.
Key Case: State v. Collazo (1993): The Rhode Island Supreme Court outlined the requirements for accomplice liability.
X. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
This includes arrest, search, seizure, indictment, trial, conviction, and sentencing. Understanding the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments are crucial.
Key Case: State v. Werner (1983): Rhode Island Supreme Court clarified the state’s burden of proof in establishing that a search and seizure was reasonable.
This guide provides an overview of the key concepts and cases in criminal law. Always cross-reference with your course materials and notes.