Tennessee Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

Title: Tennessee Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

Criminal law involves prosecution by the state of a person for an act classified as a crime. In contrast to civil law, which involves private disputes, criminal law is designed to maintain order and protect society.

1. Actus Reus (Guilty Act): An unlawful act.
2. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind): The intent to commit the crime.
3. Causation: Actual cause of the harm.
4. Concurrence: The physical act and the mental state must occur together.


A. Homicide
Tennessee distinguishes between different degrees of murder and manslaughter.

  1. First Degree Murder: A premeditated and intentional killing.
  • Case: State v. Bland: Bland was charged with first-degree murder and the court held that evidence was sufficient to support the finding that he acted with premeditation.
  1. Second Degree Murder: A knowing killing of another.
  • Case: State v. Banks: Banks was convicted of second-degree murder. The court held that the act was knowingly done when the circumstances showed that Banks was aware of his conduct.
  1. Voluntary Manslaughter: A killing in the heat of passion due to adequate provocation.
  • Case: State v. Ely: Ely was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. The court held that evidence of serious bodily injury inflicted upon Ely by the victim just before the killing could be considered adequate provocation.
  1. Involuntary Manslaughter: A killing that results from an act that is unlawful but not felonious or from a lawful act recklessly performed.

B. Robbery
Robbery is the taking of another’s property, from their person or presence, by force or intimidation.

  • Case: State v. Black: The court held that Black’s act of threatening the victim with a deadly weapon constituted force, and he was convicted of robbery.

C. Burglary
Under Tennessee law, burglary is defined as entering a building not open to the public with intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.

  • Case: State v. Moats: Moats was convicted of burglary. The court held that the evidence of his fingerprints on the window established an unlawful entry.

Defenses in criminal law include self-defense, insanity, and necessity.

  1. Self-Defense: Justifies the use of force when the person reasonably believes that it is necessary to defend oneself or another against an immediate threat.
  • Case: State v. Clifft: Clifft was acquitted of murder charges based on self-defense. The court held that Clifft reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury.
  1. Insanity: Excuses criminal liability if at the time of the crime, the defendant was suffering from a mental disease or defect that impaired their ability to understand the wrongfulness of their actions.
  • Case: State v. Reid: Reid was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The court held that Reid suffered from a severe mental disease that impaired his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.
  1. Necessity: A person is justified in performing a criminal act if the act was necessary to prevent a greater harm.
  • Case: State v. Lawrence: Lawrence was acquitted of theft charges based on necessity. The court held that Lawrence stole food to prevent starvation.

This involves procedures for adjudicating guilt in Tennessee, including arrest, prosecution, plea-bargaining, trial, and sentencing.

The U.S. Constitution offers several protections for individuals charged with crimes, including the right to counsel, double jeopardy and protections against self-incrimination, and cruel and unusual punishment.

Tennessee law includes unique provisions, particularly regarding the death penalty, DUI laws, and drug-related offenses.

This guide offers a basic understanding of criminal law in Tennessee. However, for an in-depth understanding and interpretation, one must study case law, statutes, and legal principles that underpin these issues. It is also important to familiarize oneself with the Tennessee Criminal Code.

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