Wisconsin Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law



Criminal law involves prosecution by the government of a person for an act classified as a crime. In Wisconsin, a crime is an act prohibited by state law and punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

Key Concept: Mens Rea and Actus Reus – The two components of a crime. The person must have the guilty mind (mens rea) and perform the guilty act (actus reus).

Case: People v. Stapleton – The defendant was found guilty because both mens rea and actus reus were present.


Homicide in Wisconsin is classified into first-degree intentional homicide, second-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, and second-degree reckless homicide.

Key Concept: Malice Aforethought – Essential in proving first-degree murder. It refers to the defendant’s intent, at the time of a killing, to cause death or serious bodily harm.

Case: State v. Wilson – Defendant was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide because there was evidence of malice aforethought.


Wisconsin categorizes sexual assault into four degrees with the first-degree being the most severe.

Key Concept: Consent – Consent or the lack of it, plays a critical role in determining the criminality of the act.

Case: State v. Lackershire – The court held that consent was not given by the victim, making the defendant’s acts criminal.


Wisconsin law includes theft of movable property, theft of immovable property, and theft by fraud.

Key Concept: Larceny – The unlawful taking and carrying away of someone else’s personal property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its possession.

Case: State v. Johnson – The defendant was found guilty of larceny, as he intended to permanently deprive the owner of the stolen property.


In Wisconsin, individuals have the right to use force to defend themselves if they believe it’s necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

Key Concept: Imminent Danger – For self-defense to be valid, the threat faced must be of immediate bodily harm.

Case: State v. Head – The court held that the defendant was not in imminent danger, thus could not claim self-defense.


In Wisconsin, voluntary intoxication can be a defense to specific intent crimes but not to general intent crimes.

Key Concept: Specific Intent vs. General Intent – The difference lies in the mental state of the defendant at the time of the crime.

Case: State v. Gardner – The court ruled that the defendant could not use voluntary intoxication as a defense as the crime committed was of general intent.


Under Wisconsin law, a person is responsible for a crime committed by another person if he or she aids and abets the commission of the crime.

Key Concept: Aiding and Abetting – Involve knowingly assisting or participating in a crime.

Case: State v. Asfoor – The defendant was found guilty under accomplice liability as he had knowledge of and participated in the crime.


An attempt to commit a crime is itself a crime in Wisconsin. The defendant must have the intent to commit the crime and take substantial steps towards its commission.

Key Concept: “Substantial Step” Test – Used to determine if a defendant’s actions constitute an attempt.

Case: State v. Stewart – Court held the defendant’s actions as a substantial step towards the commission of the crime.


Wisconsin uses the ALI/MPC test for insanity. It states that a person is not responsible if, at the time of the crime, he or she lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of the act or conform their conduct to the law.

Case: State v. Shilling – The court held that the defendant was not guilty by reason of insanity as he lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his act.


In Wisconsin, children under 10 years are presumed incapable of committing a crime.

Case: State v. Kleser – The court held that the defendant, being under 10, was incapable of committing the crime.

This study guide is by no means exhaustive and should be supplemented with class notes, textbooks, and additional readings. It is crucial to understand the nuances and subtleties of Wisconsin’s criminal law to excel in both class and practice.

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