Wyoming Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. General Principles of Criminal Law

A. Actus Reus
This Latin term refers to the actual criminal act committed by the defendant. Without actus reus, there can be no conviction.

Case: People v. Decina (1956) – The defendant, having knowledge of his epileptic condition, was convicted of negligent homicide after causing the death of several people when he had a seizure while driving. The actus reus was his decision to drive knowing it could result in a dangerous situation.

B. Mens Rea
This Latin term refers to the mental state of the defendant at the time of the crime. There are four general states: purposeful, knowing, reckless, and negligent.

Case: Regina v. Cunningham (1957) – The court held that for a defendant to be convicted of a crime, it must be shown that he had the requisite mens rea, or guilty mind.

C. Causation
Causation refers to the requirement that the defendant’s actions must have caused the harm. It must be both actual cause and proximate cause.

Case: People v. Warner-Lambert Co. (1976) – To prove causation, the prosecution must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were both an actual and proximate cause of the harm.

II. Wyoming Specific Laws

A. Wyoming Sexual Assault Laws
Wyoming defines sexual assault as any act in which a person subjects another person to sexual intrusion or sexual contact without their consent.

B. Wyoming Drug Laws
Wyoming prosecutes drug possession and distribution very seriously. Penalties can vary depending on the type and amount of the drug.

C. Wyoming Homicide Laws
In Wyoming, murder is classified as either first or second degree. First degree murder involves premeditation, while second degree murder does not.

III. Types of Crimes

A. Homicide
Homicide involves the killing of one human being by another. It can be classified as murder, manslaughter, or justifiable homicide depending on the circumstances.

Case: People v. Goetz (1986) – The court ruled that a reasonable belief of danger can justify the use of deadly force in self-defense.

B. Sexual Assault
Sexual assault involves engaging in sexual activity with another person without their consent.

Case: State v. Rusk (1981) – The defendant’s conviction for second-degree rape was upheld by the court which found that the victim’s fear was enough to constitute lack of consent.

C. Drug Offenses
Drug offenses can range from simple possession to trafficking and distribution.

Case: Wyoming v. Houghton (1999) – The U.S. Supreme Court held that the police may search the belongings of a passenger in a car that they lawfully stopped and where they have reason to believe contains evidence of a crime.

IV. Defenses

A. Insanity
The insanity defense argues that the defendant should not be held criminally liable due to a severe mental illness preventing them from understanding their actions.

Case: M’Naghten’s Case (1843) – The court ruled that a defendant may be acquitted by reason of insanity if, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason to not know the nature and quality of the act.

B. Self-Defense
Self-defense is a justification defense that allows a person to use force to protect themselves or others from physical harm.

Case: State v. Leidholm (1983) – The court held that a person who uses deadly force in self-defense must reasonably believe the force is necessary to protect against death or serious harm.

C. Duress
Duress is when a person commits a crime due to the threat of immediate danger to their life or the life of another.

Case: U.S. v. Contento-Pachon (1984) – The court held that a duress defense requires an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury, a well-grounded fear that the threat will be carried out, and no reasonable opportunity to escape.

This guide provides a basic understanding of criminal law principles, both generally and specific to Wyoming. It outlines key concepts, case law, and possible defenses in criminal cases. This should be used as a revision tool for law students preparing for exams. Remember, understanding the basics is crucial, but deeper analysis and application of these principles will be necessary for success.

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