Mike Shecket's Notes on Dressler’s Cases and Materials on Criminal Law[1]

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Chapter 1.  Introduction: Setting the Stage

A.     Nature, Sources, and Limits of the Criminal Law

B.    Criminal Law in a Procedural Context: Pre-Trial

C.   Criminal Law in a Procedural Context: Trial by Jury

D.   Proof of Guilt at Trial

1.     “Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”

2.     Enforcing the Presumption of Innocence (including Owens v. State)

E.    Jury Nullification (including State v. Ragland)

Chapter 2.  Principles of Punishment

A.   Theories of Punishment

B.    The Penal Theories in Action

C.   Proportionality of Punishment

Chapter 3.  Modern Role of Criminal Statutes

A.   Principle of Legality

B.    Statutory Interpretation

Chapter 4.  Actus Reus

Introductory Comment: Defining “Actus Reus

A.   Voluntary Act (including Martin v. State and State v. Utter)

B.    Omissions (“Negative Acts”) (including People v. Beardsley)

C.   Social Harm

Chapter 5.  Mens Rea

A.   Nature of “Mens Rea” (including United States v. Cordoba-Hincapie and Regina v. Cunningham)

B.    General Issues in Proving Culpability (including People v. Conley)

C.   Strict Liability Offenses

D.   Mistake and Mens Rea

Chapter 6.  Causation

A.   Introduction (including Velazquez v. State)

B.    Actual Cause (Cause-in-Fact) (including Oxendine v. State)

C.   Proximate Cause (“Legal” Cause)


Chapter 7.  Criminal Homicide


A.   Overview

B.    Intentional Killings

C.   Unintentional Killings: Unjustified Risk-Taking

D.   Unintentional Killings: Unlawful Conduct

1.     The Felony-Murder Rule


Chapter 8. Rape


A.   Social Context

B.    Actus Reus

C.   Mens Rea (including Commonwealth v. Sherry)

D.   Proving Rape

1.     Rape Shield Laws

2.     Cautionary Jury Instructions (and Other Procedural Matters)

E.    Statutory Rape


Chapter 9.  General Defenses to Crimes


A.   Categories of Defenses

B.    Burden of Proof

C.   Principles of Justification

                                         1.      Structure of Justification Defenses

                                         2.      Self-Defense

                                         3.      Defense of Others

                                         4.      Defense of Property/Habitation and Law Enforcement Defenses

                                         5.      Necessity (“Choice of Evils”)

D.   Principles of Excuse

                                         1.      Why Do We Excuse Wrongdoers?

                                         2.      Duress

                                         3.      Intoxication

                                         4.      Insanity

                                         5.      Diminished Capacity

                                         6.      Infancy

E.    New Defenses?

                                         1.      Addiction/Alcoholism Defense

                                         2.      “Rotten Social Background” (RSB) Defense

                                         3.      “Cultural Defense”


Chapter 10.  Inchoate Offenses


A.   Overview

B.    Attempt

1.     General Principles

2.     Grading Criminal Attempts

3.     Mens Rea

4.     Actus Reus

a.        General Principles

b.       Distinguishing Preparation from Perpetration: The Tests at Work

c.        Punishing Pre-Attempt Conduct

5.     Special Defenses

a.        Impossibility

b.       Abandonment

C.   Assault

D.   Solicitation

E.    Conspiracy

1.     General Principles

2.     Criticisms of the Offense of Conspiracy

3.     Mens Rea

a.        General Principles

b.       Intent: “Purpose” or “Knowledge”? (including People v. Lauria)

c.        Attendant Circumstances

4.     Actus Reus

5.     Conspiracy: Bilateral or Unilateral?

6.     Scope of an Agreement: Party and Object Dimensions

7.     Defenses

8.     RICO: The Sprawling Son-of-Conspiracy Statute


Chapter 11.  Liability for the Conduct of Another


A.   Accomplice Liability

1.     General Principles

a.      Common Law Terminology and Its Significance

b.     Theoretical Foundation: Derivative Liability

2.     “Elements” of Accomplice Liability: In General (including State v. Hoselton)

3.     Mens Rea

a.      Intent: “Purpose” or “Knowledge”?

b.     When Is “Intent” Not Required?

                                                                                                  i.      Offenses Not Requiring Intent (including State v. Foster)

                                                                                                ii.      Natural-and-Probable-Consequences Doctrine (including State v. Linscott)

                                                                                              iii.      Attendant Circumstances

4.     Actus Reus

5.     Distinguishing Direct from Accomplice Liability (including Bailey v. Commonwealth)

B.    Vicarious Liability

C.   Corporate Liability


Back to Criminal Law

[1] Dressler, Joshua.  Cases and Materials on Criminal Law.  2nd ed.  West Group, 1999.