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What Do You Learn in a Criminal Law Class?

There are many different types of crimes and there is not time to cover all of them in detail in a class. So what can you expect to learn about? Professor Paul Cassell explains that the purpose of the class is to teach general principles about what makes something a crime or not. Once you know the basic elements, you can analyze different examples and circumstances for common fact patterns. https://youtube.com/watch?v=Mwr-J9uKVxE


One of the things that's interesting about a criminal law class is, okay, am I gonna learn murder, robbery, rape, burglary, and, and march through the, the substantive criminal offenses? To do that would require an inordinate amount of time. And so the way criminal law courses are typically structured is to first look at general principles for criminal law. And in one of the things that I think you'll see whenever you find a crime is that there are two pieces to that crime. There's what we call the—“actus reus” is the Latin phrase—the action that's involved. And then the “mens rea,” that would be the mental state that's associated with that crime. And so pretty much whenever you pick up a criminal code and point your finger at a particular, uh, particular crime, you're going to see those two features that are specified—what has to be done and with what mental state. And then, typically, a criminal law class, having put in place those sort of basic concepts, would like to play around with them a little bit or work with them to see how they operate in the context of a particular area. And so most criminal law classes will take the most serious crime, homicide, and walk that through different variations of homicide crimes. What are the most serious homicide crimes? Should there be something that's a lesser crime but still involving a death? Maybe manslaughter. Something even lower than that—should there be something even called negligent homicide? And should there be things like felony murder, which involve a different kind of liability than perhaps some other kinds of crimes that are there? And then, typically, a criminal law class will probably wrap up by looking at defenses. If we're going to have a crime, let’s call it homicide, might there be situations where someone would seemingly commit that crime but have a defense? What if somebody is minding their own business and the proverbial bad guy with a gun shows up? And so our our unsuspecting citizen who is minding his own business or her own business shoots that person. We're gonna spell out what self-defense looks like. And, and that way, in our criminal law class, we can understand how not only are there requirements to prosecute for prosecutors to prove in terms of the elements of a crime, but there may be situations where we want to allow defendants to prove that they have a defense. and self-defense is a common example. Criminal law is about setting boundaries. What's going to be permitted and what's not going to be permitted. Indeed, what's not going to be permitted to such a degree that we're going to condemn people who commit certain things. We'll call them crimes and then we will set up a mechanism for punishing those things.

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