Ways & How

how to study criminal law

how to study criminal law

Students venturing into how to study criminal law may find the subject very technical. Not everyone can distinguish the difference between murder and homicide although the same charges involve the killing of a human being. You might even wonder why two persons charged with the same crime and, upon conviction; the first convict is sentenced to suffer a longer period of imprisonment while the other one will suffer only a fairly short period of imprisonment. The answer rests in the circumstances present in the case such as justifying, mitigating, or aggravating circumstances. Before you get into law school, read in advance and learn the following basic aspects of criminal law.

  1. Secure a criminal law book and reading materials containing relevant statutes. Look at the table of contents of the book. You will see there the general division of criminal law subjects such as, commission of crimes, classification of crimes, penalties, and others. If your book is comprehensive enough, it may also contain specials laws.

    Notice that there are cases cited in every topic. You can research a few of those cases and study them. For example, the most celebrated case under the topic on due process in relation to the sub-topic on custodial investigation is the Miranda v. Arizona case (384 U.S. 435) that happened sometimes in 1966. In every criminal case you see on TV, likely you had been hearing about this case as one of the citations of the defense.

  2. Proceed to the introductory part of the book. The introduction can be a little longer because it will give you a general overview about the book itself. It will tell you key concepts and legal maxims commonly used in the field of criminal law. Know that “felony” refers to “any serious crime committed” while the term “felon” refers to “a person that has been convicted by the court on account of his or her commission or participation in a certain felony crime.”

    There are so many legal maxims you need to know. A few of them are: “ignorance of the law excuses no one” and “nullum crimen est nulla poena sine lege” which means “there is no crime done and no punishment could be meted out if there was no law violated at the time of the commission of the crime.”

  3. Try to differentiate between “felony” and “misdemeanor.” Not all crimes are to be classified as a felony, just as not all criminal offenses are to be identified as misdemeanors. The two terms are technically different. Generally, the U.S. federal government refers to an offense as a felony if it carries a corresponding penalty of death or more than one year imprisonment. If the punishment is only one year or even less, then the offense is called a misdemeanor.

  4. Study what constitutes a criminal act. Know that “your right ends where my right begins.” This is the very basic idea you need to understand in knowing what constitutes a criminal act. For example, you can tell me anything under the sun, but that “anything” has limitations in the sense that your statements should not constitute slander or defamation.

    Legally, there are few elements that constitute criminal acts-- mens rea which refers to the intent of the accused to commit the felony, actus reus, which is the criminal act itself that actually occurred. “Concurrence,” which means both mens rea and actus reus, must happen at one time or that the criminal intent essentially precedes or co-exists with the performance of the criminal offense and causation, which means that the harm indeed occurred, and its existence must be proven in court.

  5. Study the elements of crimes. You must have heard already of murder, homicide, parricide, rape, manslaughter, physical injuries, and many other crimes. The very common question being thrown at people in the legal field goes like “What is the crime committed?”

    The very technique on how to study crimes is to know their elements. For example, killing a person can either be murder, homicide, or parricide. All of them involve the killing of a person, but they vary in terms of their elements. The distinctive feature of murder is that there is an element of malicious aforethought or intent to kill, which is not in the case of homicide. As to parricide, its distinctive element is the existing relationship between the felon and the victim which can either be parent and child or husband and wife.

  6. Study the corresponding penalties. The chapter on penalties is not interesting unless you wish to become a judge one day. The penalty to be imposed depends on the circumstances present in the case. When a justifying circumstance is present like “self-defense,” the accused can either be totally freed or enjoy a much lower term of sentence. When an aggravating circumstance is present, the accused will likely be imprisoned for a longer period. At any rate, the term of the penalty also depends on the sound discretion of the judge.

  7. Use mnemonics. This learning technique is commonly used by law students to aid their memory. Mind you, this is very effective especially if you deal with enumeration, crime elements, and even dates.

    For example, what are the key elements of murder? Technically, “murder” is defined as the “act of unlawful killing of a human being with malicious intent or afterthought.” The definition can be broken into four letters, such as: U-unlawful, K-killing, H-human being, and M-malicious aforethought. The possible mnemonics for “UKHM” could be “Uncle Kent Hates Mama.”

Admittedly, learning how to study criminal law can be a little harder especially if you are not guided properly. Criminal law is wide-ranging as it covers the very inception of the criminal act down to the filing and prosecution of the case until it is decided by the court, also including the time of stay of the felon in the prison cell. But with the guide we have discussed above, you can now start reading your criminal law book.


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