Criminal Law Study Guide

Criminal law is usually split into substantive and procedural classes. While there are similarities and crossovers between the two, substantive criminal law is generally more focused on statutory analysis. Both are intensely state specific, and often do not focus on federal law. Like with torts and civil procedure, the best way to learn criminal law is by practical attempts at using the material. Your iterative outlining process should focus on practice problems.

Like with torts, criminal law classes will require a lot of reading that will have little to do with the actual exam. Instead, the exam will focus on fact patterns which you’ll need to apply to the particular state statutes. Were any crimes committed? Could the state meet its burden of proof on each element?

The secret to acing criminal law exams is, as with torts and civil procedure, practice. The difficulty with criminal law, however, is that because the content is so specific to state law, there aren’t supplements that adequately prepare students or provide them adequate practice problems.

Instead, for your iterative outlining process, you’ll need to rely most heavily on past exams from your professor, and practice problems given in class. While there are Examples and Explanations books, for instance, they are not as effective at covering this specific material. An added bonus of this specification, though, is that a major piece of this class is typically identifying the particular elements of a given statute. While you should absolutely learn to do this yourself, you can double check your work with your local jury instructions, which are also available through your school’s law library.

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