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Malum Prohibitum

a crime that involves conduct which is wrong because the legislature says its wrong (fishing without a license, burning trash within city limits, etc.)

Malum In Se

Latin for "wrong in itself;" describes conduct that is inherently wrong, in and of itself, regardless of the law

Actus Reus

Latin for "guilty act" The wrongful deed that comprises the physical components of a crime and that generally must be coupled with Mens Rea to establish criminal liability

Mens Rea

Latin for "Guilty Mind" The state of mind that prosecution, to secure a conviction, must prove that a defendant had when committing a crime; criminal intent or recklessness

Criminal Law

The body of law defining offenses against the community at large, regulating how suspects are investigated, charged, and tried, and establishing punishments for convicted offenders

Civil Law

law concerned with private wrongs against individuals


A serious crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death


A crime that is less serious than a felony and is punishable by fine, penalty, forfeiture, or confinement in a place other than prison, like county jail


A violation of a rule or local ordinance and not punishable by incarceration

Criminal Conduct

Intent to commit an evil act in violation of a statute, also known as criminal intent

Criminal Negligence

recklessly acting without reasonable caution and putting another person at risk of injury or death (or failing to do something with the same consequences)


giving little thought to danger

Criminal Knowledge

Awareness of conduct that would undoubtedly produce a criminal result

Criminal Purpose

requires premeditated intent to act in a manner consistent with criminal activity

Transferred Intent

Defendant intends to harm one victim, but instead accidental harms another.

General Intent

the intent to perform an act even though the actor does not desire the consequences that result.

Specific Intent

the intent to accomplish the precise criminal act that one is later charged with

no intent / strict liability

liability without fault, or in the absence of mens rea; it's based on voluntary action alone

Principal in the First Degree

parties who actually take part in a criminal act, could also be someone who actively possess mens rea but convinces another to perform the act; coercement, trickery, or threats

Principal in the Second Degree

persons who actually assist in the physical commission of a crime or person whose conduct enables another to commit a crime. Ex: someone makes deliveries for a dealer of drugs, even though he may not obtain, sell or use the drugs he is still enabling the crime

Accessory before the Fact

a person who orders a crime or helps the principal commit the crime but who is not present during the crime

Accessory after the Fact

someone who, knowing a crime has been committed helps conceal the crime or the criminal

Stare Decisis

to stand by that which was decided; rule by which courts decide new cases based on how they decided similar cases before

Legislative Branch

responsible for making laws

Executive branch

responsible for enforcing laws

Judicial branch

responsible for interpreting laws

Supremacy Clause

a clause in the U.S. constitution stating that the constitution, federal laws, and treaties are the supreme law of the land; Article VI, Section 2

Preemption Doctrine

The concept that federal law must take precedence over state and local law

Commerce Clause

a clause in the U.S. constitution giving the federal government the right to regulate interstate commerce; Article I, Section 8, Clause 3

Police Power

the power of a government to enforce laws and regulate the health, safety, and welfare of the population

Justifiable Conduct

conduct by one who, under the circumstances, is considered to be innocent of otherwise criminal behavior

Excusable Conduct

conduct by one who, under the color of authority, is considered to be innocent of otherwise criminal behavior

Petition for Certiorari

request by a litigant that the U.S. Supreme Court hear his/her appeal

Writ of Certiorari

notice from the U.S. Supreme Court that it will hear the case


the process by which Congress may charge a sitting judge, President, or Vice-President with "high crimes and misdemeanors" and convict them in a trial before Senate. A conviction will result in removal from office.

Exclusive jurisdictions

occurs when only one court has the authority to hear a case; the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over patent cases, federal crimes, federal bankruptcy cases, and most admiralty cases.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

occurs when two or more courts have the authority to hear a case; there are times when the federal courts can have concurrent jurisdiction with state courts

Dual Sovereignty

Legal doctrine that allows a person to be prosecuted by different governmental entities for the same action or set of actions; most commonly occurs in prosecution by both federal and state governments for the same action

Subjective Intent

The offender's conscious intentions at the time of the crime

Objective Intent

What a reasonable person should have known or thought at the time of the event

Constructive Intent

The concept that some actions are so likely to cause a specific result that the law treats that result as intended, whether the person menat to cause it or not.


A necessary element to prove in some crimes where the offender knew a certain fact or understood the law being broken.


The reason a person commits a crime.
Not a crime to have, just a crime to act upon.

Voluntary Act

The actus reus element of a crime; a crime must be a _________ ___

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