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Criminal Law: Home

Criminal Law resources for 1Ls, bar examinees, and other patrons.

Useful Definitions

Accessory: A person who aids or contributes in the commission or concealment of a crime.

Accomplice: A person who is in any way involved with another in the commission of a crime, whether as a principal in the first or second degree or as an accessory.

Actus Reus: The wrongful deed that comprises the physical components of a crime and that generally must be coupled with mens rea to establish criminal liability; a forbidden act.

Attempt: An overt act that is done with the intent to commit a crime but that falls short of completing the crime.

Deadly Force: Violent action known to create a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily harm.

Deterrence: The act or process of discouraging certain behavior, particularly by fear; esp., as a goal of criminal law, the prevention of criminal behavior by fear of punishment.

Justification: A lawful or sufficient reason for one's acts or omissions; any fact that prevents an act from being wrongful.

Mens Rea: The state of mind that the prosecution, to secure a conviction, must prove that a defendant had when committing a crime; criminal intent or recklessness.

Penal Code: A compilation of criminal laws, usu. defining and categorizing the offenses and setting forth their respective punishments.

All definitions come from Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).


Criminal Law is the body of rules and statutes that defines conduct prohibited by the government because it threatens and harms public safety and welfare and that establishes punishment to be imposed for the commission of such acts. Punishment is allowed because crimes must generally be committed with malicious intent. A criminal case differs from a civil one because the criminal is sued by the state while in a civil case, the victim of the crime brings the suit. To be convicted, the criminal must be shown to have concurrently completed the prohibited act, or actus reus, with the culpable mental state, or mens rea. This will be true unless the conduct resulted in a strict liability crime, for which only the prohibited act must be shown to convict the criminal.  

States have primary and inherent authority to pass laws prohibiting or punishing any acts, as long as such laws do not contradict the federal or state constitutions. Thus, laws will differ between the states. Many states have chosen to update their laws in accordance with the Model Penal Code. The federal government has limited jurisdiction to prohibit or punish conduct.

Subscription Databases

Bloomberg Law: The Litigation & Dockets tab contains a webpage of Litigation Resources with links to sources such as federal and state court dockets, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and state laws.

To search for cases, click on “Search All Federal and State Court Dockets.” In the search box, Browse through the Select Topic drop-down menu and choose “Criminal Law” to limit your search to criminal cases. Bloomberg Law contains sources such as American Criminal Law Review, BNA Criminal Law Reports, BNA Criminal Law Reporter, and the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology.

Lexis Advance: Browse Topics—Criminal Law and Procedure

Browse Sources—Texas—Search Criminal Law

Westlaw: Under Browse—Topics—Criminal Law, various resources are listed including Regulations, Secondary Sources, Forms, and Proposed & Enacted Legislation.

Subject Guide

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