I remember it like it was yesterday. The rain pattered on the windows of my office at UWorld when an inquisitive student waltzed in like she thought my office was the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton. “Let’s get down to brass tacks,” she said matter-of-factly. “How can I score big on MBE Criminal Law and Procedure?”
Without hesitation, I pushed my cheap coffee over to the side of my desk. “Look, MBE Criminal Law and Procedure isn’t easy. You’ve got to know the elements of lots of crimes—some of which merge together—on top of criminal legal theory. Add in a whole lot of constitutional criminal procedure, and you’ve got a tough nut to crack.”
A flash of lightning illuminated the student’s eyes. “I heard that UWorld is the best, so what do you say? Will you take the case or not?”
How could I say no to that? “Sure,” I replied, “I’ll see what I can do.”
She got up and left me alone with my thoughts and my now lukewarm cup of coffee. As I watched the pouring rain pound on my window, I wondered to myself, How do you go about solving Criminal Law and Procedure questions on the MBE?
1. The Breakdown
The first step in any case is to get your file in order. I opened up a desk drawer and pulled out my folder containing all of the MBE subjects and their chapter breakdowns, as well as each chapter’s testing frequency. It confirmed my suspicions—the questions are split pretty evenly between Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure:
|Topic||Constitutional Protection of Accused Persons||Homicide||Other Crimes||Inchoate Crimes, Parties||General Principles|
|# of Questions||12-13||3-4||3-4||3-4||3-4|
There’s really no way to game the system. You’ve got to chase down all your leads on MBE Criminal Law and Procedure if you plan on keeping the case on the hot burner and out of the cold case department.
2. The Crime
Second, try to deduce whether a crime has been committed and what that crime is before reading the answer choices. The question stem will give you all the facts you need to determine what crime, if any, has occurred. This makes life pretty easy for a detective. If you can solve the crime before you read the answer choices, you’ll be able to move on to the next case more quickly. Correctly solving as many cases as possible improves your odds of passing the MBE—and buying better coffee than me.
3. The Suspects
Third, you’ve got to pay attention to whodunnit. On the Criminal Law side, who’s doing what could create a mens rea or accomplice liability issue. On the Criminal Procedure side of the ledger, you can have questions where someone other than a state actor is conducting a search or asking questions—like a nosy neighbor who can’t keep his nose out of trouble. Remember: the Fourth Amendment won’t protect you from a nosy neighbor.
4. The Exceptions and Protections
Fourth, exceptions and timing are critical in constitutional criminal protections. You’ve got to keep in mind that the courts have carved up the Fourth Amendment like a Thanksgiving turkey. Before answering any question where you think the Fourth Amendment applies, ask yourself, “Does this case fall into an exception?” There’s a good chance it might, and a detective’s got to stay sharp.
The same goes for timing—some constitutional protections (like your Sixth Amendment right to counsel) are triggered by certain events (commencement of judicial proceedings) and only apply in certain situations (critical stages of prosecution). Know your timelines, and the case just might solve itself!
Practice Solving a Criminal Case
Follow these four steps, and you’ll be on your way to solving MBE Criminal Law and Procedure like an easy puzzle. To help you get started, we’ll let you in on a UWorld MBE Criminal Law and Procedure question.
This question asks whether the defendant committed criminal battery. You know from the frequency chart that you can expect to see around 3-4 questions on exam day about “Other Crimes,” which will likely include battery. Since you know the crime in question and the prime suspect, ask yourself whether the crime of battery occurred.
Criminal battery is the unlawful application of force to the victim’s person that causes bodily harm or constitutes offensive touching. Therefore, the defendant committed battery when he punched the man. But don’t forget to consider exceptions! Although a batter occurred, it may have been justified by self-defense. Here, the defendant was the initial aggressor, but he didn’t use deadly force. Contrast this with the fact that the man he punched was waving a knife in front of him.
Now take a peek at the answer choices, and Choice B is looking like a prime suspect. If you’re in a time crunch and trust your gut, you could select B and move on. If time is on your side or you need a little more evidence, you could go through the elements of self-defense in your head and confirm your hunch that Choice B is correct.
If you want the full story, check out UWorld’s detailed explanation of this question and its answer choices below:
The student trotted back into my office like a racehorse taking a victory lap. “So, have you solved the mystery of MBE Criminal Law and Procedure?”
Shifting my gaze from the late afternoon sunlight now streaming in through my half-closed blinds, I flashed her a proud smile. “I sure did. You said it yourself—UWorld is the best in the business. And we can help solve all of your MBE mysteries.”
If you like what you see, consider a free trial of UWorld’s bar prep product. That’s the best advice this investigator can give you. Good luck solving your next case!