Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Criminal Law in a Nutshell, 5th Ed., by Arnold H. Loewy (West Law School, 2009). 387 pages, $38.00

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

Loewy, a law professor, warns his students not to substitute reading this book for doing the hard work of mastering course material in their criminal law classes. Yet he admits that Criminal Law in a Nutshell constitutes the “succinct exposition of substantive criminal law” that his students must learn. For the non-law student, this book provides a compact, powerful summary of all facets of criminal law in a format suitable for self-study. As such, it is an ideal self-paced text for incarcerated readers.

Criminal Law in a Nutshell is divided into seven major topics that define all aspects of criminal law, each further divided into concise chapters. Professor Loewy begins by analyzing punishment, as that is the distinguishing feature of criminal law that separates it from other types of law. The first chapter covers the purposes of punishment, including the concepts of reformation, restraint, retribution and deterrence. Also examined are inequality in punishment, judicial discretion, disproportionality and capital punishment.

The next two chapters deal with all forms of homicide and their causation. Two more chapters cover other crimes against the person, including a special section on rape. A good discussion ensues on defenses to crimes, including imperfect self-defense, battered spouse syndrome and the retreat rule. Another chapter distinguishes crimes against property – larceny, theft, embezzlement, forgery, receiving stolen goods, robbery, extortion and burglary.

Professor Loewy then reviews the basic elements of a crime: intent and act. Of course, unless act and intent occur together, there is no crime. Defenses to crime are covered next, including insanity, irresistible impulse, infancy, intoxication, duress, necessity, entrapment and excessive government involvement. Another chapter discusses burden of proof.

Following sections deal with criminal attempts, group criminal actions, multiple party culpability and conspiracy. There is also a chapter on corporate crime lest white-collar offenses be left out. The book concludes with a discussion of limitations to criminal actions, including vagueness, ex post facto laws and victimless crimes.

While you won’t be ready to take the bar exam after reading Criminal Law in a Nutshell, you will have a good grasp of the elementary concepts of all facets of criminal law, as provided by an experienced law professor.

Criminal Law in a Nutshell, as well as other books in the Nutshell law series, is available in PLN’s bookstore – see page 54 for ordering information.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login