On the LSAT and in law school, Suffice it to say, this stuff is necessary – Part II.
March 5, 2012
Last week I explained the basic, abstract concepts of necessity and sufficiency, let me show you a brief example of how they relate to law school and the practice of law. On the first day of my criminal law class, my teacher called on some poor, terrified boy and asked him to stand up. Ah, the joys of the Socratic method. As the young man stood trembling, the professor asked him about the case, Proctor v. State, 176 P. 771 (1918), we were assigned to study. In the facts of this case, Mr. Proctor was convicted of keeping a two story building, with the intent and for the purpose of unlawfully selling malt liquors. The student, who was gaining confidence as he answered the professor’s litany of questions, recited the facts correctly and correctly stated that the Oklahoma Appellate Court vacated Mr. Proctor’s conviction. Then the Professor asked, “Was this case vacated due to an issue of sufficiency or necessity?” The young man began to shake again, and replied, “Could you repeat the question?” Just so you know, law professors do not like to repeat questions. The young, trembling gentleman was instantly told to sit down and another name was called. The question remained the same. Was this case about sufficiency or necessity. It took about four people being called on before some brave soul got our class out of our intellectual quagmire.
The concept we so painfully learned that day was that the Oklahoma Appellate Court dismissed the case because the prosecutor failed to charge Mr. Proctor with an “overt act” in connection with the alleged culpable intent. Simply stated, he had not done anything yet. An “overt act” was necessary. Courts describe the requirement of an act as a fundamental necessity of criminal punishment in a civilized state. We do not want to have a society where people are punished merely for their thoughts. If we had a criminal justice system which did not require “overt acts” to accompany evil intent, then anyone who is angry, perhaps over a lost parking space, would need to be brought to justice.
Every crime has the requirement of an act. That seemed straight forward enough. But, then, with the next case, the Professor’s questions began again: “What is an act? What if you hit someone, giving them a broken nose, while your having a convulsion? What if you act in your sleep, perhaps murdering someone? What if you act under hypnosis? What are the necessary elements of an “act”? What is sufficient (enough) to prove an act?” Needless to say, it was a long day in Criminal Law class. The lesson was meant to teach us that every law is based on necessary elements which must be sufficiently proven to constitute a crime.
When a judge or jury decides a legal matter, they have to decide if there was sufficient (enough) evidence of each of the necessary elements of the crime. Beyond that, the concept of proving each element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” is about having a sufficient amount of proof. What was necessary (needed) to be proven and was the evidence sufficient (enough) to prove each necessary element? Sufficiency and necessity are at the heart of our justice system. The facts of each case may differ, but the structure of necessity and sufficiency permeate every aspect of the law. That, my friends, is why necessity and sufficiency are so vigorously tested on the LSAT. If you understand these two concepts, you are well on your way to being a lawyer.