Teaching Criminal Law:

I'll be teaching criminal law -- the substantive first-year course, not constitutional criminal procedure -- for the first time this coming year. Naturally, I'm asking colleagues for advice, doing a good deal of reading, and trying to come up with good pedagogical ideas myself; teaching a new class is exciting but daunting (and time-consuming).

I'd like, though, to also mine your collective experience for tips. Could those of you who have taken criminal law (and those who have taught it, of course) tell me what worked well in the classes you've had? Any particular nonobvious pedagogical tricks that have really helped you understand the subject, or made it more exciting? Any good ways that teachers have defused tension in class, or cleared up confusion? If so, I'd love to see this in the comments.

Please be selective; I'm not looking just for amusing stories, or arguments that the criminal justice system is broken in some ways, or for proposals for radically restructuring the criminal law class. (One day I might try a radically different approach to teaching the subject, but not the first time I teach it.) I'm looking, selfishly, for tips that would help me teach the standard first-year criminal class more effectively, preferably for nonobvious tips (i.e., more than just "be clear" or "don't insult your students"). Also, please don't discuss ways of making the teaching of rape law more effective -- I will have a separate post on that subject. Many thanks in advance for your help.

John Coy Stull (mail):
I think one of the most useful techniques in teaching criminal law is to use factual hypotheticals and then break down the elements of each crime within the hypothetical.
I think my teacher for the subject focused on too many cases that were contraversial and didn't focus on the basic elements of the crimes and how each are satified in a hypothetical situation.
I enjoyed arguing about contraversial topics but come exam time that didn't help me out in the slightest.
Best of luck,
J Coy Stull
3.31.2005 4:33pm
Crime & Federalism (mail) (www):
Please balance elements with theory. Carol Chase (Pepperdine) would always first put the elements on the board. First, here's the elements for murder. Second, let's discuss the cases to see how courts have interpreted these elements. Third, let's discuss the theory behind, e.g., mens rea (how do we know the contents of someone's mind? Is is possible? Is it just a legal fiction we use to make ourselves feel like we're truly only punishing the "guilty").

Sometimes professors would forget that the theoretical tail should not wag the criminal law dog. Free will is interesting to discuss (though, I was always suspicious of people who had neither a Ph.D. or even B.A. in philosophy so arrogantly waxing about such philosophical problems). But it's pretty irrelevant (in a criminal law class) unless we first discuss intent. So, first, teach the class that there can only be a murder if there is an intentional act. Second, is this sound? Do any of us act intentionally? If our acts are only partially volitional, should that negate conviction of an intent crime, or should that go to sentencing? Etc.
3.31.2005 4:35pm
E. Shen (mail):
Judge Lynch at Columbia focused primarily on the Model Penal Code. While common law doctrine was also read, I considered Lynch's class to be the most useful first year class I took. Judge Lynch's laser-like focus on the statutory language and pained emphasis on parsing statutes served me well in later classes.

I personally considered emphasis on the differences between jurisdictions on common law doctrines to be less useful as a student. Bar exam prep will typically be sufficient to actually teach you the law itself. If UCLA sends a large number of people into criminal practice, perhaps focus on California common law would be prudent, but otherwise, skills such as statutory analysis would probably be better for the students in the long haul. I'm not saying you ignore the common law, just don't insist on having students memorize all the different doctrines for felony murder.
3.31.2005 4:39pm
Reginald White (mail):
My criminal law professor focused on one crime--common-law burglary. We spent significant time on each element. (One student asked if we were going to study additional crimes, and my professor responded that he was trying to teach us how to conduct legal analysis. Once we learned how to do that, reviewing different substantive crimes would be of limited benefit). Once we had common-law burglarly down, we compared it to various statutory definitions of burglary, seeing how state legislatures kept expanding the net by weakening elements. Then we learned about attempt. Then conspiracy. We finished with RICO--the ultimate enlargement of the net.

This was the best class I had during law school, and I think his method was the most effective way of teaching 1Ls.
3.31.2005 4:51pm
Belchfire (mail):
The last week of my otherwise traditional Crim law class eovered rape. This segment brought home how difficult it is to write an effective statute to cover some crimes and how difficult it is to remain professional when dealing with emotional issues. I also gained a lot of respect for judges that have to adjudicate these tragedies.
3.31.2005 4:57pm
sta (mail):
The best criminal law class I took was a white collar crime class taught by an adjunct professor whose "day job" was Assistant US Attorney.

Her technique was to use actual indictments to walk us through the elements of crimes AND to teach us a little procedure on the side.
3.31.2005 5:10pm
DBL (mail):
I took crim. law with Jerry Israel at Michigan and he was an extremely effective teacher. One of his tricks was to go down the rows in calling on students in turn. Each day he'd go through about 2-5 students, so you'd have a rough idea when he'd get to you. If you weren't prepared, he'd make the whole class wait while you read the case. That only happened once, at the beginning of the year. Anyway, the result was that most students were reasonably well prepared to engage in a dialogue with Prof. Israel.

Another trick was that he told us up front what he wanted us to get out of the class. Not only the substantive law, but he went through the various types of arguments that lawyers make. Of course it didn't mean much to us at the start of school, but it was helpful when we started studying for exams and trying to figure out what the point of the class had been.

Substantively, I recall that we studied the criminal common law, the NY Penal Code and the Michigan Penal Code. That seems a lot less important in hindsight than what Prof. Israel taught us about how to make legal arguments.
3.31.2005 5:10pm
Gor (mail):
I had your fellow UCLA colleague Peter Arenella for criminal law as a first year and found his approach very effective. Prof. Arenella was very methodical about starting the discussion of each case by analyzing the particular code in question and breaking down its elements by having the class identify the "mens rea", the "actus reus", etc. It may seem like an obvious approach but I noticed that friends of mine in other sections seemed very lost when it came time to study for crim. law finals because they lacked this discplined approach to their initial thinking.
I personally found Prof. Arenella's crim. law class to be one of the best that I had at UCLA and would recommend asking him directly if he has any advice.
3.31.2005 5:16pm
Michael Martin (mail):
I think a background of teaching Constitutional Law is pretty good for teaching Criminal Law. Both bodies of law, I think, are driven by high falutin' theoretical debates. As a result, it's important to take the time to carefully introduce the doctrine that gives the contours for the battleground of those debates. If the class doesn't have a solid grasp of the doctrinal arguments, the dicussion can easily degenerate into nakedly political or moral arguments. That being said, at a law school as good as UCLA, I doubt you'll have to beleaguer the students with a blow by blow explanation of the elements of each crime.

Also, I agree with the poster who said that the MPC should be taught without getting into the complication of jurisdictional differences. The source of the differences should come out from the arguments in the case law anyway.
3.31.2005 5:22pm
I'd urge you to spend some time on the competing theories behind criminal laws (for instance, just desserts vs. deterrence).

I realize this sounds esoteric, but a conceptual framework helps students understand both the substance of the law (why do we treat one killer one way and another killer differently?), and also how to formulate the kinds of normative arguments they will need to make as practitioners (why SHOULD we treat my client THIS way?).
3.31.2005 5:22pm
My own approach as a criminal law professor begins by recognizing that modern criminal law is statutory, not common law: the common law rules are very interesting from a policy perspective, but common law argument isn't a big part of modern criminal law practice.

This lesson frames what I think are the two major questions of first-year criminal law: first, the policy question of what criminal statutes should say and do (a question primarily although not exclusively for legislatures), and second, the doctrinal question of how to interpret a given statutory scheme (a question primarily for the courts).

I spend about 70% of class time on normative policy questions, using the cases and common law rules as points of departure for policy discussions that explore basic types of legal policy arguments: theories of punishment, rules vs. standards, law in theory vs. law in practice, whether law should shape or merely reflect social norms, race/class questions, etc.

I spend about 30% of class time on descriptive doctrine questions, using the Model Penal Code as the "binding" law in our hypothetical jurisdiction. I usually begin class by including powerpoint slides explaining all the relevant rules in the MPC. I also assign readings on theories of statutory interpretation and occasionally assign practice problems that focus on the exercise of statutory interpretation.

The basic goal is to use criminal law as a vehicle to teach first-year law students the basic tools of legal thinking that are the foundation of criminal law: 1) developing normative policy arguments about legal rules and 2) understanding and interpreting statutory codes.

There's more to it than that, obviously, but that's the basic approach.
3.31.2005 5:39pm
Jake (mail):
One good trick that my crim law professor (Schulhofer) would use was, if one student gave a wrong answer, to immediately go to the student next to them with "Mr/Ms. X, what do you think?", and so on down the line. Kept things snappy, and eventually created a social norm of being prepared so as not to put your friends in the splash zone.
3.31.2005 5:40pm
The most important aspect of first year classes to me is for the professor to demonstrate a genuine interest in the subject matter, which as you probably know, can be exceedingly rare. Far too many professors at elite law schools in particular demonstrate a total disregard for grimy first year topics. Luckily for your students, you have this point covered.

The primary complaint I had with crim law was that MPC and common law concepts were not organized in a useful fashion. The various mens rea concepts in particular are pretty confusing to first years, and at least in my class at Duke, were not presented in a helpful fashion. Although it is important to cover the common law at some point, it might actually make more sense to teach a purely MPC class and leave the common law differences for a distinct segment.
3.31.2005 5:48pm
James Grimmelmann (mail) (www):
Dan Kahan at Yale teaches a mixed MPC/common law course. Because the MPC is so much more explicit and detailed, one teaching trick he used regularly was to treat the MPC as a commentary on the common law in a givern area. Thus, was the MPC trying to codify the common-law rule or to change it? And, either way, was the MPC's drafters' vision of the common-law rule actually borne out by the cases? Especially in mistake-of-fact cases, it's easy to get confused quickly by the common-law decisions. Focusing on the law-reform goals of the MPC was a nice way of leveraging their relative clarity to help make the common-law system more comprehensible.

Actus reus is a strange category, and it generates strange hypoes. Choose your words with special care when teaching it, and make sure your students see what is and isn't on the table when a court is considering an actus reus question.

I agree that the theoretical perspectives are important and need to be front-loaded. For that reason, it's also important that students know what the various perspectives entail, rather than just thinking of the theory part of the course as a time for some fun debates. Kahan was very good about pressing us to understand how each rationale could be used to argue for more punishment or for less, depending on the circumstances.
3.31.2005 6:00pm
I recall that one of the most enjoyable topics of 1L crim law dealt with legal impossibility versus factual impossibility. The entire class was asked to explain the difference between the two, finally discovering that the difference is basically inexplicable. It's a topic that is not worth more than one, or possibly even 1/2 a class, but the students will enjoy it.

In terms of teaching method, I believe that having students argue or defend a given position, independent of the strength of that position, is an excellent method of preparing students as advocates.

I believe that the comments above all speak to the other suggestions that I had.
3.31.2005 6:02pm
David Sands:
Ellen Podgor, who was a guest lecturer from Georgia State, had what I thought was a very sensitive approach. Instead of the typical socratic treatment of the crime of rape, she divided us into groups. Each was asked to write their own rape statute. (This crime was examined relatively late in the semester after we had some experience with statutory construction.) Comparisons of the different laws was a good way to thresh out the difficulties of defining the crime at the margins. It had the advantage of not putting any one person on the spot who wanted to remain anonymous. I would not say that this approach gave us students as detailed an understanding of the crime as we had of murder or theft, but I thought this was a good middle ground between ignoring an important criminal subject and diving so deeply into it that it traumatizes the students.
3.31.2005 7:01pm
From a pedagogical perspective, the most interesting thing about teaching rape in a criminal law class isn't the horrificness of the act, but that rape, more than any other crime, will come down to the word of the victim against the word of the perpetrator.

No other crime has this dynamic, and "CSI" notwithstanding, oftentimes the physical evidence isn't clear. This is the great dilemma for rape laws, and I think focusing on this tough policy problem (thus perhaps removing some of the emotion from the subject) would be the way to go. I'd also suggest including the Federal Rape Shield Law as part of the discussion- it may be a rule of evidence, but it's part of the law of rape, and it goes to the heart of the problem: how do you punish the guilty and not the innocent? How do you account for false accusations? How must do you trust victim's identifications of their attackers?
3.31.2005 7:07pm
Greg Taylor (mail):
I took 1st year criminal law from Jim Lindgren. Some years later, to illustrate the concept of "conspiracy," he joined one.
3.31.2005 7:10pm
Anonymous Law Student:
I had one of your colleagues who will remain nameless, since I, and essentially all of my section, found his/her teaching style to be awful.

To illustrate part of the problem: in the "hey, 1Ls, here's how to not fail your exams!" seminars that the UCLA academic support people put on in the first semester, we were asked to discuss a hypothetical involving a homicide. Although we had four weeks of class on it, not a single person could list the elements of common law murder. It was really awful.

Thus, my suggestion would be to make sure that your students learn the elements of each crime you want to cover- you can then dig into the thoughts behind them, but the blackletter law really needs to come first- it's impossible to discuss theory without it.

Also, tell all your students to purchase "Understanding Criminal Law" by Prof. Dressler- it was a lifesaver in the face of the trainwreck that was my course.
3.31.2005 7:17pm
Goober (mail):
Remember that your students will be in a torts frame of mind, and spending a semester on Palsgraf makes the human creature infinitely creative in finding justifications to punish. Two minutes of due-process theory at the top of the order will be worth hours of confusion avoided later. Make sure they all know how to say nulla poena sine lege. Correct their pronunciation often; students respect that level of attention to detail.

Which gets you to Prof. Kerr's point: Err on the side of more statutes. Start with ones drafted well, then graduate them to studying ones drafted poorly. And teach the screwball stuff, too, once in a while. New York has outlawed fortune telling, e.g.; how cool is that?

Have you considered shooting someone the first day of class? I'm sure that would drive things home.
3.31.2005 7:21pm
The one good thing I took from my Criminal Law class at Chicago (which was otherwise probably the biggest disaster of a class my 1L year) was that for several crimes we looked at several states' specific statutes. That gave a good sense of how different legislatures had tackled the same problem. We treated the Model Penal Code as just one more of these specific examples. So, for instance, for murder we had quite an array of approaches that we would categorize and rank on various spectra. The book we used, Kaplan/Weisberg/Binder, was quite good for facilitating this, since it included several state statutes.

Also, we had a section on federal white collar law (RICO, mostly), which was fascinating.
3.31.2005 8:23pm
I remember my crim. law prof. spending most of the time talking about culpability and I thought at the time it was an incredible waste of time. Now I'm a prosecutor with an exclusively appellate practice and realize how important those lessons were. To make that topic interesting ,the trick is finding the cases at the edges of the various culpable mental states.
3.31.2005 9:03pm
Andy Treese (mail):
I'll add a technique from Prof. Podgor. From the first day, as key concepts arise, she assigns them to students. For example, the first day of class was about theories of punishment - the Dudley v. Stephens case. During the ensuing discussion, four students sitting next to each other were each assigned a theory of punishment. Then throughout the semester, if she wanted to discuss deterrence, she'd call on them to recite the names of the major theories.

I was a skeptic. It sounded silly. But as the semester went on, I became a believer. Why? 1) We heard the key issues mentioned throughout the semester - and the "oldest" ones were repeated and reinforced more than the "youngest" ones when it came time for exams. It was like an AV outline, and one heck of an interesting mnemonic. "Hey, who was dave - is he specific deterrence? No that's not right. He's retribution - I'm missing one."

I also agree with Anonymous above about the Dressler book for reference. It's an understandable, well organized reference for review and studying. (Prof. Podgor and a colleague have a forthcoming text that they've been testing at GSU for a few years. I liked it. Of course, at this point I've raved enough that I may be losing credibility.)
3.31.2005 9:19pm
I finished Crim Law last semester at UVA. The class was great but highly unorthodox. The keys to understanding Crim? The Moral Compass and the Mommy Meter.

Yeah. Exactly.
3.31.2005 9:28pm
Looking at the comments above, it seems that many criminal law classes actually discuss the elements of several (perhaps many?) individual crimes. Our class did not do this, and I think it was a good idea.

Learning the elements of individual crimes is something of a waste of time, since if the student is called upon in practice to prosecute or defend an accused person, she will need to research the elements of the crime in her particular jurisdiction. For this reason, criminal law can focus less on the doctrine of specific crimes and more on theory (culpability, theories of punishment, etc.) than most first-year courses.

Our course spent most of the semester (about 10 out of 15 weeks) discussing theoretical doctrines, without focusing on particular crimes any more than was required to understand the specific courses being discussed. For the remainder of the class, we discussed the specifics of homicide. We applied all the theory to the specific crimes of murder (first-degree and second-degree), manslaughter, and reckless or negligent homicide. This really helped to reinforce the concepts and provided an excellent way to organize the course.

(This does have the drawback of leaving students in the dark as to what they will be tested on for most of the semester, since none of the doctrine makes much sense until the end of the class when it is all tied together in the homicide discussions.)
3.31.2005 9:54pm
Cory Olson (mail):
HUMOR!!! It's all about humor. More than anything, that's what all of us loved about CrimLaw - It was HILARIOUS! Guys hitting other guys with numchucks, people getting drunk and doing stupid things, werid and improbable hypotheticals, and then cases that were even weirder than that.

I had CrimLaw last spring with Prof. Donald Dripps (former of Univ. of MN, now of San Diego). He was so funny that we actually began keeping a list of crazy things he said in class.

A short list of classics:
"Not just an assault, but an assault with style points."

"By contrast, what jackass would buy a crate of hand grenades?"

"It makes a good story if everybody lives."

"So far as the law is concerned, what you and your stereo and your liquor cabinet do together is your own damn business."

"I had to defend myself with my handy numchucks."

"There are lot of people in jail who thought it was the thing to do at the time."

"Birkenstock wearing types who can't park their bicycles straight."

"The court says it's a vehicle. One hundred to one it's a pickup truck."

"I think that means that if you are the first burglar, you get to shoot the second one."

"And everyone is liquored up of course . . . And he hasn't been idle either . . . And so everyone is completely lit."

"You can not duel yourself, except in a Freudian sense."

"You can not commit bigamy by yourself, even in Utah."

"People are bleeding to death, but they are doing it slow enough to wander around and cause trouble."
The funnier the better. I cannot stress this enough. Make the class fun and everyone will learn more and will pay greater attention.
3.31.2005 10:56pm
My professor was great. She picked out the first four people on the syllabus and created a hypothetical which she would spin throughout the semester to the different elements/crimes that we were discussing. for example, Mr A, Ms. B, Mr C and Ms D are all students at this law school. Everyone hates Mr. A and wishes for his untimely death... etc throughout the semester without making them uncomfortable or anything.

Also, we started every topic with a discussion of the common law v. the model penal code even though we knew that the exam would focus purely on the MPC.
3.31.2005 11:43pm
TheSophist (mail):
My law professor at NYU started us off with a class devoted to simply drafting a statue criminalizing some activity. (His example, I believe, was to criminalize driving through Central Park). It really set the tone in driving home the fact that Criminal Law is entirely statutory, that while we would study common law sources of criminal law, if "it ain't written down, it ain't a crime". It also helped clarify actus reus, mens rea, and various justifications right off the bat.

4.1.2005 12:56am
Use the right book: NOT Kadish. If you haven't considered the Kelman/Dubber text, please do. It has great hypos and is well-edited.
4.1.2005 1:12am
Peggy DeStefano (mail):
I teach criminal law at the undergraduate level and I use a strategy that students say is effective and enjoyable. Students select a "home state" and use those criminal statutes as their framework for learning the elements of the crimes. Class discussions focus on how states differ: New York versus California, for example, in the economy and clarity of statutory language. The rape statutes are especially instructive in this approach.

I cannot underscore the importance of prior posters' commentaries on passion, humor, and engaging the students. I had Larry Kessler (Hofstra), and I *never* missed that class!

Peggy DeStefano—Bakersfield College
4.1.2005 10:41am
Chris24601 (mail):
Bill Stuntz, who is now at Harvard, taught criminal law when I was as Yale and was the best teacher I had there (with Ellickson and Alstott fairly close behind). I'd suggest doing whatever he did, though I can't really remember any specific tricks.
4.1.2005 11:05am
Bruce Hayden (mail):
I had what you probably can't give - war stories. We loved them. Our prof was an adjunct who had practiced on both sides of the bar, esp. capital cases, and I see him maybe once or twice a year as a talking head.

One reason that the war stories were so great was in comparison with torts and contracts, which were taught by tenured profs who probably hadn't practiced in those areas. So, the occasional war stories livened things up a bit, esp. in this era of Law and Order, etc.

One of the things that he said though haunted me during the OJ trial - that in his experience, the cleaner the hit, the more premediation, while the messier, the more passion. Mafia hits were typically almost bloodless, and if you saw blood all over the place, it was usually a crime of passion. Never could figure this out with the OJ trial - it would have taken a lot of premediation to pull it off, but cutting your wife's throat is usually not premedicated.

That said, possibly interesting recent felony murder conviction recently thrown out by Colo. Supreme Ct. - see:
Rocky Mountain News Article and Colorado Supreme Court Opinion

Woman was convicted of felony murder and was serving life even though murder was after she was already in custody (but wasn't cooperating - so may not have been the end of her criminal enterprise). Vacated because wrong jury instruction for underlying crime of burglery given (but some pundits think that the right one would have gotten her too - the instructions missed one alternative that was not discussed by the Co Supreme Ct., but may have been relevant).

The reason I like it is that it is an example of how felony murder works (at least in some states), and how if the underlying felony is vacated, then the felony murder conviction is also vacated. Also, the importance of jury instructions, esp., now when criminal law is now statute based - something that I really did not comprehend until after law school.
4.1.2005 11:12am
Richard Fagin (mail):
Criminal law classes are contentious when dealing with sexual assault for two reasons, and two reasons only: 1) there are clear differences among students (and professors) of personal feeling on what constitutes consent to a sexual act; and 2) there are corresponding differences of personal feeling on the merit of the rule excluding evidence of the victim's past conduct as probative on the issue of consent.

To avoid the contention, stick to the rules and the case law that construes the rules. The differences in personal feeling about the two above rules tend to be visceral in nature and are not easily compromised by reasoned argument.

I studied crim law from Robert Schuwerk at U. of Houston. His coverage of sex crimes was extensive (more than a week) and the coverage of sexual assualt was leavened with the writings of Prof. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. While the views of such authors are relevant to a legislative discussion on what the law should be, they are irrelevant and inflammatory to a discussion about what the law actually is.

The above advice may be softened somewhat when dealing with a part time law study program (as mine), in which there are a number of older, more well rounded students, who may not have been politically indocrtinated in their undergraduate studies.
4.1.2005 1:40pm
James Ellis (mail):
I had Leon Letwin at UCLA years ago. Not all good, not all bad. Here's an approach that I think would be helpful to most students: First, manage expectatons--tell them early and often that the class is only going to cover rape and homicide (if that's the case); second, remind them that it is a bar class, so at a minimum they should end the class knowing a rape or homicide when they see one (i.e., knowing the elements), and being able to run through the dozen or so recognized defenses to those crimes--the basic algorithm is pretty simple; third, don't oversell the old english cases (i remember a bunch of "mistaken-spouse" types where the underlying facts seemed pretty suspect) but do try to introduce current and topical factual settings (these super-resistant AIDS guys walking around, for instance); and finally, wait until about Thanksgiving, when the students whip themselves into a froth of confusion and nerves--then drop the BAJI on them. I didn't find the jury instruction book until I was studying for the bar, and if it were not assize time, I would have driven back to Westwood and slugged Letwin. Good Luck!
4.1.2005 2:31pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I really liked my encounter with the Black Letter statements of the Common Law crimes. I don't remember if my teacher taught them or I read them but 30 years later I can still remember, "Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice" or "Burglary is the breaking and entering of the dwelling house of another in the night time with intent to commit a felony therein" or "Rape is the unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent".

Even though the laws have changed it still helps with the elements and when arguing about IP law I can always say, "Copying is not theft because 'Theft is the taking and asportation of the personal property of another with intent to permanently deprive him of same' and if I stick a CD in my computer drive and rip it, I own the CD, I own the computer, there's no taking there's no asportation, and there's no deprivation and all the personal property present is mine."
4.1.2005 4:10pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
Eugene: 1) If Legality is required since Hudson, 1812, why teach common law crimes? I don't know.

2) Mens rea is key to each element of a crime. No? One mens rea, one goes home. Another, one gets the needle. Same act, same damage. Here is news for the lawyer. Minds cannot be read. Very often, even the criminal has no recall of intent, nor the crime at all. There is no intent in half the crimes. Half the criminals are drunk. Half the crime victims are drunk. Let's spend lots of time and money studying and parsing the mens rea of drunk people.

3) Grotius enumerated the goals of criminal law. They are false. A real Volokh type. Hey, Eugene, he did college at 11. PhD? Age 15.

There is nothing from the 16th Century that meets modern standards of professional practice, except in the law. The reason is that the lawyer has immunized itself from any accountabilty to third party victims for gross deviations from self-evident standards of professional practice, applicable to all other fields, except the law. The legal immunity of prosecutors, judges is a catastrophe of epic proportion. It has crippled lawyer development and kept it in the Middle Ages.

4) The mens rea is from Scholasticism, a church doctrine illegal in this country. God would read man's mind and judge his crimes in Heaven. By reason, man could prove, discover, whatever, the nature of the Deity. This is from high school and Western Civ 101. Scholasticism is not true, said Ockham. Reason and faith. One seeks wordly truth, the other religious, spiritual truth. The lawyer has not gotten this message from the 1300's, yet. The Church origins of mens rea violate the Establishment Clause. Please, discuss.

5) There are 25 million FBI Index felony crimes a year, 5 million are violent. Criminal law is not protecting the American people. Lawyer management of crime is a failure. No lawyer should be allowed to make criminal law policy. No lawyer should be a judge, and certainly, never ever an appellate justice. They are good at creating procedure and lawyer welfare jobs.

6) Even with $1 mil budgets, the rate of false positives in capital cases is high.

7) Only the first blinded vote of a jury has scientific validity. Once, the discussion starts, the verdict is the the vote of a single domineering individual, and a bunch of people trying to get home. If 3 of 12 people vote not guilty that first secret ballot time, that is as good a measure of reasonable doubt as any. Current system violates Due Process and the 6th Amendment.

8) This absolutely not true: it is better to free a 1000 guilty men, then to convict 1 innocent man. Foreign, patriot bashing, Stamp Act voting, Tory, Blackstone backwash on the relentless drive toward greater procedure for lawyer jobs. The 1000 guilty men will commit 200,000 victimizations of the public each year the innocent man is out free. Because the victims have not paid a lawyer a fee, no one cares about their injuries and devastation.

Crime victims are slaughtered. Innocent defendants are executed. Nothing is safe or sacred except lawyer jobs. Nice subject you got assigned.
4.1.2005 9:28pm
Colin O'Sullivan (mail):
I am first year law student at the George Washington University.

After mastering the basic concepts of criminal law, there is an aspect of criminal law that I and many 1Ls continued to find confusing: in what order should these concepts be deployed so as to lead to lawyerly analysis? I am indebted to John Delaney for an approach that helped enormously: (1) What is the mens rea requirement, and is it met here? (2) If yes, what is the act requirement, and is it met? (3) If yes, what is the concurrence requirement, and is it met? (4) If yes, what is the causation requirement, if any, and is it met? (5) If yes, what is the harm requirement, if any, and is it met? (6) Do any defenses apply?

My second point is that criminal law is generally a 1Ls first exposure to the interpretation of statutes. Indeed, I believe that learning the art of statutory interpretation should be a principle goal of a criminal law course. Accordingly, I feel that breadth of subject matter is less important in criminal law--the emphasis should be on learning the skills of statutory interpretation rather than a survey of a thousand and one areas of criminal law.
4.2.2005 10:41am
Stephanos Bibas (mail):
1) While I teach a fair amount of common law, I think it's important to use statutes (MPC and state statutes) to teach first years statutory construction. They don't get nearly enough of that elsewhere in the course. A drafting exercise would be good.

2) Every year, in lieu of the chapter on insanity, I spend two days on the Bonnie, Jeffries &Low book on John Hinckley and the Insanity Defense (Foundation Press, I think). I break the students into mock juries of about a dozen and have them deliberate. Every year, some juries convict in no time, some have one or two holdouts who cave, and some deadlock. Students consistently describe that experience as the high point of the course, enabling them to see how hard it is to apply doctrines to messy facts.

3) In the same vein, this past year I had students use Paul Robinson's case files (try Criminal Law Case Studies, 2d edition in conjunction with your regular book). It gives the statutes that were in effect for each of 20 famous cases. I randomly draw three students to prosecute and three to defend. One does the direct / cross examination of the defendant; one makes a closing argument under the statutes then in effect; and one makes a closing argument under the MPC. I jumped in and offered critiques and supplemented the arguments with additional comments from the audience. While some students were nervous about public speaking, most liked it and learned a ton about advocacy, developing facts through witnesses, construing statutes, and applying rules to messy and debatable facts.
4.2.2005 10:50am
Timothy K. Morris (mail):
I had Josh Dressler while he was at Wayne State 20 years ago and learned more about the Law in his 3 hour Criminal Law class then the rest of my first year classes put together. The best way I can describe his teaching technique is to say the he had three primary threads he braided together to form the fiber of the class. The first was the black letter definitions of common law crimes. The second was the MPC and how the definitions there compared to/contrasted with the common law. The third was the underlying policy behind the criminal law. That is, why do we have criminal law? Retribution? Deterrence? General or Specific? Rehabilitation? And so on. I have practiced criminal law almost exclusively for the 18 years since graduation and there is hardly a day that goes by where I don't have occasion to refer to something I learned in that 3 credit class.
4.2.2005 5:56pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
Tim: Thanks to the anti-scientific drivel you were taught, the American people is subject to millions of crimes a year. Dressler committed a crime against humanity writing and teaching that Medieval hogwash. I read his book, Understanding Criminal Law. Wizardry and mystical nonsense are in 90% of the pages. That you fell for it without questioning is also disconcerting, whichever side you represent.

Medieval hogwash should not be taught to unquestioning 22 year olds, trying to pass a test, and still looking for their first serious job. It's irresponsible.
4.2.2005 7:04pm
To dsiagree with some prior commentators - please don't use the MPC. It is not law (in that exact form) in any state in the union, and in most, it's not even close. You are in CA - teach CA crim law. Those students that end up practicing crim will thank you for it, and for the rest, it doesn't matter anyway. They will all learn the MPC in the bar prep course, so there is no reason to focus on it.

Statutory interpretation is key - and it is important to spend at least some time on how your state laws are interpreted. After all, most UCLA graduates will probably practice in CA.
4.3.2005 5:59pm
My prof contrasted the MPC and our state penal code. This was helpful to learn statutory construction and to consider the implications of different systems (e.g., MPC v. state penal code's treatment of causation, the felony murder rule, etc).
4.4.2005 11:19am
I'm posting anonymously because I had the worst criminal law class ever.

Our professor is really an ethics professor, and mainly taught theory. The only thing I remember from that class is the 5 reasons for a criminal law system (deterrence, punishment etc), which it seems like we spent the whole first month on. The other big chunk of time we spent was differentiating intent from commission of a crime - another distincition with philosophical underpinnings.

My other gripe was that the we used an unpublished work-in-progress book. We never got to rape, allegedly because the author took too long to write it, or print it, or I don't know what. Further, the book (and professor) did not care about misstatements (as in: we never enforce sodomy laws) which were clearly not true (and don't get me started on the typos - I would have failed my writing class had I turned in work that shabby). It seems to me that criminal law could be the most engaging and interesting course, since it's the most commonly thought of when a lay person thinks about the law. An early poster noted that taking current criminal issues into the class is a good idea, and I completely agree.

I am thankful I'll have barbri, which will teach me what crim law is really about, because I'm a 3L an have absolutely no idea. P.s. I go to a top-tier school.
4.4.2005 11:52am