Criminal Law – 8/18/03


“For a high quality Criminal Law Educational Product, look for ‘DRESSLER’ on the label.”


Then again, if I wrote a casebook or some other kind of academic text, I wouldn’t exactly be standing behind my product if I didn’t use it in my own classes.  The money I’d make off having my own classes buy the book would be a drop in the bucket if it’s a widely used book.


Administrative Business for the Small Section


Change in Office Hours: No Monday office hours…but come by any time.


Scheduling changes: Most important purpose…put them in your calendar or whatever.


The Journal of Criminal Law is new.  Dressler is the managing editor.


Small Section vs. Big Section – there must be a writing assignment that carries weight in the final grade (a small percentage).


The writing assignment will be 10% and your final exam will count 90%...then it may be adjusted for class participation, etc.  The writing assignment will be handed out on October 13th.


About TWEN – The stuff that Dressler emphasizes on TWEN is the stuff he thinks is important.


Notes and Questions – Read over and think about all of the Notes and Questions in the casebook.


Background on the Class


“This is the best class you’ll take in your first year.” – Prof. Dressler


You can relate to it, unlike Civil Procedure, for example.


This class asks all of the “Big Questions”.  When should we blame people for stuff?  What about free will vs. determinism?


The dedication page: you can learn a whole bunch of laws and rules, but there’s a lot more to it than that.  Criminal law is really connected to a bunch of other academic disciplines.  For example, you have to look at cases in historical context.  Though we won’t study history, philosophy, rhetoric, etc. in this class, hopefully we will apply what we’ve learned in our undergraduate studies (e.g. Economics of Crime).


Moritz is known for being rather interdisciplinary.


James Boyd Wright: Legal knowledge is a different kind of knowledge than the kind found in other disciplines.  It’s not just a set of facts or rules to be memorized.  It involves analysis and argumentation.


Wright likens knowledge of the law to knowledge of a language: you’ll never know it all or know it perfectly.  This should be a comfort.  What matters is how you use it.


Law doesn’t go after truth.  It doesn’t follow a scientific method for reaching a true answer.  Wright says that law is after justice above truth.


Wright finally concludes that lawyers are in a deep sense writers.


Any case that ends up at trial has reasonable arguments for both sides.


Criminal Law is not just: Did A shoot B?  It also asks why A did it and how morally culpable A is.


The most important tool you will use in the law is words.


What We Will Study


1.     Common Law – Judge-made law – the basis of what we learn.  The Anglo-American common law is the root of the modern criminal justice system.

2.     The Model Penal Code – The most important 20th century effort to provide a new and better way to think about Criminal Law.  Some states have adopted it, some have adopted parts of it, and still others are off in another world (e.g. California).

3.     Constitutional Law – The supreme law of the land.  Relatively little Con Law in Criminal Law.

4.     Statutes from various jurisdictions – We won’t be tested on these, but we need to understand that in the present day, pretty much all law is now statutory.  The common law has basically been grafted onto the statutes.  We’ll be reading statutes and we need to pay attention to them, but we won’t be tested on them.  But we will be tested on our ability to read a statute and work with it.

I love the West.  Everybody ought to be there, in my opinion.


The yellow index card: put your name at the top.  Then…write something about yourself.


Back to Class Notes