Rethinking the way Criminal Law is taught

My sense is that most Criminal Law courses are taught from a broad, national perspective.  Students learn the basic common law and Model Penal Code rules of mens rea, actus reus, etc., and usually how they apply in homicide and, sometimes, rape.  This semester, I am trying a new approach.  I have assigned a new text by Markus Dubber at Buffalo called New York Criminal Law.  Nealry all of the cases are from New York courts.  It also includes relevant provisions of the Penal Law and, where comparison is appropriate, the Model Penal Code.

As most of us who practice Criminal Law know, the subject is inherently statutorily based.  Analysis of a problem must begin with the relevant statute defining the crime or defense.  One's attention should then turn to the cases from that jurisdiction that have already interpreted the statute in question.  What a Connecticut court says about a Connecticut statute has no bearing on how a New York will confront an issue under New York law.  While there are common threads throughout states' approaches to Criminal Law, I think students benefit more from working with a unified code and cases, just as they will in real life. 

I also believe students should learn more specific crimes.  General principles of liability, such as mens rea, only take one so far in the real world.  The real challenge is figuring out how those principles apply in specific contexts.  Even those who go into Criminal Law will not try homicides until well into their careers.  Another reason I like the Dubber text is that it covers a wide range of crimes, including homicide, sexual offenses, DWI, assault, and larceny.

I will keep readers of this blog posted on how this approach works with my students this semester.  (LC)

Comments are closed.