Criminal Law – after completing the first unit, students have a strong grasp of how laws are made, how they are interpreted, and how they are examined and challenged in the courts. Now they move into a unit where they learn to critically analyze criminal laws, learn to apply them to real world situations, and gain a strong understanding of how the criminal legal system works, from arrest through sentencing.
a.Criminal Law Basics (Chapters 7-8) – students learn how to understand the key aspects of any criminal law
i.State of Mind – what state of mind is required for most crimes? Why does it matter? What is strict liability, and why is that standard used for some crimes instead?
ii.Felonies vs. Misdemeanors – what is the difference?
iii.Who are the Parties to a crime? Principals, accomplices, accessories
iv.Elements of a Crime – students learn to thoroughly analyze criminal statutes and identify what the key elements of the crime which must be proven are
v.Inchoate crimes – some crimes are still crimes even though they may be incomplete – solicitation, attempt, conspiracy
b.Crimes Against the Person (Chapter 9) – students learn the definitions of some basic crimes against the person. They analyze the definitions word by word and discuss word choice as well as reasons why the crimes are defined as they are.
i.Homicide – students learn about multiple types of homicide – 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder, felony murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide – and what the differences are between each
ii.Assault and Battery; Rape; Kidnapping
iii.In class, students are given fact patterns encompassing all these crimes and must identify what crimes they would charge if they were the prosecutor
c.Crimes Against Property (Chapter 10) – students learn the definitions of some basic crimes against property. Much attention is focused on the subtle differences between the “theft” statutes – larceny, robbery, and burglary.
i.Crimes included are arson, vandalism, larceny, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, extortion, forgery, and receiving stolen property
d.Defenses to Crimes (Chapter 11) – students learn the many different defenses to crimes. As with most chapters in this unit, students are given fact patterns and asked to identify potential defenses to any crimes that could be charged.
i.The burden at all times rests on the Prosecution to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt
ii.Four potential defenses – no crime was committed, the defendant didn’t commit the crime, the crime was excusable or justifiable, and the defendant isn’t criminally responsible
iii.Self defense and Castle Laws – students discuss what level of self defense is appropriate, particularly within the context of defending property. Various state’s Castle laws are examined and discussed.
e.Criminal Procedure (Chapters 12-15) – students learn about criminal procedure, starting with investigations and arrests leading all the way through sentencing.
i.Arrests – the constitutional basis; warrants vs. warrantless arrests; “stops” that are not quite an arrest; the amount of force police are allowed to use when making arrests
ii.Search and Seizure – what is unreasonable? What happens when a search or seizure was unreasonable? Students discuss the merits of the Exclusionary Rule as well as its potential drawbacks. Students analyze a number of fact patterns to determine whether they were lawful or unlawful search and seizures
1.Searches with a Warrant – probable cause; knock and announce rule
2.Searches without a Warrant – eight circumstances
iii.Interrogations & Confessions – Fifth and Sixth amendment; Miranda rights – when are they necessary?
Midterm: students will watch a movie in class and identify crimes that we have studied. They then must write up at home a list of crimes and explain why each action was a crime, aligning it with criminal definitions that we have studied in this unit.
The goal is a deep understanding of how the U.S. criminal law system works, not only on a theoretical level, but a practical level as well. They will learn how to critically analyze laws word by word - both civil and criminal - and apply them to both hypothetical and real-life fact patterns.