Exam: In Class
This course considers the role criminal law and legal actors have played in constructing the modern American penal system. We begin by exploring common rationales offered to justify the state’s power to punish, the premises required to render such rationales legitimate, and arguments that this power is not legitimate in the United States today. We then explore core doctrinal principles of the criminal law through the lens of three sets of crimes relating to interpersonal violence, sexual domination, and economic activity. In each domain, we will study the interaction between legal frameworks and the societal values they serve to reinforce. Next, we will examine the expansionary pressures on the criminal law that arise when society turns to law enforcement actors not simply to react to harmful social behavior, but to prevent it from happening. Connecting those expansionary pressures to law enforcement discretion, we close the course by considering how law might constrain such discretion, what happens when it fails to do so, and how law and legal actors might respond to the resulting status quo—a penal system defined by massive levels of incarceration unparalleled in human history.