Criminal Law Assignments

Chapter 1


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  1. Discretionary decision making is decision making that’s hidden from view. It includes decisions by police, prosecutors, judges, and others.
    1. What kind of discretionary decisions might be made by each of these actors in the criminal justice system?
    2. How might their decisions affect offenders in different ways?
    3. In similar ways?


  1. Two affirmative defenses include justification and excuse.
    1. What are the defenses of justification and excuse?
    2. How do they differ?
    3. What must a defendant do to successfully use these defenses?


  1. Two forms of social control are torts and crimes.
    1. What are the differences between these two forms of social control?
    2. What are the similarities?
    3. Should the U.S. use the social control of criminal punishment to the extent that it does?
    4. Why? Why not?


  1. What is the most common form of criminal law?
    1. Why? Should federal government be more involved in criminal law?
      1. Why? Why not?
    2. Should judges also be lawmakers?
      1. Why? Why not?




  1. Find your cities’ public order codes and write a paper identifying codes that you believe are reasonable and those that seem egregious. Students should provide support for their opinions.


  1. Find a newspaper article on a recent criminal case. Discuss the implications of the article regarding the defendant’s right to a presumption of innocence.


3.   Outline and brief the Supreme Court case Kansas v. Marsh (2005).


Chapter 2



  1. One of the important issues that the Constitution addresses is the balance of power of government with the liberty of individuals. This keeps rulers from abusing their power. What are some of the difficulties surrounding the balance of power even with the limits placed on such power by the Constitution?
    1. What can happen when the power of government and the liberty of individuals becomes unbalanced?


  1. What are the problems with vague laws?
    1. What can and has happened in the past when laws are so vague that an ordinary person cannot understand them?
  2. The Second Amendment protects against the government’s restriction on the individual right to use handguns to protect us in our homes. This right has generated a great deal of controversy in the history of the United States. Discuss the arguments on both sides of this controversy.
    1. How have the decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) addressed the controversy?
    2. What have these two cases not addressed?
  3. The Supreme Court has decided that the right to privacy is a fundamental right that requires the government to prove that a compelling interest justifies invading it.
    1. How has the Court used the First, Third, Fourth, Ninth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to provide citizens with this right?
    2. Has the Court overstepped its bounds regarding some issues?


  1. The Eighth Amendment protects people from excessive punishment and codifies the principle that “punishment should fit the crime.”
    1. What special considerations are made when the penalty is death?
    2. Are there any considerations that the Supreme Court has made that you disagree with?
    3. Are there any considerations that should be included that aren’t?


Chapter 3


  1. voluntary acts qualify as actus reus. Affirmative defenses provide excuses for criminal liability.
    1. What was the excuse in King v. Cogdon (1951) and in People v. Decina (1956)?
    2. Discuss the differences in the two cases.
  2. Criminal omissions consist of two types: failure to report and failure to intervene to prevent injuries and death to persons or the damage and destruction of property. Omissions are criminal omissions only if defendants had a legal duty to act.
    1. What kinds of crimes constitute criminal omissions? Discuss the ways in which a legal duty can be created.
    2. Discuss the types of relationships to which criminal omissions are likely to apply.


  1. Choose a crime(s) from the local newspaper. Discuss the five elements of a crime that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt: actus reus, mens rea, concurrence, attendant circumstances, and bad result.
  2. “Action” refers to what we do; “status” (or condition) denotes who we are. Most statuses or conditions don’t qualify as actus reus. Status can arise in two ways. First as a prior voluntary act as with addiction or alcoholism, second as a characteristic such as gender or race.
  3. Discuss why status cannot be made a crime.
  4. In what ways does the definition of status impact laws such as hate crime statutes?



  1. Review the case of Miller v. State in the chapter.
    1. Choose the majority opinion or the dissent. Write your answer in support of your side.  **Provide support for you opinion.**


  1. Find a newspaper article on a recent criminal case of omission, discuss the article and why, in this particular situation, omission is considered to be an act.


Chapter 4



  1. Criminal intent, or mens rea, is the mental state that accompanies a forbidden act. This differs from motive, which is something that causes a person to act.  Motive is not a required element of a crime.
    1. What kind of crime is motive most likely to be important?
    2. How might the motive for a crime impact sentencing by a jury?
    3. Discuss cases you have heard or read about in the news were criminal intent and motive are important.
  2. The Model Penal Code’s (MPC) four mental states are: purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently.
    1. Discuss what each of these means and what crimes are most likely to fall in each category.
    2. Should mental state impact punishment? Why?
  3. What are the strict liability crimes in your state?
    1. Why do you think these behaviors have been made strict liability crimes?
    2. How are they punished?
    3. Are there any strict liability crimes in your state that you think should not be crimes? Why?
    4. Are there some behaviors that are not criminal that should be strict liability crimes? Why?


  1. What is causation?
    1. How does factual cause differ from legal cause?
    2. In what ways do the two types of causation impact a criminal case differently?
    3. What are intervening cause, proximate cause and superseding cause and how do they affect criminal cases?


  1. When is mistake a defense?
    1. Is it really a defense?
    2. What does it mean to say that mistake is a failure-of-proof defense?
    3. In what kind of crimes is mistake not a defense? Why not?





  1. Go online and find three local criminal statutes.
    1. Identify the general and specific part of the criminal statutes.
    2. Find a newspaper article on liability without fault crimes.
    3. The chapter states that liability without fault is imposed in order to protect public health and safety. Do the articles found by the students support this argument?
    4. If so, explain how the public health and safety has been protected (not just the obvious, are there any ways might be less obvious)?


2.   Outline and brief the case Harris v. State (1999). This case involves the adoption and application of general intent plus. Disscuss the court’s rationale in applying the definition of specific intent.


3.     Compare and contrast the MPC’s four different mental states of:

a.     culpability: purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently.



4.   Identify the importance of concurrence. Discussion should include what crimes concurrence applies to and how it relates to causation.



Chapter 5



  1. The English common law put the burden on defendants to prove they “retreated to the wall” before acting in self-defense. The American majority “stand-your-ground rule” was based on the idea that a “man” shouldn’t have to flee from attack because he’d done nothing wrong to provoke or deserve the attack and the need to protect the family and country, and could stand his ground and kill to “defend himself without retreating from any place he had a right to be.” Which do you agree with? What are the arguments in favor of each law?


  1. At the heart of the choice-of-evils defense is the necessity to prevent imminent danger.
    1. What are the three steps contained in the Model Penal Code (MPC)?
    2. What are the “right choices” identified by the MPC?
    3. Can you think of any other “right choices?” Discuss the ethical dilemmas inherent in these kinds of situations.
  2. Self-defense consists of four elements: unprovoked attack; necessity; proportionality; reasonable belief.
    1. Discuss each of these elements and how they apply to the self-defense justification.
    2. How might the “castle doctrine” and the justification of self-defense work together in some situations?


  1. What is the defense of consent?
    1. What does it mean that consent has to be voluntary and knowing?
    2. To what four situations does the defense of consent apply?




  1. Read the article below regarding the Texas castle doctrine.
    1. Discuss your opinion of the article.
    2. Does the information change your mind about the castle doctrine?
    3. Do you believe that the concerns in the article are valid?
    4. Should Texas continue with its expanded castle doctrine? Why or why not?


  1. Identify and define each of the four elements of self-defense. (The assignment should include a discussion of why each of the four elements is important.)



  1. Read the following two articles regarding the Armin Meiwes cannibalism case.
    1. Identify the problems with the consent defense based on the material in the chapter.
    2. Discuss the first decision from 2004 and the decision in the retrial in 2006. Which decision do they agree with?

  1. How have castle laws impacted domestic violence in this country?
    1. Has the change been positive or negative in your opinion?
    2. What are the domestic violence laws in your city?
    3. How does your city handle domestic violence cases?


Chapter 6



  1. The text states that insanity is not the same as mental disease or defect, yet mental disease or defect is part of the definition of insanity.
    1. What is insanity?
    2. Why is it important to recognize the difference between the medical term (mental disease or defect) and the legal term(insanity)?
  2. What are the four different tests of insanity?
    1. Does your state have an insanity defense?
    2. What is the test in your state?
    3. Which is the “best” test of insanity? Why?
  3. What are the different processes that states use to waive juveniles to adult courts?
    1. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently stated that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to put a person to death who committed their crime when they were under the age of 18. If that is true, do you believe that waiving someone under the age of 18 to adult court is “cruel or unusual” punishment?
  4. The defense of duress provides that it is sometimes okay to excuse people who cause harm to others to save themselves. Duress is not an excuse for murder.
    1. Should it be?
    2. Can you think of any other crimes for which duress should not be an excuse?
    3. For what crimes should a person under duress be excused?
  5. Syndrome excuses are rarely taken seriously. Why is that the case?
    1. Are different syndromes treated differently (i.e. PTSD versus PMS)?
    2. What reasons can you think of for the law treating such issues differently?


  1. Read the information on Frontline in the link below. Write about the article discussing the insanity defense in this case.
    1. How do they believe the courts should have handled the case? You should provide support for their argument.


  1. Compare and contrast the four different tests of insanity.


3.   Discuss the differences between diminished capacity and diminished responsibility and their relationship to homicide cases. You are encourage the students to find a case where one of these defenses was used as an example.


4.   How does your state handle juveniles? Outline the various processes for handling juveniles and describing the waiver process in your state.


**Hint**Understand the different processes regarding how the law handles age and how juvenile court judges can use their discretion to transfer a juvenile to adult criminal court.


6.     Search for a recent case where PTSD was used as a defense.

a.     What was the outcome?

b.     Describe the outcome for the offender and victim and argue in favor or against the court’s ruling, provide a logical argument for their discussion.

Note to help you

Despite criticism of them, understand why syndrome excuses should be taken seriously.



Chapter 7



  1. The doctrine of respondeat superior makes it possible for an employer to be liable for the wrong of an employee.
    1. For what crimes should an employer be liable?
    2. Are there any crimes to which corporate liability should not apply?
    3. What crimes?
  2. Accomplice actus reus requires “some positive act in aid of the commission of the offense.” The necessary amount of aid is a difficult question to answer. The book cites a few acts that, according to ALI, definitely qualify (providing guns, supplies, or other instruments of crime; serving as a lookout; driving a getaway car; sending the victim to the principal; preventing warnings from getting to the victim). What other actions do you think would qualify?


  1. Traditional parent responsibility statutes aren’t the same as vicarious liability. Parent responsibility statutes are based on parents’ acts and omissions; vicarious liability statutes are based on the parent-child relationship. Vicarious liability statutes grew out of public fear, frustration, and anger over juvenile violence and parents’ failure to control their kids.


  1. Should parents’ be held liable for the actions of their children?
  2. Rhetorical question: Have you ever done anything that could have gotten your parents in trouble had you been caught?
  3. What actions could children take that might result in serious trouble for parents?


  1. Look up your states statutes on accessory and accomplice crimes.
    1. identify the similarities and differences between the statutes.
    2. have there been any recent changes to the statutes?
    3. If so, how have they changed?
  2. Research a case on vicarious liability. Briefing and outline the case and discussing the opinion of the case.


3.     Research one of the federal laws on white-collar crime.


a.     What are the potential punishments for that crime?

b.      What is the mens rea and the actus reus of that crime?


Chapter 8


  1. Each inchoate offense has some distinct elements of its own, but they all share two elements: the mens rea of purpose or specific intent and the actus reus of taking some steps toward accomplishing the criminal purpose—but not enough steps to complete the intended crime. Explain how these are different from the actus reus and mens rea of most other crimes. What are some examples of inchoate offenses?
  2. Incomplete criminal conduct poses a dilemma: whether to punish someone who’s done no harm or to set free someone who’s determined to commit a crime. Which is more important to you? Why?
    Learning Objective 2


3.Liability for criminal attempt offenses is based on two old and firmly entrenched rationales: the dangerous acts rationale and the dangerous person rationale.

  1. What are arguments in favor of the dangerous acts rationale and the danger person rationale? What are the arguments against each?
  2. Is there any other means by which attempt offenses might be addressed?


  1. Why is legal impossibility a defense to crime but factual impossibility is not? Discuss the philosophies underlying the fact that offenders can claim one as a defense but not the other.
    1. Should legal impossibility be a defense? Why?
    2. Can you think of a behavior that should be criminal but has not been outlawed?
    3. In what ways do you think that technology has impacted legal impossibility?


  1. Solicitation is the crime of trying to get someone else to commit a crime. How far does someone need to go in soliciting another person to commit a crime to be guilty of solicitation?
    1. Has anyone seen a “sting” operation of a solicitation crime on television?
    2. What did that look like? Did the person “soliciting” the offense deserve to be punished for a crime?
    3. Why/why not?



  1. Find a copy of RICO Act online. Explain the potential for decreasing crime as a result of RICO and the potential for prosecutorial abuse.

**Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act **


  1. Look up solicitation statutes in your state.
    1. How does your state statute define solicitation?
    2. What are the potential punishments for solicitation?


3.   Discuss the issues of inchoate offenses, tie the issue to the War on Terrorism and the difficulties with preventing terrorist attacks. How might the law of inchoate offenses assist authorities in preventing such attacks?


Chapter 9


  1. Killing another “person” is central to criminal homicide liability because it defines who’s a victim. The definition of “person” for purposes of criminal homicide presents problems at both ends of the life cycle—when life begins and when it ends. States with feticide statutes vary as to the required stage of development for a fetus. Discuss the different requirements and make a rational argument for which is the most appropriate based on information learned thus far in the text.



  1. Killing another “person” is central to criminal homicide liability because it defines who’s a victim. The definition of “person” for purposes of criminal homicide presents problems at both ends of the life cycle—when life begins and when it ends. Euthanasia (doctor-assisted suicide) has posed a dilemma for cultures throughout history. Discuss the legal and moral issues related to euthanasia. Be sure to present both sides of the argument.
  2. Felony deaths are unintentional deaths that occur during the commission of some felonies.
  3. What are the arguments for and against felony death statutes?
  4. Should felony murders be first-degree? Why/why not?
  5. Corporate homicide is a rare offense. Why do prosecutor’s rarely charge corporations or their executives with homicide?
  6. What are the issues involved in these types of prosecutions?
  7. Should corporations and their executives be held criminally liable for deaths resulting from actions related to crimes committed for the corporation’s benefit?
  8. There is a “partial excuse” in many sexual advance cases. Discuss the differences between the emotion-act distinction, act reasonableness, and emotion reasonableness. Based on the information provided thus far regarding criminal liability, should provocation by non violent homosexual advance be a defense to criminal liability in cases where a person is killed?


  1. Research euthanasia online and determine what states do and do not permit euthanasia.
    1. Do the majority permit euthanasia?
    2. How do the statutes in those states that permit euthanasia differ?
  2. Research the Ford-Firestone Rollover case. Make an argument for or against charging the corporations with murder based on the information they are able to find regarding the case.


3.     Comparing and contrast first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter.


4.     Find your states’ criminal negligence homicide statutes.


a.     What kinds of unintentional deaths are listed (if any)?

b.     Have there been any cases of criminal negligence homicide in your state in the last five years?

c.     What kind of cases were they able to find?



Chapter 10



  1. The majority of rape victims are raped by someone they know. Police have not traditionally dealt well with the “acquaintance rapes.” What are some ways that police might do a better job dealing with this majority of rape victims?


2  Modern day rape statutes are completely different than those that existed prior to the     1950s. Discuss these changes.

  1. What impacts have such changes likely had on rape reporting and recovery for the victims?
  2. Are there any changes that still need to happen?


  1. At one time kidnapping required asportation as part of its actus reus. That is no longer true today.
    1. Why do you think that change has occurred?
    2. Should courts require that offenders move victims a substantial distance to be guilty of kidnapping?
    3. Why/why not? If so, how far?


  1. If there is no asportation requirement for kidnapping then what is the difference between kidnapping and false imprisonment?
    1. Do you think that there are any other reasons why kidnapping is a more serious offense than false imprisonment?
    2. What might those reasons be?
    3. In what kinds of crimes do you think prosecutors would charge false imprisonment as opposed to kidnapping?






  1. Read the information on the link below about the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping. write a paper about how the kidnapping impacted kidnapping laws in the United States.
  2. Research the Lorena Bobbitt case. Compare and contrast the Bobbitt case with another case they find (not another famous case).


3.     Research the cyberstalking laws in your state.


a.      Does your state have a cyberstalking statute?

b.     Find a case of cyberstalking and brief the case.



Chapter 11



  1. The mens rea for receiving stolen property varies from state to state. In some states, receivers have to know the goods are stolen. In others, believing the goods are stolen is enough. In all jurisdictions, knowledge may be inferred from surrounding circumstances, such as receiving goods from a known thief or buying goods at a fraction of their real value.
    1. What are the positive outcomes of each level of mens rea?
    2. What are the potential unexpected negative outcomes of each level of mens rea?
  2. Criminal trespass used to be limited to unauthorized invasions of physical property, but now it includes unauthorized access to electronic information systems. The most common of these crimes is identity theft but there are many others.
    1. What are some of the other crimes and what harms have they caused?
    2. Do you know anyone who has been a victim of any “electronic information system” crime?
    3. What harms did he/she experience?


  1. Identity theft is the most prevalent crime in the United States. Why do you think that this is the case?
    1. What can citizens of the United States do to protect themselves from identity theft?
    2. What harms are caused by identity theft? **Hint recent Target case**


  1. Intellectual property theft causes billions of dollars of losses each year. Many people are guilty of pirating software. It is easy to think that there is no harm in downloading a song that only costs about a dollar on the internet. Discuss the pros and cons of illegal downloading of different types of products available on the internet.




  1. Read the article at the link below. Explain the Ponzi scheme.


2.     Research the theft laws in your state. Determine if your state has a consolidated theft statute.


a.     Identify the sections of the statute for each element of the crime.


3.   Go to the federal mail fraud statute at the link below. Explain how the federal mail fraud statute defines false pretense much more broadly than common law and how this impacts the prosecution of the crime.



4.Examine the criminal trespass statutes in your state. How have the statutes addressed the issues of criminal trespass as regards electronic information systems?

b.     What is your state doing to combat this problem?


5.   Go online to the link below and report on the frequency of identity theft in the United States. Reflect on how much identity theft is occurring in this country and what they can do to reduce this crime.


Chapter 12


  1. “Quality of life” crimes refer to the laws that are meant to control “bad manners” in public places. “Quality of life” crimes underscore the tension between liberty and order in a constitutional democracy. Discuss the problems associated with trying to provide individuals with liberty while at the same time attempting to maintain order in a constitutional democracy. Which is more important to students and why?
  2. The “broken windows” theory states there is a link between minor quality of life offenses and more serious crimes. The empirical findings regarding the existence of such a connection are mixed.
  3. Discuss some examples that support the theory as well as some that fail to support the theory.
  4. Discuss whether or not “broken windows” issues should be addressed by law enforcement.
  5. Why or why not should law enforcement be responsible for “broken windows” issues in their communities?
  6. Most people are more worried about bad public manners than they are about serious crimes. These results have been found in a number of studies conducted in the U.S. Despite these findings, there continues to be a focus of the courts, politicians, and academics on more serious crimes. Discuss the reasons for the disconnect and what might be done to change focus.
  7. Discuss whether focus should change.
  8. Cities have sought civil gang injunctions (CGIs) to control gang behavior, but the evidence is mixed as to civil injunctions’ effectiveness.
  9. What are some of the problems that have been identified with CGIs?
  10. What are some of the positive benefits of such civil control?


  1. The term “victimless crime” applies to: (1) consenting adults, not minors and (2) to crimes committed by adults who don’t see themselves as victims of their behavior. An example of such a victimless crime is prostitution. Prostitution is an ancient business, prospering in all cultures at all times no matter the condemnation of religion and morals.
    1. Should “victimless crimes” be illegal? Does it depend on the “type” of “victimless crime”?
    2. Why do you think that this country has seen an increase in this type of criminal legislation over the past few decades?




  1. Read the article on the San Francisco Matrix Program at the link below. You should brief the article then discuss whether you agree with the holding the case or not providing support for your argument.




2.   Read the article below online. Write a brief paper discussing the results of the research and how applying a theory to another country than where it originated must deal with issues related to the social and culture differences.



3.     Assign students to go to the link below and review the information provided there. Answer the following questions:

a.      Is the site in favor or, against, or neutral regarding the legality of prostitution?

b.     What is the purpose of the site?

c.     What are the politics of prostitution listed on the site?

d.      What arguments does the site offer in favor of and opposed to legalization of prostitution?



4.     Read the article at the link below on a program San Francisco is using to target panhandling. Answer the following question

a.      How does it compare to the Matrix program?

b.      Are you in favor of the program?

c.     Why or why not?


Chapter 13



  1. What risks did the authors of the Constitution take in the Revolutionary War?
    1. How would they have been seen differently by historians had the United States not won the war?
    2. Why is it important to protect the citizens of a democratic country from abuses based on treason statutes?
  2. The most-argued issues in material support cases include: (1) Due process—is the term “material support” void for vagueness?
    1. And (2) First Amendment—does providing material support violate the right to free speech and association?
    2. We see in our ongoing current events the same struggle that the drafters of the Constitution witnessed and addressed: the “push-and-pull” between our cherished individual liberties versus the role of government to protect and preserve its people and the country in which they live. Discuss this “push-and-pull” and how individual ideology affects the manner in which people address problems of void for vagueness and violations of free speech and association.


  1. The most commonly prosecuted crime against the state since September 11, 2001 involves alleged terrorists or terrorist organizations. Why is this the case?
    1. Why is providing material support the predominant type of case?
    2. What problems exist with prosecuting these types of cases?




  1. Research and write a paper about the current status of the John Kiriakou case.

2.   Research the Rosenberg case. Discuss the arguments regarding the case and whether you believe the Rosenbergs should have been pardoned.


3.   Research the issue of balancing security and freedom during wartime. Include an examination of the ways in which the crime of treason as included in the Constitution has helped to maintain a balance today.


4.   Read one section of the 9-11 commission report on at the link below. Outline the findings of the commission.


and taste our undisputed quality.