Categories: Criminal Law Constitutional Law


LaVigne, Michele

Course Data

Room 5240
MW 2:40pm-4:00pm

Pass/Fail: Yes

Past Grade Distributions

Course Description

This section of Criminal Procedure is for students who do not necessarily see themselves practicing criminal law. We will of course cover the essentials of criminal procedure: policing, prosecutorial discretion and obligations, the defense function, role of the trial court judge, motions practice - particularly motions grounded in the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments, plea bargaining, the trial process, victims' rights, and sentencing. But we will approach these subjects from the perspective that while not everybody wants to practice criminal law, every lawyer needs to understand how criminal law operates and why. Guest speakers will include practitioners from various segments of the criminal justice system. Grades will be based on a final exam, with the opportunity for extra credit from a field studies project.

Learning Outcomes: Introduction to Criminal Procedure (LaVigne)

This course looks at the three stages of the criminal justice system: Investigation, Adjudication & Disposition. At the end of this course, students will have a working knowledge of the constitutional principles that apply to these processes; specifically the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Because criminal justice is widely considered to be one of the civil rights issues of our time, we will also delve into the factors that affect the quality of justice. The most salient factor is discretion. Students will have an understanding of how law enforcement, the prosecution, and judges exercise discretion, and how that discretion is shaped by societal pressure and norms, implicit bias, funding, case load, departmental policy, and office/department/courthouse culture. Students will also learn how that discretion can make or break “justice.” In addition, students will learn how courts apply the constitutional principles and how those applications and interpretations directly affect the actions of other players in the system, including defense counsel.

Of course, we cannot overlook the significance of politics and funding in the quality of justice. Students will learn how funding affects practice. This can be most clearly felt in the quality of indigent defense. Students should come away with an understanding of why the current state of indigent defense has been called a crisis.

Students will also learn about sentencing and mass-incarceration, and the role that politics and funding play.

If I have to boil this down to a single “outcome,” it is that the students will come away nuanced understanding of the complexities of the out-sized behemoth we call the criminal justice system, and why so many questions are being raised about its fairness and effectiveness.

Student performance is assessed primarily by a final exam. However, field observations will also be factored in.

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