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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Comic Book Version

Graphic novels have been getting a lot of attention and critical acclaim in recent years.  Notable examples that I've enjoyed include Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's story of her childhood in Iran during the revolution, and the "tragi-comic" family memoirs of Alison Bechdel, Fun Home and  Are You My Mother?  My family also enjoys the genre, including Hope Larson's graphic novel re-make of Madeline L'Engle's classic, A Wrinkle in Time.  So I took interest when I received a review copy of Nathaniel Burney's comic book, The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law.  You can read about Burney, a criminal defense attorney in NYC, at his web site, here.  Burney explains that he undertook the project as public education because he heard one too many times the myth that "an undercover has to tell you if he's a cop, otherwise it's entrapment."  In his foreword, NY criminal defense lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield writes that the book could be for anyone: "a high schooler, law student, or a street tough."  

As a crim prof, I was somewhat concerned that a comic book approach might by its very nature over-simplify a practice based on statutory interpretation.  However, I really enjoyed thumbing through the book.  I particularly liked the "mens rea-o-meter," and the comics illustrating the difference between mental states such as negligence, recklessness, purpose, and intentionality.  I also liked the discussion of attempt.  Who among us has not tried to sketch a diagram on the board illustrating the "substantial step" doctrine?  And in the final chapter, "Putting it All Together," Burney does introduce excerpts from statutes into the mix, demonstrating elements analysis.  Certainly an entertaining read that might suggest some fresh teaching approaches.

And that's a wrap for February 2013!  Signing off now, with thanks to Dan and all at prawfs.  The snow has remained on the ground here in Connecticut all month.  As we look forward to spring, I wish everyone a productive conclusion to the semester, and hope we have an opportunity to exchange ideas again soon.

Posted by GiovannaShay on February 28, 2013 at 11:19 AM | Permalink


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I took a look at this when it came int he mail, and I enjoyed similar sections as well. The mens rea description is particularly helpful, as is the part on defenses. It has some difficulty with describing certain concepts in cartoon form, as you might expect (draw a cartoon on vagueness or overbreadth, right?). And for Dressler users like me, there are a few inconsistencies with the text too.

Posted by: Andrew Jurs | Mar 1, 2013 10:49:16 AM

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