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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Seeking input on "must-teach" units as I start a new version of my Sentencing Law course

I am very excited that in a few hours I will begin teaching to a new group of bright Ohio State students my Sentencing Law course.  I have taught this three-credit, upper-level course every other year since I started teaching in 1997; since 2003, I have had the added pleasure of teaching from my own co-authored casebook, Sentencing Law and Policy: Cases, Statutes, and Guidelines.   Joyfully, the new Third Edition of this casebook was published this past summer, so this semester I will get to experience a new version of the text as I work my way through a new version of the course . 

As regular readers can imagine, because sentencing law has changed a lot over the past 15 years, my course coverage has changed a lot over the years.  Indeed, I always get a kick out of reviewing my teaching notes from the late 1990s which pressed students, inter alia, to consider why the US still allowed the execution of juvenile and mentally retarded murderers and why federal judges were required to enhance federal guideline sentences based on acquitted conduct.  

Of course, many basic theoretical, policy and practical issues concerning why, who and how we sentence in the United States are enduring.  But each time I teach this course, in addition to reviewing the basics of capital and federal sentencing doctrines, I often end up focusing a lot of energy on the then-most-pressing topics of current doctrinal debate.  The last time I taught this class, for example, in Fall 2011, I spent lots of extra time on the Eighth Amendment's application to prison sentences in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling in Graham and its cert grant in Miller.

Because there are so many sentencing topics, both big and small, that interest me greatly and that I think students should get exposed to, I often struggle to make sure I cover all the "must-teach" sentencing topics each semester.  Of course, because there has never been an established "canon" for what must be covered in a sentencing course, students do not know what are all the "must-teach" sentencing topics.  But, because there has never been a established "canon" for what must be covered in sentencing course, I likewise have never been sure just what are all the "must-teach" topics for my course.

So, as I start the latest (and I hope greatest) version of my Sentencing Law course, I am eager to hear from readers of all stripes (including lawyers and non-lawyers, professors and students) concerning what they might consider "must-teach" units in a three-credit, upper-level Sentencing Law course.   Perhaps stated slightly different, I am eager to hear from everyone and anyone concerning what sentencing topics they assume my students learn about when they hear they have taken a course on Sentencing Law.

Cross-posted at SL&P

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on January 8, 2014 at 01:42 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink

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