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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Choosing a Casebook: Criminal Law

Please use the comments section to share thoughts on choosing a casebook in Criminal Law.  (See here and here for a discussion of the Course Preparation Project.)

Posted by Matt Bodie on May 10, 2007 at 04:30 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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As Professor Markel (my CrimLaw prof last semester) noted, he uses and is happy with Dressler. I just wanted to add that the book's organization of concepts is intuitive and fluid. Most chapters or large concepts start out with excerpts addressing, generally, the theory behind the law we're set to discuss. The article selections are appropriate, and Dressler frequently relies on his concise and very understandable explanations of the ideas. Next, the chapter focuses on the practical aspects of the theory through relevant and creatively organized case selections (for an example of this, see his section on Battered Wife Syndrome). The notes, too, are also informative, and, as Prof Markel wrote, the hypos are great. Most of the time, I think that casebooks don't provide enough information for the student to adequately answer note hypos, but Dressler gives some guidance. That ultimately leads to more relevant and (for this student) less silly discussions in class. The only drawback that Dressler's book has is that students expect crim law to be cut and dry (more focused on statutory application than theory); some students I've talked to think the book is too focused on the theory aspect. That said, I've also talked to students who like reading about the theories that drive judicial decisions.

Posted by: Adam Richardson | Jul 9, 2007 3:58:50 PM

I've noticed on several professor's syllabi that they use Robinson as a secondary text. Has anyone used Robinson's book as the primary course book for his/her class? I really like the approach of the book but have yet to hear from someone that has used it as the major text for his/her class and I am wondering why that is. I will teach crim law for the first time in the fall and am deciding between Dressler and Robinson.

Posted by: J. Jefferson | May 31, 2007 6:39:53 PM

Not a big fan of Kadish. Thought it was poorly organized, especially on murder and rape.

Posted by: 1L | May 13, 2007 5:28:16 PM

As a law student, I have absolutely no complaints about Dressler; it's been one of the best casebooks that I've had.

Posted by: Law Student | May 11, 2007 5:51:25 PM

As Dan's comment suggests, there are a lot of good options. I used Kadish & Schulhofer (w/o Steiker) when I started, and loved it, but my students did not. Since then, it's been Dressler, and I've been very happy (I also don't want students to focus too much on the MPC, and I happen to share some of Dressler's interests, e.g., manslaughter, justification-and-excuse, etc.).

Posted by: Rick Garnett | May 11, 2007 4:19:09 PM

In my view, the problem with most criminal law casebooks is that they emphasize appellate opinions, thereby treating criminal law as if it were a common law subject. In reality, however, criminal law is governed primarily by statute. Moreover, the case method overlooks the development of skills far more important to the practice of criminal law than analysis of appellate opinions. For that reason, I have high regard for Paul Robinson's casebook. It eschews the traditional case method in favor of a problem-oriented approach that teaches students to analyze facts rather than appellate opinions. It also emphasizes issues of statutory construction without neglecting the policy issues that pervade criminal law. This is good training from potential criminal lawyers, and exposing first-year students to a problem-oriented approaches has, in my judgment, great pedagogical value even for students unlikely to practice criminal law. The practice of law is, after all, ultimately about handling clients' problems and not analyzing appellate opinions.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | May 11, 2007 11:23:00 AM

Just finishing up using Dressler for the first time, and it's been great.

Posted by: Chris | May 10, 2007 10:27:03 PM

I've used Dressler over the last 2 years and found it to be a very good casebook that gets almost no complaints from students and at the same time provides a pretty rich set of questions for discussion with various problems and hypos, as well as a really nice amount of theory issues (to which I'm partial). Since mastering the model penal code can be quite difficult for beginning professors (or at least me,) Dressler's book also serves as a good entry point since it discusses the MPC but does not obsess over it. Other crim casebooks worth close attention are Robinson (very interesting use of problems and statutes), Kahan/Katyal/Meares (which is available from the authors but not yet out), and also the other 3 that are very popular: Kadish/Schulhofer/Steiker, Kaplan/Weisberg/Binder, and a new one by Mark Kelman and Markus Dubber (more MPC focused).

Dressler's CB has a very good teacher's manual, which can be invaluable when prepping for class too, and which should be a consideration for all first time prawfs.

Posted by: Dan Markel | May 10, 2007 6:15:17 PM

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