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Law and Society


The American Jury: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 
By Sharon Fray Witzer
Lecturer in Legal Studies

We generally think of our government as having three branches—legislative, executive and judicial. A fourth branch of our democracy is all but forgotten—the jury. It may be because its deliberations are secret and we really do not know exactly how it works, or it may be because its role as been circumscribed, not as a maker of law, but as a servant of law—like a machine or a computer of sorts. Are juries necessary to democracy? This guide should lead you into a discussion of the nature and function of our criminal justice system and how we might improve it, focusing particularly on "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Landmarks of the Fourth Amendment (S136)
By Professor Daniel Breen
American and Legal Studies Department, Brandeis University

Ever wonder what the Fourth Amendment really means and how it has been applied since the Bill of Rights was passed in 1789? Learn that and more as we explore 5 cases in history that challenged the premise of this promise to American citizens.

Louis Brandeis and the Evolution of the Idea of Privacy (BR54)
By Mary Davis
Professor of American Studies (retired)

An examination of the erosion of privacy rights and Justice Brandeis' insistence on the "right to be let alone."

Legal Puzzlers
By Andreas Teuber
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Participants are given cases where the facts of the case are understandable and easy to grasp but difficult to resolve. Study group members are invited to reach a consensus about how best to decide that case or set of cases after deliberating among themselves with the guidance of Professor Teuber's enlightening questions. Contained in each puzzler is all the information needed to brainstorm and reach a conclusion about these conundrums in the law.

The Trolley Problem: An Exercise in Moral Reasoning

Imagine that a trolley is hurtling down the tracks.  The hill is steep; it has lost its brakes.

The driver of the trolley cannot stop its forward motion.

But there's more and you get to decide what to do.  This exercise is used in many schools and introductory ethics classes around the country as well as Great Britain.

The Crime That Never Was (S125)

It's a criminal offense to attempt to commit a crime. Knowledgeable legal theorists have long recognized that the law of attempts provides a bumpy route by which the deepest and most central issues in criminal law can be approached. As with most crimes, attempts have both a bad act (actus reus) and a guilty mind (mens reus) component. The mens reus requirement is fairly straightforward—one must have intended to commit the crime that one is charged with attempting; but in attempt cases, the actus reus requirement is more problematic—the actual harm that the defendant has caused is very small, if existent at all.

Getting Away With Murder: The Case of the Speluncean Explorers (B53)

Should killing another always be a punishable crime or is there some justification that excuses the killer? This brieflet puts you on the judge's bench and provides you with the opportunity to decide.

Guilty for the Crimes of the Father: The Felony Murder Rule (S124)

Ricky and Raymond Tison are sentenced to death for murders that the boys themselves did not commit.

How Nasty Are We Free To Be?
Racial Insults and Epithets—Discriminatory Harassment or Protected Speech (BR46)
In the wake of an alarming increase in racial incidents, how far do our First Amendment rights extend? When and under what circumstances do extremely unpleasant and offensive acts actually cause other persons harm for which they can rightly demand legal protection?

Interpreting the Constitution or How is the U.S. Constitution Like the 10 Commandments? (B58)
The U.S. Constitution, like the 10 Commandments, is astonishingly brief about issues of great and lasting importance. The First Amendment, for example, simply states, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Fourteen words, subjected to endless interpretation and reinterpretation. What makes one interpretation better than another? Why weren't the Founding Fathers more explicit about what they meant? Is the meaning of the Constitution to be found in the words alone? Or should we look beyond the text to the original intentions of the Founding Fathers themselves?

Is the Death Penalty Cruel and Unusual Punishment? (B47)

This brieflet tackles the issue of capital punishment from two angles. It broadens the issue by asking what the aims and limits of punishment itself ought to be and it explores the issue by asking whether the imposition of the death penalty is cruel and unusual.

Negligent Homicide or a Mother's Love? Crimes Committed for Good Reason and with the Best Intentions (S122)
Should one be equally guilty for crimes committed with good as well as bad intentions?

Omissions and Duty to Rescue (S121)
What do Kitty Genovese, Princess Diana and Sherrice Iverson have in common?

Twenty-One Legal Puzzlers: What Is a Crime? (S106)

A series of murder mysteries and short takes in criminal, civil and constitutional law, with accompanying commentaries. The cases, some retellings of actual cases and others hypothetical, are intended to stimulate group discussion and test intuitions.

Victims' Rights: Justice or Revenge? (BR59)
One reason that proponents of victims' rights have sought to obtain a greater voice for victims in the criminal process has been motivated by a desire to help them and their relatives regain a sense of control over their lives. In capital cases, the effect of a relatives' testimony may be life or death for the defendant. Indeed, the psychological and emotional nature of victim testimony raises the question: Does the admissibility of such testimony during the sentencing phase of capital trials bring justice or revenge?