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Course Descriptions
USC Gould School of Law

What’s Wrong with the American Criminal Legal System?     LAW-742

On paper, the American system criminal law (actually, systems) appears to be destined for success. The state packs sufficient powers for punishing rule breaking which satisfy the commonly accepted justifications of punishment (retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, expressive function). At the same time, criminal suspects and defendants enjoy a host of protections to ward off over-reach by the state. These include numerous provisions in the Bill of Rights, allocating burdens of proof and production to the state, the presumption of innocence, a high standard of proof, mandatory disclosure of exculpating evidence, Miranda warnings, etc.  Yet, in recent decades, the American criminal system has produced results that deviate from its historical trends and are out of whack with other industrialized democracies. Critics point to the sheer number of people locked up and supervised by the state, the heavy toll taken on racial minorities, the extremity of punishment (death, LWOP, 3-strikes), criminogenic criminal policies, violations of dignity, error-proneness, rampant misconduct by law enforcement personnel, within- and inter-branch cover ups, heightened political polarization, vehement punishment, and more. The objective of this course is to explore these critiques and to better understand why the system performs as it does.

 

2-credit option: The course is offered as a 2-credit elective for upper division law students. The course grade will be based on an in-class, closed-book exam. Preparation, attendance, engagement and participation will be taken into consideration. 

 

3-credit option: The course is offered also as a 3-credit elective to up to 6 students who wish to write a research paper (which satisfies the upper division writing requirement). Papers will be presented in class in the 2 final sessions of the semester. The course grade will be based on the paper. Preparation, attendance, engagement and participation will be taken into consideration. 

Enrollment in the 3-credit option requires prior approval from the instructor. Interested students should sign up for the course and submit a statement of their interest in the course (up to 2 pages long). The statement should be sent directly to the instructor (at dsimon@law.usc.edu). Decisions will be made on a rolling basis within a few days after the start of the registration period.

 

Units 2, 3
Grading Options Numeric
Exam Type In-class Exam (2 units); Paper (3 units)
Writing Requirement Yes, with submission of the Upper Division Writing Requirement Form, Statement of Interest, and Instructor Approval (3 units)
Skills/Experiential Requirement No
Enrollment Limit 12

Grading Options: vary with the professor

Professors Teaching This Course