During orientation we read the case, Durham v. State. This case serves as an introduction to the criminal law course because of its basic but profound recognition of the violence at the core of the state’s ability to arrest and punish individuals who resist the law. Law enforcement depends on force, that is, state coercion of individuals to obey the law and to submit to legal authority, through the threat of punishment. This course deals with the what, why, and how of criminal law: What should be criminal? Why should it be criminal? How do we define a crime, and how should we punish it? It also deals with the “so what” of criminal law: How does it reflect our values? How does it shape our society? How does it contain our views of what it means to be human? What is criminal law for? Our study of criminal law will begin by examining basic elements of just punishment: (1) legality, the requirement that criminal punishment have a legal foundation; (2) actus reus, the actual proscribed conduct that constitutes the crime; and (3) mens rea, the state of mind necessary for a given action to be criminal. Throughout the course we will also consider the common justifications of criminal punishment: (1) retribution; (2) deterrence; (3) incapacitation; and (4) rehabilitation.
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