Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should:

1. List the four written sources of American criminal law.

2. Explain the two basic functions of criminal law.

3. Discuss the primary goals of civil law and criminal law and explain how these goals are realized.

4. Delineate the elements required to establish mens rea (a guilty mental state).

5. List and briefly define the most important excuse defenses for crimes.

6. Discuss a common misperception concerning the insanity defense in the United States.

7. Describe the four most important justification criminal defenses.

8. Explain the importance of the due process clause in the criminal justice system.

Lesson Plan

Correlated to PowerPoints

I. Written Sources of American Criminal Law

Learning Objective 1: List the four written sources of American criminal law.

A. American Criminal Law is codified, or written down and accessible to all

i. American Criminal Law is also referred to as “substantive” criminal law, which is available in several written sources

a. The U.S. Constitution and constitutions of the various states

b. Statutes passed by Congress and by state legislatures, plus local ordinances

c. Regulations created by regulatory agencies

d. Case law (court decisions)

Class Discussion/Activity

Ask students to discuss the issue of authority. What happens if a judge makes a decision that is in violation of the current case law?

What If Scenario

What if . . . your state legislature decided that it wanted to “regulate” personal and business behavior that has traditionally been within the province of the federal government. For example, your state legislature is about to pass laws limiting the number of Canadians who would be eligible to live and work in your state. You are asked to fashion an argument why the law is necessary, and why your state has the right to create and enforce such a law. What arguments would you make in light of a certain federal lawsuit? Use the controversial Arizona immigration laws as a guide.

B. Constitutional Law

i. The law as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and the constitutions of various states

ii. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land

iii. Each state has its own constitution, which is the supreme law of the respective state.

C. Statutory Law

i. Body of law enacted by legislative bodies

a. Federal statutes are laws enacted by the U.S. Congress

b. State statutes are laws enacted by state legislatures

c. Ordinances passed by cities and counties

ii. Legal Supremacy

a. There are essentially 52 different criminal codes in the United States –one for each state, the District of Columbia, and the federal government

b. Supremacy clause of the Constitution establishes that federal law is the supreme law of the land and shall prevail when in conflict with state constitutions or statutes.

Media Tool

“Legalized Marijuana in Washington and Colorado May Be a Problem for Federal Government”


· A short clip about the controversy of state drug laws and federal drug laws


iii. Ballot Initiatives

a. On a state and local level, voters can write or rewrite criminal statutes through a form of direct democracy known as the ballot initiative

b. If the majority of voters approve of a measure, it is voted into law

D. Administrative Law

i. Rules, orders, and decisions of regulatory agencies

a. Regulatory agencies are federal, state, or local government agencies established to perform a specific function

b. Example: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees the safety and health of American workers

ii. Disregarding certain laws created by regulatory agencies can be a criminal violation

E. Case Law

i. Rules of law announced in court decisions allowing precedent to stand from previous cases

ii. Includes interpretations of constitutional provisions, of statuses enacted by legislatures, and of regulations created by administrative agencies

iii. Also referred to as common law or judge-made law

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