A Project by HLS Students for Inclusion!


 A. Johnson, JD' 16

“Black people are more likely to commit crimes.” [1]

 “I just don’t care about criminal law.  Lock them all up and throw away the key. Why does it matter?” [2]  

“There is this notion that race pollutes the law since the law is supposed to be objective and removed from power relations.  People think that the race issue distracts from the real issue.” [3]

This introduction opens with perspectives from HLS students to illustrate the ongoing crisis in legal education, especially during the first-year curriculum.  If you are a first-year law student, you are likely to encounter a classroom environment in which your perspective is present but not visible.  This goes for all students, equally.  Of course, the problem is that some perspectives are muted, while others remain hidden yet amplified.  In other words, some perspectives are valued, some not.  The perspectives that are not valued are often the ones that challenge the status quo to bend the law in favor of historically marginalized groups, revealing the law’s biased social construction.  During your first year, you will hear a lot about what it means to “think like a lawyer,” but do not be fooled, there is no fixed or set legal system.

 Law is what a society makes it; it serves a social function.  If this is true then an important question to ask yourself, is “Whom does it serve?”  Remember this question.  Throughout your 1L experience, you will encounter many professors who are well meaning but fail to teach the law in its sociohistorical context.  They do not teach the law; they teach one particular model of it.  But it is not an ideal model.  You will need to come back to the question raised above again and again on your own because you shall find that your professors are not particularly interested in the answer.  So in the mean time, as students, we will have to figure it out for ourselves.

This critical case guide is an open source project for students who care deeply about justice and legal education.  This first section of this project covers cases and materials in the typical first-year Criminal Law course.  As a model format, for each case brief, I provide a breakdown of points often missed in class discussion, note important social contexts, and present critical questions that students might raise during class discussion.  Although, I note important discussion items for each case herein, this guide is not meant to be a totalization of each case’s social context.  There are many problems in the world and many of them are connected to case law in various ways.  The point of this critical case guide is to start calling these problems out, not to provide another narrative that excludes all others. The system is certainly broken, but as law students we are well positioned to do something about it.  The law is nothing but perspective codified into law.  Fortunately, perspective can change.  I hope this guide serves as resource to inform and power you as you navigate the law school.


[1] Black People Are More Likely To Commit Crimes, Socratic Shortcomings, Nov. 18, 2014 http://socraticshortcomings.tumblr.com/post/102393788172/black-people-are-more-likely-to-commit-crimes.
[2] Throw Away The Key, Socratic Shortcomings, Nov. 11, 2014. http://socraticshortcomings.tumblr.com/post/103017950522/throw-away-the-key
[3] Verna Myers & Associates, Harvard Black Law Student Association Race In the Classroom Project Report To Law School Faculty 10 (2002).