Crime, Justice, and the American Legal System: Case Study Preparation


Throughout the term students prepared three case studies in order to engage with information on the American legal system.

Up to two of the case studies could be replaced by multimedia projects.  The case studies were discussed in lectures and sections, and the multimedia projects are presented in the final lecture, allowing for students to regularly showcase their hard work. For both projects, students had to complete the course reading in order to propose a topic that engaged course scholarship and themes. 

There is a detailed handout describing how to create case studies.  In short, a case study examines a real life situation and includes three components:  (1) Part A--a detailed factual background section that raises (but does not resolve) several significant questions/dilemmas in the case; (2) Part B--a follow up factual section explaining what subsequently occurred and how the questions/dilemmas were actually addressed; and (3) Part C--a final analytical section contextualizing the case study in light of course themes and theories, while substantively engaging and citing course readings.  Multimedia projects are unstructured and open ended, but must be approved in advance by the course staff.  Examples are shown to students early in the term.

Prior to the first submission deadline, the instructor presented an earlier student case study in lecture so students understood the structure and pedagogical objectives of the case studies.  Part A was distributed to students to read in class (much as is done at the Business School, for example).  After reading Part A, students debated the dilemma presented and how they feel the protagonist should proceed.  Part B is then distributed in class and it describes what decision(s) the protagonist actually made and the ramifications of that/those decisions.  Students then discuss and debate what occurred, and how it connects to course theories and themes.  With respect to multimedia projects, many are video documentaries and are shown in class followed by a structured discussion by the course instructor.

With respect to case studies, students are given a word processing template so that all output is uniform (similar to case studies produced by the business, law and government professional schools).  Students often prepare the case studies with a combination of text, photos and graphs/charts.  Prior examples were both discussed in class and made available online for students to use as a reference.  For multimedia projects, most students created videos that incorporated person-to-person interviews with correctional officials, police officers, business owners, fellow students, community organizers, public defenders, etc--and these interviews were edited along with voice-overs and other video clips and still images to create compelling presentations.  Other students presented their multimedia presentations live, some utilizing powerpoints and even one student performing in class an anti-death penalty song (that she wrote) in the form of a traditional protest folk ballad.  Other students have created fictitious television programs and even a children's book harnessing course themes.  All multimedia projects must be accompanied by a short essay contextualizing the project, citing course scholarship and themes.

For case studies, students researched unique topics (students must write on different topics from one another), some of which are publicly known and others that are known only from the student's own personal experience.  Students must not only find compelling cases to analyze, but they must engage in the pedagogical exercise of finding a strong "dilemma" or "decision point" in the story that could be debatable in class.  This is more difficult than it appears, as the break between Part A and Part B cannot simply be a break in the action; the break must present a compelling and controversial dilemma that is likely to create an excellent and robust class discussion.  The best case studies are chosen by the instructor and then distributed in class (anonymously), and discussed--both in terms of the criminological questions raised, but also the pedagogical strength of the case study's construction.  With respect to multimedia projects, at least 5 minutes of every project is presented in class (either "live" by the student or through video), and then the instructor provides constructive feedback for the students.  In past years students have also provided constructive feedback both in class and on iSite (online).

The goal of the case studies is for students to (1) research a relevant, real life case that illustrates course themes and theories; (2) analyze a real life fact scenario not only for course themes, but also for classroom pedagogical potential in terms of the dilemma and issues presented for discussion/debate; and (3) to analyze (in Part C of the case study) the case selected by substantively engaging course scholarship, forcing students to move beyond merely descriptive assignments and to develop their own opinions and views, contextualized by course themes and readings.  For the multimedia projects, students are encouraged to explore their passions and think "outside the box" in exploring a criminological topic in a media format that speaks to them.  While most students use video format for interviewing key stakeholders, others have created songs, children's books, advocacy pieces, fictitious television episodes, fictitious magazines/tabloid front pages, and even music videos.  The over-arching goal of these projects is to illustrate how the course themes can be intensely (and engagingly) relevant to students--and our society.

syllabus.pdf347 KB
case study part a.pdf1.32 MB
case study part b.pdf553 KB
case study part c.pdf128 KB