Unit 3: Criminal Law and the Pursuit of Justice

What is crime? What happens after a person is accused of committing a crime? What doesjustice look like? How does the criminal justice system ensure that the rights of both the victims and the perpetrators of crime are protected?

In this unit, students are introduced to the criminal justice system. Students consider the meaning of justice and how the pursuit of justice informs the work of criminal justice professionals. They learn the steps in the criminal justice process and apply the elements of a criminal law to a fictional homicide case. Drawing on their understanding of the purposes and goals of criminal defenses and sentencing guidelines, students make decisions about possible charges, defenses, and sentences for an accused criminal. Students build their teamwork and critical-thinking skills by working in different professional roles to identify relevant facts, analyze and synthesize information, make inferences, and develop persuasive legal arguments about their case. After each legal team has brought their case to the point of arraignment, students consider how their choices address equity in the criminal justice process and reflect on the extent to which the criminal justice system promotes justice. 

Unit Project

Drawing on their understanding of the steps in the criminal justice system, students take on the roles of prosecution and defense lawyers and prepare for a felony arraignment in a fictional homicide case. Student teams review forensic evidence, witness statements, and police reports; analyze relevant criminal laws; and build a theory of the case. They consider possible charges and sentences for the defendant(s) and try to negotiate a plea with opposing counsel. After conducting a felony arraignment, students explore disparities in sentencing and corrections and reflect on the extent to which justice has been served in their case.  Unit Length: 25 50-minute sessions


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