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Criminal Law in Focus, First Edition

  • Alex Kreit
Series / Focus Casebook Series
Teaching Materials
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Criminal Law in Focus (CLIF)provides an updated approach to the first-year criminal law casebook, with coverage and pedagogy that reflects modern criminal law practice. Alongside the traditional justificatory theories of punishment, the book considers punishment as a tool for social control, the rise of mass incarceration, and racial disparities in criminal enforcement. Using compelling cases that clearly articulate legal doctrine, this book covers core traditional offenses (like homicide and rape), as well as those that figure prominently in modern practice, but which have historically been absent from or deemphasized in the criminal law curriculum (like drug possession and property crimes). The Real Life Applications feature following each case poses a series of questions to spotlight important topics that might otherwise be overlooked, such as prosecutorial discretion and plea bargaining. Straightforward exposition helps students navigate their way around the differences and tensions between jurisdictional approaches to defining crimes and defenses.


  • CLIF goes beyond the traditional coverage of most casebooks, (which focus primarily on homicide offenses, rape, and (to a lesser extent) theft crimes). With expanded coverage of property offenses, an entire chapter on drug offenses, and coverage of contemporary issues (such as child pornography offenses and the public authority defense), CLIF reflects a wider, more inclusive perspective on criminal law today.
    • Most criminal law casebooks place extended coverage of the elements of crime (mens rea, actus reus, and causation) at the front of the book, before covering individual criminal offenses—which requires students to grapple with these concepts in the abstract. By contrast, CLIF provides a brief, early introduction to the elements of crime (which can be covered in one class); it then pivots to an integrated discussion of specific criminal offenses and covers principles related to mens rea, actus reus, and causation in the context of those offenses. Chapter 10 also covers the interpretation of criminal statutes.
  • At 550 pages, CLIF is much shorter than most criminal law casebooks, even though it includes topics (e.g., drug crimes) that aren’t covered in most criminal law casebooks.

Professors and students will benefit from:

  • Coverage of offenses that are either absent from, or deemphasized in, most other casebooks, CLIF helps professors to design a course that improves both bar-exam readiness and practice readiness.
  • The inclusion of issues related to mass incarceration in the first chapter modernizes the traditional “purposes of punishment” material. CLIF retains coverage of justificatory theories of punishment, including the famous case of Dudley and Stephens; these theories aim to provide a morally defensible account of punishment and they are important. But they do not fully explain the reality of punishment in the United States today. By covering issues related to the rise of mass incarceration alongside the traditional theories of punishment, CLIF allows for a fuller discussion of the theory and reality of punishment.
  • The book’s innovative approach to covering the elements of crimes has a number of benefits.
    • It is much more efficient, from a teaching perspective; it will afford professors time to cover other topics that they can’t usually fit into the course (e.g., drug crimes and a more in-depth treatment of property offenses).
    • Professors might spend 4 or 5 (or more) class sessions on the elements of crime before they can begin to cover individual offenses. This is not necessary: Most of these concepts are more effectively covered in the context of specific crimes (e.g., intent and mistakes of fact can both be introduced in the context of larceny; willful blindness can be addressed in the context of drug crimes). Then, after students have learned about these concepts in the context of individual offenses, the concepts can be tied together in 1 or 2 class sessions using the materials in Chapter 10.
    • Covering difficult mens rea and actus reus concepts in depth before covering individual crimes (as most books do) often leaves students confused. They don’t have enough context to appreciate how the difficult mens rea problems fit into criminal law doctrine, for example. The structure in CLIF teaches students the basics first. Once they have that foundation, they are better able to grapple with the more complex mens rea questions in Chapter 10.
    • The traditional approach can be frustrating for faculty, as well. It is a bit like trying to teach someone about the broad structure of mathematics before they have learned basic arithmetic.
    • The approach in CLIF more accurately reflects criminal law practice. In a real-world case, the prosecutor and defense do not argue about mens rea or actus reus in the abstract. Instead, the parties are focused on the elements of the specific crime(s) at issue. When difficult mens rea or actus reus questions arise in practice, it is in the context of the elements of a particular crime.
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About the authors
Alex Kreit
Assistant Professor
Salmon P. Chase College of Law

Alex Kreit teaches Criminal Law at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law, where he is Assistant Professor and the Director of the Chase Center on Addiction Law & Policy. In addition to emCriminal Law in Focusem, he has authored books on illegal drugs and marijuana law. His many essays and articles have been widely published in law journals. Alex Kreit is frequently quoted and interviewed by the media as an expert on drug policy issues.&

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