CALI lessons allow you to work through different rules and doctrines of criminal law in an interactive format in which you answer questions and explain your reasoning. If you are confused or have questions about an issue, a CALI lesson may provide a quick way to test and improve your knowledge.
Some Good Study Aids for Criminal Law
In Criminal Law, a couple of things are important to keep in mind. First, this is a statutory course. Your analysis should always begin with the text of the statute at issue. If the language of the statute is unclear, judges will turn to resources like legislative history, related statutes, case law in the jurisdiction, and sometimes case law from other jurisdictions to decide what the language means. Knowing something about the process of statutory interpretation will help you understand why and how some appellate decisions are written the way they are.
Second, the criminal code of every jurisdiction is somewhat different, but there are two broad kinds of criminal codes. Some criminal codes continue to reflect major terms, structures, concepts and doctrines that originated with the English common law of several centuries ago. These criminal codes tend to contain antique language and terms (such as referring to sodomy as "the crime against nature") and their legislative history may be lost or unclear. Other criminal codes have incorporated the structure and some terms from the Model Penal Code (although no jurisdiction has adopted the entire Model Penal Code). In these jurisdictions, the code language tends to be more straightforward and terms more carefully defined.
When teaching criminal law, most faculty do not teach the law of one particular jurisdiction. Rather, you can expect the casebook to contain cases from many different jurisdictions. Some cases are meant to represent the "common law approach" and others the "MPC approach." It's important to realize, however, that describing the law of a particular jurisdiction as following "the common law" or "the MPC" is always a generalization, though a useful one. For example, New York is one of the states that has incorporated parts of the Model Penal Code. However, in doing so the Legislature changed key words or left out certain terms in many instances. Thus, New York's criminal code is similar but not identical to Pennsylvania's (another "MPC state"). But New York's code resembles the criminal law of Pennsylvania far more than it does, say, the California Penal Code (a "common law state"). (Confused yet?)
While your assigned readings and class discussions should be your primary concerns, treatises, hornbooks, and texts provide additional perspectives, analyses, and explanations to help you make sense of criminal law. It is important to choose your supplementary readings with care, because some study aids make criminal law seem simpler than it really is. With that caveat in mind, the following are sources that provide useful discussion, analysis, and explanation of issues in criminal law:
Joshua Dressler, Understanding Criminal Law, 5th ed. (LexisNexis, 2009)
Wayne R. LaFave, LaFave's Criminal Law, 5th ed. (West, 2010)
Markus Dirk Dubber, Criminal Law: The Model Penal Code (Foundation Press, 2002)
Richard G. Singer and John Q. LaFond, Examples and Explanations: Criminal Law, 5th ed. (Aspen Publishers, 2010).
Sources on Criminal Law
Audio Downloads of Criminal Law Cases
The website for AudioCaseFiles allows you to download an audio version of many important criminal law opinions as an MP3 file.
To register for an AudioCaseFiles account, go to http://libweb.lib.buffalo.edu/pdp/index.asp?ID=54 and follow the instructions. If you have problems registering, please contact Beth Adelman at the Law Library for assistance.
For a list of all criminal law opinions available on AudioCaseFiles, click here.