Friday, February 5, 2010

Strangest criminal cases: how would you decide?

In roughly ten weeks, we will be finished with our first year of law school. We will no longer be 1Ls. For now, however, I continue to push through the second semester, even though there is a sense that some of us are running out of steam. For one, there is the huge task of finding a summer job. There also is the realization that, out of the 60 or so pages of dense reading we are assigned each day, there are only a handful of rules that we must learn, and of those rules, only a fraction will appear on the final exam. It is tempting to skip a few cases, or at least to stop the onerous process of writing case briefs and creating endless notes. For the most part, I am resisting the urge. There is some inscrutable reason for the curious structure of law school, and I am placing my faith in it. Besides, there are too many amazing stories buried in our reading assignments. Consider a few from the world of Criminal Law, focusing on the topic of causation.

  • Man gets in fight with wife, who stumbles out of house and into the cold night, where she lays down in the yard and is later found dead.
  • Attackers rob man, leave him on side of road with little clothing on cold night far from shelter. Man later hit by truck and killed.
  • Man steals car, leads police on massive chase. Law enforcement helicopters, following chase, collide in mid-air, killing several occupants.
  • Woman, abducted by men on train, is taken to hotel where she is assaulted and prevented from escaping. She drinks poison when the abductors are not in the room, and later dies, but only several weeks after being released.
  • Two men are racing on a highway, and the road narrows to a two-lane bridge. One driver, seeking to pass the other, veers into oncoming traffic and is it and killed by an oncoming truck. Is the other racer guilty?
  • Gang member shoots, but does not kill, member of a non-rival gang, whose members nonetheless seek revenge by killing a member of the original shooter's gang. May the original shooter be convicted of murder?

These are adaptations from real cases, and I could post the "answers" provided by the law, but in truth there are no answers. This is the most fascinating and frustrating thing about the law. The more I study, the more I see ambiguity. Legal rules, in most cases, are merely tools that can be used to argue one way or the other. The same holds true for final exams this spring. Two students might have completely different answers for a problem, and still earn the same grade. Note to self: stop thinking about grades. Get back to reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment