• Criminalization – 6909



Grad. Requirements

Upper Division Legal Writing

Subject Area

Criminal Justice *
  • Student Year
    Upper Division
    Course type

It is often said that we face a crisis of overcriminalization: too many people are punished, too harshly, for conduct that perhaps should not be criminal at all. But is there such a crisis—and, if there is, how can it be remedied? This seminar will focus on recent theoretical writings on this topic, in particular Douglas Husak’s Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law (Oxford University Press; paperback 2009), and on some of the difficult problems that contemporary societies face about the proper scope and use of the criminal law. The focus of the course will be theoretical and normative: that is, our questions concern not so much what is in fact criminalized, but what should be (or what should not be) criminalized; in trying to answer these questions we will explore the values and principles that should guide legislators and citizens in deciding what is to be criminal. The aim of the course is not to produce any definitive answers to the difficult questions that we will tackle: it is, rather, to gain a deeper understanding of those questions, and of how we might work towards answers to them.

  • Credits: 2
  • Prerequisite: None

Teaching Arrangements This is a two-credit course, but it will need to be compressed into about eight weeks. It will therefore involve two two-hour classes each week, starting in week beginning September 17. Given the compressed nature of the course, it will be important for students to do some serious preparatory reading before the course starts, especially of Husak’s book. A complete syllabus, with further topics and readings, will be circulated before the course starts. Students will make at least one class presentation (oral or written, as they choose) during the course of the semester. There will also be guest speakers at some of the classes: we will read one of their articles in advance, and students will submit questions for them.


Grades will be based on two required pieces of written work. (Students are very strongly encouraged to submit preliminary drafts of their written work for discussion and feedback.)

  • A Critical Review, about 20 pages long, of Husak, Overcriminalization (counting for 75% of the final grade)
  • An expanded version (about 10 pages long) either of your seminar presentation or of the questions you submitted to one of the visiting speakers, which you will rewrite in the light of the class discussion (counting for 25% of the final grade).

 Further details and guidance will be circulated before the course starts.


Contact Information

University of Minnesota Law School

Walter F. Mondale Hall | 229 19th Avenue South | Minneapolis, MN 55455

P: 612-625-1000

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