Got a Warrant?: Breaking Bad and the Fourth Amendment

28 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2015 Last revised: 16 Dec 2015

See all articles by Alafair S. Burke

Alafair S. Burke

Hofstra University - Maurice A. Deane School of Law

Date Written: October 4, 2015


This Article explores the advantages of using pop culture to study and teach criminal procedure. It begins by setting forth the pedagogical challenges of teaching students how to apply the criminal procedural law they learn in the classroom to real-world events, before a factual record has been established in court. Appellate decisions — the primary text of legal education — do not teach students how to apply the law to new facts. Traditionally, professors use hypothetical fact patterns for this purpose. However, because hypotheticals typically set forth a clear statement of facts, students do not learn how to translate police-citizen encounters as they actually occur in the world to a verbal description of facts that can have legal significance. Instead, the professor has done that work for the students by providing the hypothetical. Moreover, casebooks march students through criminal procedure, one doctrine at a time. Accordingly, traditional classroom discussion does not necessarily teach students how to apply several doctrines to one fact pattern or to recognize how the resolution of one doctrinal issue can affect the analysis of others.

Incorporating pop culture in the classroom can help meet those challenges. After discussing the ways that videos of police-citizen encounters can supplement traditional classroom material, the Article provides a concrete example. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a six-minute scene from the acclaimed television show “Breaking Bad” may be worth millions, or at least the number of words necessary to provide an ideal fact pattern to recap the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, searches, seizures, criminal procedure, pop culture, television, Breaking Bad, pedagogy

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Burke, Alafair S., Got a Warrant?: Breaking Bad and the Fourth Amendment (October 4, 2015). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Forthcoming, Hofstra Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-14, Available at SSRN:

Alafair S. Burke (Contact Author)

Hofstra University - Maurice A. Deane School of Law ( email )

121 Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY 11549
United States
516-463-4243 (Phone)
516-463-4800 (Fax)

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