What Is Criminal Law About?

35 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2016 Last revised: 7 Apr 2017

See all articles by Guyora Binder

Guyora Binder

University at Buffalo Law School

Robert Weisberg

Stanford Law School

Date Written: 2016


In a recent critique, Jens Ohlin faults contemporary criminal law textbooks for emphasizing philosophy, history and social science at the expense of doctrinal training. In this response, we argue that the political importance of criminal law justifies including reflection about the justice of punishment in the professional education of lawyers. First, we argue that both understanding and evaluating criminal law doctrine requires consideration of political philosophy, legal history, and empirical research. Second, we argue that the indeterminacy of criminal law doctrine on some fundamental questions means that criminal lawyers often cannot avoid invoking normative theory in fashioning legal arguments. Finally, we argue that the high stakes of criminal law and its contingency on democratic politics make criminal law teaching as much a matter of civic education as of technical education.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Legal Education, Punishment Theory, Legal History, Race Discrimination

Suggested Citation

Binder, Guyora and Weisberg, Robert, What Is Criminal Law About? (2016). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 114, p. 1173, 2016, University at Buffalo School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-027, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2802822

Guyora Binder (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-2673 (Phone)
716-645-2640 (Fax)

Robert Weisberg

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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