Reflections on Joshua Dressler's Understanding Criminal Law

27 Pages Posted: 11 May 2018 Last revised: 15 May 2018

See all articles by Peter K. Westen

Peter K. Westen

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: April 27, 2018


Joshua Dressler, through his treatise "Understanding Criminal Law," his criminal law casebook, and his editorship of the "Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice," has become America's preeminent, even indispensable, criminal law teacher. In a tribute to Josh's contributions to scholarship and pedagogy, I reflect on three themes in Understanding Criminal Law: Josh's definition of criminal law; his distinction between justification and excuse; and his conception of the basic elements of criminal responsibility. I conclude with a unifying theme that connects the other three, namely, Josh's distinctive view of the role of "harm" in criminal law.

Keywords: criminal law, justification and excuse, criminal responsibility, harm principle

Suggested Citation

Westen, Peter K., Reflections on Joshua Dressler's Understanding Criminal Law (April 27, 2018). Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2018; U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 601. Available at SSRN:

Peter K. Westen (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

3178 South Hall
701 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091
United States
505 577-2855 (Phone)
505 992-6885 (Fax)

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