Dick Wolf Goes to Law School: Integrating the Humanities into Courses on Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Evidence

17 Feb 2012 02:48pm David Alan Sklansky 

This piece was written for a program held by the American Association of Law Schools Section on Law and Humanities, "Excavating and Integrating Law and Humanities in the Core Curriculum," on January 5, 2012.

My assignment for this symposium is to discuss ways of integrating the humanities into the core law school courses on criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence-what you might call the Dick Wolf courses. In one respect the topic is trivial and almost meaningless. It is hard to come up with a sensible definition of the humanities that excludes much of what goes on all the time in a law school classroom: reading judicial decisions, trying to make sense of them, arguing about justice and fairness. We are a little in the position of Moliere's Bourgeois Gentleman, who discovered to his delight that he'd been speaking prose all his life without realizing it. There is another respect in which integrating the humanities into courses on criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence, while not trivial, is or should be uncontroversial. Precisely because the law addresses philosophical questions and responds to historical developments-and precisely because the law is itself an object of philosophical speculation and is itself a part of history-it is natural to take explicit note of philosophy and history in class. It is hard to teach criminal law or evidence law successfully without mentioning Jeremy Bentham. It is hard to teach the right to counsel properly without mentioning the Scottsboro Boys; hard to make Terry v. Ohio fully comprehensible without discussing the urban riots of the late 1960s and the Kerner Commission report; hard to do justice to the M'Naughten rule without at least touching on Daniel M'Naughten and the Chartists.

I am going to talk about integrating the humanities in a narrower sense: integrating the arts, and in particular literature and the performing arts. It's easier to do this in the Dick Wolf courses than in many other law school classes. Crime, policing, and trials are such staples of novels, plays, movies and television-even aside from the endlessly sprawling universe of Law & Order- that it is hard to think of much literature or dramatic art that doesn't touch, at least in passing, on criminal justice or trial procedure or both. Popular music, too, has a tendency to return again and again to issues of crime and punishment.

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