Criminal Law Seminar: Race and Criminal Justice System

Course Description

With so much attention given to teaching students about the institution of legalized slavery, this course devotes the first 2-3 classes to provide a historical foundation for understanding today’s critical race and race discrimination criminal issues. We begin with the Supreme Court “self-inflicted” 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford where the nation’s highest court upheld the constitutionality of slavery. While painful and difficult reading, the Dred Scott reasoning contrasts sharply with week two’s coverage of Reconstruction legislation that followed the Civil War when the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment’s guarantee of freedom rights (1865) and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship, equal protection and due process rights. These first weeks provide a historical foundation for exploring racism and race discrimination in states and the federal criminal system today.

We devote the next seven weeks discussing such contemporary issues as over-incarceration, racially motivated violence, the all-white jury system and exclusion of people of color from juries, racial profiling and Fourth Amendment stops and seizures, money bail and pretrial incarceration, denying counsel at felony and misdemeanor trials, sentencing and punishment schemes that target incarceration of Black, Brown and poor people, and the death penalty including the extra-judicial lynch mob. Throughout the semester, we include video segments from Eyes on the Prize, journalistic reports, Ava Duverney’s documentary on the 13th Amendment and material from Michele Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and others.

During the last 3-4 classes, each student is given the opportunity to share and highlight their research and ideas on specific topics that fulfill the written course requirement. With faculty approval, papers submitted for seminar may fulfill the Advance Writing certification requirement.

Current and Previous Instructors

Key to Codes in Course Descriptions

P: Prerequisite
C: Prerequisite or Concurrent Requirement
R: Recommended Prior or Concurrent Course

Currently Scheduled Sections

CRN: 29247

  • Spring '24
  • 3
  • 307
  • Tues: 6:30-9:15


  • Douglas Colbert

  • 3 openings. (Limit 14).
  • 546F

  • Materials to be posted on Blackboard or distributed in class