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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2007

T C 301 • Punishment in a Liberal Society

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
44640 MW
5:00 PM-6:30 PM
CRD 007A

Course Description

This course will examine the place of punishment in a liberal society. By means of historical, philosophical, and legal analysis the course will attempt to answer the following fundamental questions with respect to the American criminal justice system:

- On what grounds may the state impose criminal sanctions on the behavior of individuals?
- What are the limitations of and constraints on that power?
- What are the permissible goals of criminal punishment, and by what means is society justified in seeking those goals?

In the process, we will investigate the history of and philosophical justification for so-called "victimless crimes" prohibiting activities such as gambling, drug use, prostitution, assisted suicide, pornography, flag burning, and certain sexual practices. We'll then explore traditional justifications for punishment (e.g., retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation) and the legal processes that have been designed to affect those goals. Students will be challenged to evaluate contemporary systems of punishment for legitimacy, coherence and fairness, as well as compliance with cultural and constitutional constraints. Strategies to be considered include "three strikes" laws, mandatory minimum sentences, determinate sentencing, and guideline sentencing. Particular attention will be directed at contemporary issues such as the war on drugs, the death penalty, and the treatment of juveniles, the mentally retarded, and the mentally ill. Although the course will be particularly useful for those exploring an interest in the study of law, the subject matter is intended to have universal interest and relevance.

About the Professor

The Honorable Robert Pitman is a United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Texas, sitting in the Austin Division. Prior to being appointed to the bench, Judge Pitman was with the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas. During his tenure there, he served in a variety of positions, including that of the United States Attorney. He has prosecuted and supervised the investigation of a wide variety of federal crimes, including white collar, drug trafficking, and violent offenses. He also served a special detail to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He holds a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.

Grading Policy

Students will be required to write three analytical essays (6-8 pages each) and a take-home final examination. The essays may be re-written at any time for a new grade, which will be averaged with the initial grade. Class participation is a vital component of this course. A casual and unstructured seminar atmosphere is intended to encourage free and vigorous discussion of potentially controversial subjects, and will benefit from openness and a willingness to examine and challenge personal beliefs and those of classmates. Registration in this course implies an intention to attend faithfully and be a contributing member of this enterprise.

Three analytical essays: 60%
Final examination: 15%
Class participation: 25%


Ezorsky, Philosophical Perspectives on Punishment
Geis, Not the Law's Business: An Examination of Homosexuality, Abortion, Prostitution, Narcotics and Gambling in the U.S.
Gorr & Harwood (eds.), Crime and Punishment: Philosophical Explorations
Hart, Law, Liberty and Morality
Hibbert, The Roots of Evil: A Social History of Crime and Punishment
Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration
Meier, Victimless Crime?: Prostitution, Drugs, Homosexuality, and Abortion
Mill, On Liberty
Schur & Bedau, Victimless Crimes


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