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

Spring 2010

T C 302 • Punishment in a Liberal Society - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43535 MW
5:00 PM-6:30 PM
CRD 007A

Course Description

In this course, we will explore the place of punishment in a liberal society, that is, a society that claims to place a premium on individual liberty. 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:

• When is the state justified in prohibiting certain behavior under threat of punishment?
• What are the limitations of and constraints on that power?
• Can conduct be prohibited due solely to its perceived immorality?
• What are the permissible goals of criminal punishment, and by what means is society justified in seeking those goals?

In the process, we will consider the history of and philosophical justification for so-called "victimless crimes" prohibiting activities such as drug use, prostitution, gambling, assisted suicide, pornography, abortion, and unconventional sexual practices. We'll then explore traditional justifications for punishment (e.g., retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation) and examine how effectively the American criminal justice system achieves 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. We will consider such startegies as "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 disabled, 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.

Nota Bene: This course conflicts with a required course for Business Honors freshmen

Grading Policy

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


Duff & Garland (eds.), A Reader on Punishment
Dworkin, Morality, Harm and the Law
Feinberg, Harmless Wrongdoing
Gorr & Harwood (eds.), Crime and Punishment: Philosophical Explorations
Hart, Law, Liberty and Morality
Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration
Mappes & Zembaty (eds.) Social Ethics - Morality and Social Policy
Meier, Victimless Crime?: Prostitution, Drugs, Homosexuality, and Abortion
Mill, On Liberty
Schur & Bedau, Victimless Crimes

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.


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