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

Robert Pitman

Other faculty


T C 302 • Punishment In Liberal Socty-W

43535 • Spring 2010
Meets MW 500pm-630pm CRD 007A
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TC 302 (43535) - Punishment in a Liberal Society
Spring 2010, M/W 5:00-6:30

Robert Pitman, Adjunct Professor of Law & United States Magistrate Judge                       
ph. 517-1300 (c), 916-5679 (o)
Office hours: by arrangement, very flexible

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 a society that claims to place primary value on individual liberty impose criminal sanctions on individual behavior?
- 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?

Put another way, we’ll consider the notion that “it’s a free country – it’s none of your business what I do as long as I’m not hurting anyone.”  That claim seems to resonate strongly in our culture, yet there is no shortage of examples of laws that seemingly contradict it - so-called “victimless crimes.”  We'll explore traditional justifications for punishment (e.g., retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation) and the legal processes that have been designed to effect those goals.  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 and certain prohibited sexual practices.  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 direct particular scrutiny to contemporary strategies including "three strikes" laws, mandatory minimum sentences, determinate sentencing, and guideline sentencing.  Although the course will be useful for those exploring an interest in the study of law, the subject matter is intended to have universal interest and relevance.

Syllabus key (required books):

On Liberty, Mill
C&P – Crime and Punishment, Gorr and Harwood
MHL - Morality, Harm and the Law, Dworkin
SRTBD – Selected readings to be distributed

I .Liberal Society and the Individual

1/20 – Introduction
1/25 – J.S. Mill, On Liberty
1/27 – Liberty and the Law, MHL pp. 26-35
2/1 – Community and Rights, MHL pp. 36-45, 60-90
2/3 – Harmless Wrongdoing, MHL pp. 46-59

II. Conceptions of Punishment

Utilitarianism, Incapacitation, Retribution, Deterrence, Rehabilitation

2/8 – Utilitarianism, C&P pp. 285-316
2/10 – Retribution, C&P pp. 317-355
2/ 15 - Incapacitation, C&P pp. 418-453
2/17 – Deterrence, SRTBD
2/22 - Rehabilitation, C&P pp. 356-391 PAPER #1 DUE

III .Criminalization of Particular Conduct


2/24 – C&P pp. 121-146
3/ 1 - SRTBD

Commercial Sex-Related Offenses – Pornography, Prostitution & Sexual Aids    

3/3  - C&P pp. 176-204, SRTBD
3/8  - SRTBD

Private Sex-Related Offenses – Homosexuality & Prohibited Heterosexual Practices  

3/10  -MHL pp. 93-133

3/15 Spring Break                                      
3/17 Spring Break


3/22 - (MHL 145-161) PAPER #2 DUE  


3/24 – MHL pp. 162-169, C&P pp. 80-103

Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia

3/29 – C&P pp. 147-170

 Abortion  ( SRTBD)


IV. Contemporary Systems of Punishment  (SRTBD)

4/14 - Open, Guideline Sentencing

4/19 - Determinate, Indeterminate Sentencing; PAPER # 3 DUE – Individual presentations

4/21 – “Three strikes” laws, mandatory minimum sentences


V. Imagining a comprehensive punishment model



Attendance is important.  If you know you will be absent for a class, you should email or call me prior to class, stating the reason for your absence.  You may miss two classes without penalty.  No more than two (2) absences will be allowed absent extraordinary circumstances.  If you are claiming an extraordinary circumstance for a third absence, the first two ought to have been involuntary.  In other words, save your absences for when you really need them.  For every unexcused absence over 2, your final grade will be reduced one full letter grade.


Class participation – 40%.    As disclosed in the course description, dynamic discussion is an important component of this tutorial, and registration in this course implies your agreement to be an active participant.  Participation must reflect careful reading of the assigned material and independent reflection.  At mid-semester, you may request an evaluation of your rating up to that point in the semester.  Class participation may include assigned oral presentations.

Essays – 60%.  3 papers of 8-10 pages.  Each essay will be equally weighted.  You may rewrite any essay once and the second grade will be recorded.

The University of Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Services for Students with Disabilities, at 471-6259, 471-6441 TTY.

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