William and Mary Law School

Criminal Law

Joe on Criminal Lawby Joe Harrison, 1L

Inside Criminal Law: What Matters and Why (2nd ed.)

John M. Burkoff and Russell L. Weaver
KF9219 .B83 2011
Inside the Law Series

Like the Mastering and Understanding series, this study aid covers all of the basic concepts in criminal law. In my reading I found that there are two major differences worth mentioning. First, the presentation in this book is way ahead of its competition. Inside Criminal Law is chock full of helpful sidebars and boxes that link ideas from different chapters and subsections together. The editors clearly wanted to make this book as easy and attractive to read as possible; it almost seems more like an undergraduate textbook than a typical legal hornbook. The downside however, is that this presentation does not overcome the fact that this book is simply not as thorough as the other two hornbooks I looked at. If you are going to spend the time to read a hornbook I would recommend both Understanding and Mastering over this. That being said, if those books are not available or you their bland presentation is making your eyes bleed, Inside Criminal Law is still definitely worth a look.

Understanding Criminal Law (6th ed.)

Joshua Dressler
KF9219 .D74 2012
Understanding Series

The Understanding is an excellent source of general information about criminal law. One of its main advantages over the other study aids, particularly the outlines, is the depth of information provided. If you are looking for thorough exposition and don’t want to see ideas broken down into smaller, discrete pieces like in an outline, this is a very good choice. It presents and explains all of the major concepts for each topic in the course but does so without being overwhelming or incomprehensible. I found Dressler’s writing to be clear and easy to follow. That being said, it is still a textbook and at 596 pages reading it cover to cover may not be a convenient option for many. I would primarily recommend it for help with topics you are struggling with in your studying/outlining. Short of speaking to your professor or TA, this book is probably your best bet for understanding topics you completely missed the first time around.

Mastering Criminal Law

Ellen S. Podgor, Peter J. Henning, and Neil P. Cohen
KF9219 .P63 2008
Mastering Series

I won’t spend much time on this book as it is quite similar to Understanding Criminal Law, except to say I personally found the writing in the Understanding to be slightly clearer, and the topics were covered with a bit more depth. But the Mastering also comes in at 424 pages, making it more manageable for those looking to read more than just one topic at a time. Differences aside, both books are solid choices and perform the same function so don’t hesitate to pick up Mastering Criminal Law.

Criminal Law (4th ed.)

Steven L. Emanuel
KF9219.3 .E44 2010
CrunchTime Series

This study aid is another outline, similar in format to Gilbert but much more condensed, hence the CrunchTime title. This book starts off with a series of flowcharts that cover every major topic in criminal law. While this may sound appealing, in practice it can be an unholy mess. The chart for murder for instance took up three pages, meaning that to make sense of it you have to constantly flip back and forth. Murder is a big topic in criminal law so this does make sense to an extent, but then why not make separate charts for the different types of murder? People who are primarily visual learners might still find these useful but it does take some time to make sense of them. The actual outline itself is good although I prefer the more extensive version found in Gilbert. Still, I am sure some readers will be looking for something more concise and this definitely fits that bill. The last thing to point out is that this includes a respectable number of hypos, which I found to be very helpful. I would recommend CrunchTime to anyone who absolutely needs to see things in flow chart form to understand them or to anyone to wants a concise outline with some good hypos thrown in.

Criminal Law (18th ed.)

George E. Dix
KF9219.3 .R88 2010
Gilbert Law Summaries

The Gilbert is a great comprehensive study guide that I would recommend to pretty much anyone taking criminal law. It basically takes the shape of a giant outline, breaking topics down into subsections with clear, paragraph length explanations. One positive is that it contains a ton of flowcharts, tables, and examples and explanations in every chapter. While these are great by themselves, what puts it over the top for me is that they are all integrated into the relevant chapters. This means that you get plenty of reinforcement and application as you move through the different concepts. Gilbert also has capsule summaries in the beginning which could serve as a useful primer before you start reading. There is also a review section at the end and a practice text with answer explanations. While it’s definitely better to look at old exams that your professors have actually given, these sections were by no means bad and could be worth a look. Overall, this book is an amazing all-around study aid that’s difficult to find issue with.

Criminal Law Lectures on Audio CD

Charles Whitebread
KF9219.3 .W45 2005 AUDIO
Law School Legends Series

My opinion on these lectures boils down to this: if you are a skilled multitasker then you should check them out, put the files on your laptop and play them when you’re doing something else. You can get some studying done while watching television, checking Facebook, cleaning your room, etc. Personally, I am not the type of person who can absorb information that way, and I am not sure they are worth it to just sit there and listen to. The reason I say this is that the professor’s voice is utterly ridiculous; I understand that professor Whitebread is highly respected but I still think he sounds eerily similar to Yosemite Sam. It’s actually almost funny at first but it gets old fast and if you aren’t doing something else while you listen it is downright grating. As for the lectures themselves, they are definitely informative but they are not real law lectures as that would necessarily involve class discussion. These are concise lectures meant to get the major points of criminal law across in about four hours combined. I would prefer to just read an outline like Gilbert or even a hornbook if all I am getting is the basic ideas but as I mentioned I am not a multitasker. For those of you who are (which I am assuming is the vast majority) these lectures can be a useful aid when combined with something else.

The Glannon Guide to Criminal Law (2nd ed.)

Laurie L. Levenson
KF9219.85 .L477 2009
Glannon Guide Series

The Glannon Guide covers topics in criminal law by providing basic introductory information in every chapter and then moving into multiple choice questions that apply that information. The questions are pretty broad and are meant primarily as a teaching tool. Those looking for challenging questions on topics they already feel comfortable with should probably skip this and grab one of the Examples & Explanations books, instead. After the question the book moves through the possible answers and explains why each is right or wrong. This approach will definitely keep you more engaged in the material, especially when compared to the nonstop exposition of the hornbooks. It is also helpful that this format forces you to immediately apply concepts you’ve just learned to a hypo instead of just letting them stagnate. The Glannon Guide is a good overall choice, particularly for people who want something more informative than an E&E, but more engaging than a hornbook.

Criminal Law (6th ed.)

Richard G. Singer
KF9219.85 .S58 2013
Examples & Explanations Series

This is the study aid you want if you are purely looking to test yourself. The questions in this book are the best out of any of the books I’ve looked at and there are plenty of them to keep you busy. Each section contains a brief overview of the topic and then several pages of questions followed by in-depth explanations of all the answers. The questions I went through did a good job of bringing up different concepts from the chapter and the sheer repetition they collectively provide really helps drive those concepts home. It would be next to impossible to go through a chapter in this book and not come out with at least a slightly better understanding of that part of criminal law. With that being said, I found the introductory sections to be fairly lackluster, especially considering the other options available. For instance, the chapter on murder made no mention of intent to commit grievous bodily injury and only passing mention of depraved heart murder, which are both topics that my professor spent a noticeable amount of class time on. Despite this, the reason you’ll be checking this book out is for the example questions and answers anyway, and that is the area where the book excels.