Would You Convict?: Seventeen Cases That Challenged the Law [NOOK Book]


A police trooper inspects a car during a routine traffic stop and finds a vast cache of weapons, complete with automatic rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and black ski masks-a veritable bank robber's kit. Should the men in the car be charged? If so, with what?

A son neglects to care for his elderly mother, whose emaciated form is discovered shortly before she dies a painful death. Is the son's neglect punishable, and if so how?

A ...

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Would You Convict?: Seventeen Cases That Challenged the Law

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A police trooper inspects a car during a routine traffic stop and finds a vast cache of weapons, complete with automatic rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and black ski masks-a veritable bank robber's kit. Should the men in the car be charged? If so, with what?

A son neglects to care for his elderly mother, whose emaciated form is discovered shortly before she dies a painful death. Is the son's neglect punishable, and if so how?

A career con man writes one bad check too many and is sentenced to life in prison-for a check in the amount of $129.75. Is this just?

A thief steals a backpack, only to find it contains a terrorist bomb. He alerts the police and saves lives, transforming himself from petty criminal to national hero.

These are just a few of the many provocative cases that Paul Robinson presents and unravels in Would You Convict?

Judging crimes and meting out punishment has long been an informal national pasttime. High-profile crimes or particularly brutal ones invariably prompt endless debate, in newspapers, on television, in coffee shops, and on front porches. Our very nature inclines us to be armchair judges, freely waving our metaphorical gavels and opining as to the innocence or guilt-and suitable punishment-of alleged criminals.

Confronting this impulse, Paul Robinson here presents a series of unusual episodes that not only challenged the law, but that defy a facile or knee-jerk verdict. Narrating the facts in compelling, but detached detail, Robinson invites readers to sentence the transgressor (or not), before revealing the final outcome of the case.

The cases described in Would You Convict? engage, shock, even repel. Without a doubt, they will challenge you and your belief system. And the way in which juries and judges have resolved them will almost certainly surprise you.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Are bad intentions punishable by law? Should a criminal be absolved of a crime if, in the end, that crime somehow benefits society? Is ignorance of the law an excuse for breaking it? The courts grapple with such issues daily. To maintain its moral credibility, argues Robinson (law, Northwestern Univ.), criminal law must guard against any wide discrepancies between deserved and imposed punishment. Here he offers 17 cases that have challenged the law's credibility, giving readers the chance to compare their decisions with those of several hundred persons he has polled and with the decisions of the courts. The result is fascinating reading. However, with almost a third of the book devoted to an appendix of applicable statutes and with a somewhat academic discussion of each case, this is really not suited to the average Court TV fan. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.--Jim G. Burns, Ottumwa P.L., IA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Robinson (law, Northwestern U.) presents 17 challenging and provocative cases, both recent and historical, that defy easy decisions. He describes each situation and invites the reader to "sentence" the transgressor, then provides the final outcome of the case to shed light on how the legal system worked in each case, for better or for worse. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
”Fascinating reading."

-Library Journal

"Paul Robinson's writings have established him as the preeminent authority on what American criminal law is and on what the American public thinks of its criminal law. Would You Convict? Masterfully combines his two fields of expertise. Legal scholars, law students, and ordinary citizens will all benefit immensely from this work."

-Dan M. Kahan,Professor of Law, Yale University

"In this captivating book, Paul Robinson brings to life the central problems of the criminal law in a most unusual way. He confronts his readers with a cross-section of the most perplexing cases the law has to contend with (robbers armed to the hilt for a ‘job', but arrested long before they have had a chance to decide what that ‘job' is going to be; or a killer whose victim ends up dying in a way the killer never foresaw) and tries to get them to ‘solve' the case before revealing how the law has actually dealt with it. Then, based on his earlier pioneering research into popular perceptions of justice, he is able to tell readers how their peers would have judged the same case. It's a book that should appeal to the academic, the student and the general reader alike."

-Leo Katz,author of Ill-Gotten Gains: Evasion, Fraud, and Kindred Puzzles of the Law

"Anyone interested in law will enjoy this book. . . . Highly recommended."


"Paul Robinson, one of our most distinguished scholars for criminal law, has found a novel mode for both communicating the law to lay people and for integrating popular sentiments into the process of law reform. Everyone interested in the problems of moral and criminal responsibility should read this book, formulate a view about the issues, and discuss the problems with others. Make your view heard and the law will become more just!"

-George P. Fletcher,Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence, Columbia University, and author of A Crime of Self-Defense: Bernhard Goetz and the Law on Trial

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814769805
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1999
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,395,436
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

One of the nation's leading criminal justice experts, Paul H. Robinson has written influential commentary for the New York Times (on the Unabomber case), the Wall Street Journal (on the beating of Reginald Denny after the O.J. verdict), and for Atlantic Monthly. The author of several books, he is currently the Edna B. and Ednyfed H. Williams Professor of Law at Northwestern University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Prologue 1
1 Punishing Intent, Harm, or Dangerousness? 3
Are Evil Intentions a Crime? 3
People's Intuitions of Justice 8
The Law's Rules 9
Background 9
The Aftermath 11
Attempt versus the Complete Offense: The Significance of Resulting Harm 19
Can Father and Daughter Kill the Same Man Twice? 20
People's Intuitions of Justice 21
More Facts 22
People's Intuitions of Justice 23
The Law's Rules 25
The Aftermath 25
Murder versus Attempted Murder: The Significance of Resulting Harm 27
The Final Outcome 28
The Requirements of Criminal Liability 28
Life Imprisonment for Air Conditioning Fraud? 28
People's Intuitions of Justice 31
Trial and Sentence 32
Punishing Dangerousness: Cloaking Preventive Detention as Criminal Justice 32
The Appeal 37
The Cost of Undercutting the Criminal Law's Moral Credibility 37
The Final Outcome 40
Segregating Preventive Detention from Criminal Justice 41
2 Knowing the Law's Commands 44
The Congenial Cadaver 44
People's Intuitions of Justice 50
The Legality Principle and Its Rationales 50
The Aftermath 52
Today 53
When Can an Officer Carry a Gun? 54
People's Intuitions of Justice 56
The Law 57
At Trial 73
At Trial Again: Ignorance or Mistake of Law Is No Excuse 74
Acquitting the Bakers but Convicting the Marreros? 74
Communicating the Criminal Law's Commands 76
The Outcome 76
Legality in Omission Offenses 78
Neglecting Mom ... to Death 78
People's Intuitions of Justice 81
The Charge 81
The Law's Reluctance to Impose Duties 82
The Outcome 83
Today 84
Striking the Proper Balance between Legality and Justice 84
Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers? 85
The Law 87
Ignorance of Law an Excuse? 88
People's Intuitions of Justice 89
The Aftermath 90
The Problem of Discretion 90
Same Facts, Different Perspective 91
The Virtues of Legality 95
Finishing the Story 96
3 Can Committing a Crime Be Doing the Right Thing? 97
Escaping the Prisoners 97
The Law's Rules 103
The Trial and Sentence 104
The Defense's Problems 105
On Appeal 106
People's Intuitions of Justice 107
The Green Case under the Criminal Law of Other States 107
The Final Outcome 109
Killing for Apples 110
The Law's Rule 113
The Trial and Appeal 114
People's Intuitions of Justice 115
Another Look at Ignorance of the Law 116
The Right Deed for the Wrong Reason 123
Disagreement in the Law 125
People's Intuitions of Justice 127
The Outcome 127
A Terrorist's Right to Resist the Thief? 129
Today 130
4 Can Doing the Wrong Thing Ever Be Blameless? 132
Loving, Killing Parents 132
At Trial 137
The Law's Challenge 138
The Outcome 140
People's Intuitions of Justice 140
Adjudicating Blameworthiness versus Announcing Rules of Conduct 141
The Sentence 142
Killing a Sleeping Abuser 142
The Law's Challenge, Again 147
The Aftermath 148
Battered Spouse Syndrome 149
The Trial 150
The Matters Relevant to Justice 150
The Appeal 151
The All-or-Nothing Disagreement 152
On Remand 153
People's Intuitions of Justice 153
The Law's Unmet Challenge 154
The Pedophile Within 155
The Law's Rules 159
People's Intuitions of Justice 162
The Trial 162
On Appeal 163
The American View 164
Today 166
Picking Clean Drunks 166
The Law's Rules 170
People's Intuitions of Justice 171
Legal Conflict over the Reno Decoy Operation 171
The Peculiar Entrapment Defense 173
The Outcome 174
Legal Disagreements over Entrapment 175
The Aftermath 176
Who Will Explain to Kingston Why Hawkins Gets Off but He Goes to Jail? 176
5 Martyrs for Our Safety 178
A Farm Boy's Treason? 179
The Power of Coercive Indoctrination 181
Richard's Return 183
People's Intuitions of Justice 185
The Law's Rules 186
Finishing the Story 189
Of Hippies and Bread Trucks: The Abused Learns to Abuse 191
Alex Cabarga and Richard Tenneson 196
People's Intuitions of Justice 198
The Trial and Sentence 199
The Problem of Discretion 199
Desert versus Dangerousness 201
Today 204
Growing Up Gang: The Short, Violent Life of Robert Sandifer 206
People's Intuitions of Justice 209
Robert Sandifer and Alex Cabarga 210
The Aftermath 213
Desert versus Dangerousness, Again 215
Epilogue 217
Appendix Governing Law, Then and Now 219
Index 321
About the Author 328
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