The Penal Law Web attempts to harness web technology to capture the structure, diversity, and scope of modern penal law. Through hyperlinks and frame-based comparers, the Law Web allows users to explore the connections within a given system of criminal law, as well as across different systems. At the same time, the Web's focus extends beyond the core of penal law—including serious crimes such as homicide, robbery, and rape—to the everexpanding periphery of regulatory offenses, which has long threatened to become the exception that swallows the rule.
The Penal Law Web is part of a broad integrated program to reform American penal law teaching, scholarship, and practice. If you'd like to learn more about this program and the Penal Law Web's place within it, you can download "Reforming American Penal Law," with hyperlinks (in Word) and without (in pdf). The program also has been published at 90 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 49 (1999) (click here for a reprint). "Penal Panopticon: The Idea of a Modern Model Penal Code," an article exploring, among other things, the Web's role in modern penal legislation is also available (in pdf). This paper appears in the Buffalo Criminal Law Review's Model Penal Code Symposium (2000).
The Penal Law Web currently covers only one aspect of the system of penal law, substantive criminal law. Ideally, penal law will be integrated in its entirety, reaching from the definition of penal norms (the province of substantive criminal law) to their imposition (the law of criminal procedure) and, finally and most importantly, the actual infliction of punishment for their violation (prison or correction law). A comprehensive overview, including a flowchart, depicting the last two, applicational rather than definitional, aspects of the penal process, is available here.
Continuously updated to reflect recent developments in penal law, the Penal Law Web currently includes:
The Penal Law Web is designed as a resource for teachers, students, scholars, legislators, lawyers & judges, as well as for the interested public, in the United States and elsewhere.
In preparing for class, the teacher may select code sections or court opinions to illustrate certain points during her prepared presentation. In class, the Penal Law Web then can be projected onto a screen, using a computer with internet access to select from the Law Web’s various components. In addition to supplementing her presentation with selections from the Web, the teacher would also be free to draw on the Web’s collection of materials to illustrate and pursue an unanticipated line of inquiry or to frame and address a student’s question. For example, as a student's comment hints at a distinction between the insanity defense in federal and California law, the teacher might use the Penal Code Comparer to pull up the relevant sections of each jurisdiction's code on a split screen and then explore their structure and content in detail, in front of and for the benefit of the entire class. Similarly, she might drive home the historical foundation of the Federal Criminal Code’s definition of insanity by using the code/case comparison function to display, side by side, the relevant provision in Title 18 and the highlighted passage in the 1843 English case of M’Naghten upon which it is based.
By integrating its comprehensive collection of penal law materials into an analytic and a topical structure, the Penal Law Web helps students fit individual rules into a larger context, without sacrificing the scope or complexity of modern penal law. Since the Penal Law Web is available at any time, students can use it to prepare for class, as well as to review the materials after class and to prepare for the exam. Some students print out the reading assignments once before class and mark up their copy with comments, then print out another clean version for detailed notetaking in class. Students also take advantage of the dynamic features of the site, including the comparers and the hyperlinks interconnecting the codes, cases, and commentary throughout the Penal Law Web. In this way, they can on their own time and at their own pace appreciate and explore conceptual connections within a given body of law or across jurisdictional lines. This out-of-class work enhances students’ understanding of the subject as well as the quality of class discussions. The Web's various structural features have proved particularly useful in the preparation of outlines for the review of the subject in preparation for an exam.
The use of the code-based, comparative Penal Law Web to any scholar exploring a comparative approach to penal law, domestically or internationally, is apparent. She will find the Penal Code Comparer, as well as the comparative chart of analytic structures and modes of culpability, of particular interest. By capturing the tremendous variety and scope of modern penal law within a given jurisdiction, the Penal Law Web encourages even the scholar whose research interest is confined to a single jurisdiction to expand her inquiry beyond the traditional heartland of American penal law, the general part as applied to the law of homicide, to the continuously expanding mass of regulatory offenses.
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