Case Briefs - Very Short
Case Briefs - in Depth
Welcome to Criminal Procedure. There are several case briefs that are required in this class, which many students find difficult. Here are so tips for completing these assignments.
1. Read the case. They are long, technical, and difficult reading, but the only way to get used to them and begin to understand them is by reading them. As you read, pay attention to the issues you will need for the case brief, and make sure you understand how the case arrived at the court and what the lower court ruled. Take Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U. S. 643 (1961), where the U.S. Supreme Court decision reads, "The judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio is reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion." If you do not know how the Ohio Supreme Court ruled, you cannot understand the decision. Reading the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision will explain all of that.
2. Title. List the full case name and citation. "367 U. S. 643 (1961)" is the official citation for Mapp v. Ohio--list the unofficial citations if you have them.
3. Facts. Within
the case will be the facts of the case, or what actions (by the police,
the defendant, the trial court judge, or the witnesses) brought this
case to be appealed. In your own words, summarize those facts so the reader knows how this case could relate to other similar cases.
4. Issue. In your own words, list the main issue before the court. Show this as a yes/no question, something like this: "Can evidence obtained in violation of the U.S. Fourth Amendment be admissible in a state court?" You will recall that prior to Mapp, the answer was yes; after Mapp, the answer is no. The justice writing the opinion sometimes makes the issue very clear at the beginning of the decision, while other times, you have to go search for it.
Don't get side-tracked by the minutia. Sometimes
there will be several issues before the court, but only one is
meaningful. For instance, the appellant may complain that he had
ineffective counsel, the trial court judge refused a jury instruction
the defense wanted, and the law under which he was convicted was
unconstitutional. If the justices deny the first two complaints
and affirm the last, then the only relevant "issue" is whether the law
5. Holding. How did the court decide the issue question? This should be brief. "No, evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used in a state court trial."
6. Reasoning. This is where you show whether you really understand this opinion. How did the justices come to the holding? Did they overturn their own prior holding? Are theyrelying on a new interpretation of the Constitution or has there been new legislation that affected their decision? Explain why the justices decided as they did.
7. Dissenting opinions. These should be included if they are substantial and well reasoned. Some justices are just habitual complainers when they lose and they hash over the same old reasons why they should control theopinion. Other justices are very persuasive and are used many years later to justify a reversal of the current decision. For now, just include a short recap of the dissenting justices so we know that there was disagreement int he court.
8. See the links I have provided on the left. If you have questions, contact me.