Every semester, when I get to the section of my class where I discuss landmark cases, I see my students automatically groan and yawn as they fall asleep. I am not a lawyer, and I don’t try to be. However, cases are still very important in every criminal justice course, even 101!
How can we make this a little more fun?
I don’t view the cases as cases. They are storytelling to me.
The case notes should not be placed on the board. The name of the case should be written on the board or in your PowerPoint. Mapp v. Ohio is an example of one of my favorite cases.
All my students see on the screen is Mapp v. Ohio. Perhaps a picture.
I walk up to the front of the class, and I even say “Now let me tell you something.” I want them listen to me, not write notes behind me on the board. This is vital.
Here’s my story.
Dollree Mapp is the woman in this photo. Dollree Mapp was visited by three officers in Cleveland, Ohio in May 1957. They weren’t looking for her; they were looking to find a man to inquire about a bombing. Ms. Mapp refused to let the officers into her home. Instead, she requested a warrant which they were unable to produce. They soon returned with additional officers, who presented her with a piece of paper that they claimed was a search warrant. Dollree knew better. However, when she took the paper from the officers, they quickly handcuffed Dollree and searched her entire home looking for the man.
They eventually found their way to the basement where they discovered some naughty material. Dollree was arrested by the officers, even though she claimed that the pornography was not hers. She was convicted of obscenity. Her case was eventually taken to the supreme court. It seemed to challenge first amendment rights, yaknow, porn and all. In June 1961, however, the justices ruled that it was not a first- amendment issue but a fourth- amendment issue. The justices ruled that the materials were illegally obtained by police and could not be used against Ms. Mapp in court. This landmark decision is still referred back to today. ”
It doesn’t have to be boring. My students retain the information by telling the story and putting a face on the name. Talk about any other issues you may have. For example, race relations, gender and the difference between an arrest warrant and a search warrant.
Your students will be interested in your stories and you should be prepared to answer any question. You won’t have the time to answer every question for all the cases that you must discuss. I promise, if you do it for the most important cases, they will remember.