Cover image for Would you convict? : seventeen cases that challenged the law
Would you convict? : seventeen cases that challenged the law
Robinson, Paul H., 1948-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 329 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF9218 .R634 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

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 Rodney King 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

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

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.ÄJim G. Burns, Ottumwa P.L., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Anyone interested in law will enjoy this book. Robinson presents 17 cases that push law into situations many people find confusing. The cases are presented in intriguing format in five chapters with titles such as "Can Committing a Crime Be Doing the Right Thing?" and "Can Doing the Wrong Thing Ever Be Blameless?" The cases have titles such as "Can Father and Daughter Kill the Same Man Twice?" "Life Imprisonment for Air Conditioning Fraud?" and "The Congenial Cadaver." Each case begins with a general description of the "facts." At that point, the reader has an opportunity to act as a member of a jury. Given the background information, would the reader find a defendant criminally liable and, if so, what punishment, if any, would be recommended? The format enables readers to test their commonsense assumptions about how the law should work, or how they think it works. Robinson then develops the case in greater detail and explains how the people he surveyed would have decided it. Other elements about the law and the conclusion about the case or the people involved are presented. An appendix examines the law at the time of each trial and reveals legal changes that would apply if the case were tried today. Highly recommended for all libraries. M. A. Foley; Marywood University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prologuep. 1
1 Punishing Intent, Harm, or Dangerousness?p. 3
Are Evil Intentions a Crime?p. 3
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 8
The Law's Rulesp. 9
Backgroundp. 9
The Aftermathp. 11
Attempt versus the Complete Offense: The Significance of Resulting Harmp. 19
Can Father and Daughter Kill the Same Man Twice?p. 20
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 21
More Factsp. 22
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 23
The Law's Rulesp. 25
The Aftermathp. 25
Murder versus Attempted Murder: The Significance of Resulting Harmp. 27
The Final Outcomep. 28
The Requirements of Criminal Liabilityp. 28
Life Imprisonment for Air Conditioning Fraud?p. 28
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 31
Trial and Sentencep. 32
Punishing Dangerousness: Cloaking Preventive Detention as Criminal Justicep. 32
The Appealp. 37
The Cost of Undercutting the Criminal Law's Moral Credibilityp. 37
The Final Outcomep. 40
Segregating Preventive Detention from Criminal Justicep. 41
2 Knowing the Law's Commandsp. 44
The Congenial Cadaverp. 44
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 50
The Legality Principle and Its Rationalesp. 50
The Aftermathp. 52
Todayp. 53
When Can an Officer Carry a Gun?p. 54
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 56
The Lawp. 57
At Trialp. 73
At Trial Again: Ignorance or Mistake of Law Is No Excusep. 74
Acquitting the Bakers but Convicting the Marreros?p. 74
Communicating the Criminal Law's Commandsp. 76
The Outcomep. 76
Legality in Omission Offensesp. 78
Neglecting Mom ... to Deathp. 78
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 81
The Chargep. 81
The Law's Reluctance to Impose Dutiesp. 82
The Outcomep. 83
Todayp. 84
Striking the Proper Balance between Legality and Justicep. 84
Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers?p. 85
The Lawp. 87
Ignorance of Law an Excuse?p. 88
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 89
The Aftermathp. 90
The Problem of Discretionp. 90
Same Facts, Different Perspectivep. 91
The Virtues of Legalityp. 95
Finishing the Storyp. 96
3 Can Committing a Crime Be Doing the Right Thing?p. 97
Escaping the Prisonersp. 97
The Law's Rulesp. 103
The Trial and Sentencep. 104
The Defense's Problemsp. 105
On Appealp. 106
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 107
The Green Case under the Criminal Law of Other Statesp. 107
The Final Outcomep. 109
Killing for Applesp. 110
The Law's Rulep. 113
The Trial and Appealp. 114
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 115
Another Look at Ignorance of the Lawp. 116
The Right Deed for the Wrong Reasonp. 123
Disagreement in the Lawp. 125
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 127
The Outcomep. 127
A Terrorist's Right to Resist the Thief?p. 129
Todayp. 130
4 Can Doing the Wrong Thing Ever Be Blameless?p. 132
Loving, Killing Parentsp. 132
At Trialp. 137
The Law's Challengep. 138
The Outcomep. 140
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 140
Adjudicating Blameworthiness versus Announcing Rules of Conductp. 141
The Sentencep. 142
Killing a Sleeping Abuserp. 142
The Law's Challenge, Againp. 147
The Aftermathp. 148
Battered Spouse Syndromep. 149
The Trialp. 150
The Matters Relevant to Justicep. 150
The Appealp. 151
The All-or-Nothing Disagreementp. 152
On Remandp. 153
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 153
The Law's Unmet Challengep. 154
The Pedophile Withinp. 155
The Law's Rulesp. 159
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 162
The Trialp. 162
On Appealp. 163
The American Viewp. 164
Todayp. 166
Picking Clean Drunksp. 166
The Law's Rulesp. 170
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 171
Legal Conflict over the Reno Decoy Operationp. 171
The Peculiar Entrapment Defensep. 173
The Outcomep. 174
Legal Disagreements over Entrapmentp. 175
The Aftermathp. 176
Who Will Explain to Kingston Why Hawkins Gets Off but He Goes to Jail?p. 176
5 Martyrs for Our Safetyp. 178
A Farm Boy's Treason?p. 179
The Power of Coercive Indoctrinationp. 181
Richard's Returnp. 183
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 185
The Law's Rulesp. 186
Finishing the Storyp. 189
Of Hippies and Bread Trucks: The Abused Learns to Abusep. 191
Alex Cabarga and Richard Tennesonp. 196
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 198
The Trial and Sentencep. 199
The Problem of Discretionp. 199
Desert versus Dangerousnessp. 201
Todayp. 204
Growing Up Gang: The Short, Violent Life of Robert Sandiferp. 206
People's Intuitions of Justicep. 209
Robert Sandifer and Alex Cabargap. 210
The Aftermathp. 213
Desert versus Dangerousness, Againp. 215
Epiloguep. 217
Appendix Governing Law, Then and Nowp. 219
Indexp. 321
About the Authorp. 328