Law students are often asked to write essays, either on assigned or chosen topics, or in response to specific questions. In addition, the bar exam for most states includes an essay section. Criminal law essay assignments are designed to ensure that students understand the laws of their state, and of the nation, and that they know how to use them in a criminal case.
Read the question
Read the question or essay topic carefully. Criminal law topics are often complex and involve many angles and points of view. Make a list of all secondary questions posed within the main question, or all angles of approach to your topic. Determine whether you are being asked to provide an argument of defense, an argument of prosecution or simply an overview of existing law.
Research all case law that applies to your topic. Expect to spend time in your local law library and on the Internet. Write down the name of the case, such as “Miranda v Arizona.” Also record the year and state in which the decision was rendered.
Address each question
Address each question separately and in order if you are responding to a multi-part question. Finish your answer for each section completely before beginning the next. If an answer relates to a previous question, you may refer back to your previous answer.
Structure your essay as a law brief unless the professor instructs you to do otherwise. While most essays consist of sentences and paragraphs that transition naturally, law briefs are divided using outline style. General answers to each posited question should be marked with a Roman numeral. Denote supporting points with a capital letter and indent each section.
Present possible arguments by opposing council if you are writing a position or argument essay. Posit the other sides’ likely response and how you can counter those responses.
Summarize your position
Summarize your position by highlighting the main points of your argument, as you would in a closing statement.
While criminal law is often subject to individual interpretation, neither the courts nor your professor will be impressed with your interpretations if you cannot cite existing precedents to back up your position.