Lawyers who prosecute criminal defendants or defend the accused of criminal charges confront some of the most pressing, and important, issues in our legal system—the issues that involve the government, on behalf of the people, taking away a criminal defendant’s liberty, or possibly, their life. Because of these potential consequences, our criminal law system attempts to balance the government’s interest in deterring and punishing crime with the rights of the accused by, for example, requiring due process of law and that the government prove any charges "beyond a reasonable doubt."
While criminal law has its own rules of evidence and procedure, the practice overlaps with Constitutional Law and Civil Rights and Anti-Discrimination Law as constitutional and civil rights conflicts can (and often do) arise whenever the government charges an individual with a crime.
Some students who are interested in practicing criminal law start by working either in prosecutor or public defender offices. Many of these students climb the career ladder within their respective offices. Others move into related criminal law practices, such as private criminal defense firms or within a government agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (or its state counterparts), the Drug Enforcement Agency or even police departments. While less frequent, experienced criminal lawyers may find opportunities to engage in legislation and lobbying-related advocacy, such as on behalf of prisoners’ or victims’ rights.
Courses designated as "primary" are foundational, while those listed as "secondary" contain relevant and related content. "Co-curricular" courses are credit-bearing extra-curricular activities, while "experiential" courses are practice-based offerings. Please keep in mind that the focus of any course will vary depending on the instructor.