Criminal Justice in America, Fall 2022

What are the fundamental features of criminal justice in the United States?

This question drives Prof. Grunewald’s course, Legal Studies 131: Criminal Justice in America, an introduction into the criminal justice system in the United States. Through an interdisciplinary prism, the course addresses social and legal implications of the various stages a typical case moves through, beginning with issues of policing, like the requirements for searches and seizures, to the moment when an individual reenters society after a prison sentence. Throughout the course, themes like factual vs. legal truth, public safety vs. individual rights, and differing conceptions of justice are exposed and discussed. Students will learn to think critically about law as a system and how tightly interwoven legal doctrine and people’s convictions about justice are. Students will develop competencies that prepare them for future critical legal studies—especially from a humanistic perspective.


LEGAL STUDIES 131/SOCIOLOGY 131: Criminal Justice in America

Class Number: 152334
Credits, MW 2:30-3:45 lecture, plus discussion section
Requisites: None
Course Designation: Social Science
Level: Elementary
L&S Credit: Counts as Liberal Arts and Science credit in L&S

Mode of Instruction: In Person

Ralph Grunewald

Prof. Ralph Grunewald was introduced as a Mellon-Morgridge Professor in the Fall of 2022. He is a member of the English Department and the Center for Law, Society, and Justice.

Much of Dr. Grunewald’s work addresses fundamental questions of how truth, guilt, and justice are interconnected in different justice systems. His approach is interdisciplinary, combining legal and humanities scholarship. In his new book, Narratives of Guilt and Innocence: The Power of Storytelling in Wrongful Conviction Cases (New York University Press, forthcoming), Dr. Grunewald analyzes how narrativization (the way “facts” and “stories” are told) in the criminal process affects the outcome of a case, potentially leading to wrongful convictions. His fall 2022 Constellation course, Criminal Justice in America, is an introduction into the criminal justice system in the United States, focusing on timely and pertinent questions and inspiring students to think critically about the law as a human-made system.

His 2023 Constellation, Truth and Crime, will expand this focus by inviting students to explore and discuss why we are so fascinated by true-crime stories, what legal truth is, and how “evidence” and “facts” are ultimately constructed. Can podcasts and TV shows produce a more accurate picture of a case and achieve a “truer” form of justice by exposing details the law might not have accounted for, or is their purpose just to entertain us?

Other courses taught by Professor Grunewald:

Criminal Justice in America, Law and Literature, Guilt, American Juvenile Justice with a Comparative Perspective, Comparative Criminal Justice

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Constellations and the Criminal Justice Certificate are two separate, but highly-related programs: the Criminal Justice in America course can be a starting point for students interested in pursuing the Criminal Justice Certificate and is a required course for the certificate. Students who take Criminal Justice in America earn 4 credits toward the total 21 credits needed to complete the certificate.  The Criminal Justice Certificate is offered through the Center for Law, Society, and Justice.

“This class taught me a lot of important background information about sociology and legal studies, but challenged me to think beyond basic rules and regulations, and how law applies to everyday life.”