PSC 332 Syllabus: Summer 2020

PSC 332: The Judicial Process

Summer II 2020 online

Instructor: Dr. Rebecca Gill

Course Description

As Americans, much of what we know about our legal system comes from the television. We learn about criminal justice from shows like “Law and Order” and we learn about trials on shows like “Perry Mason” or “Boston Legal.” Indeed, one of the first reality shows on television was “The People’s Court,” and the real-life legal drama surrounding our most famous people (OJ, Lori Loughlin, Harvey Weinstein, etc.) continues to captivate the American public. In fact, some people have become famous just because of their involvement with the court system (Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, Adnan Masud Syed, Steven Avery, etc.).

While some of the information we get from popular culture is grounded in fact, much of it is not. In order to gain a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the role of courts in America, we will augment our popular perceptions with evidence from theoretical and empirical research. We will also be investigating the social and political impact of our justice system on different segments of society.

The main aim of this course is to systematically answer questions and dispel the myths surrounding the American legal system. We will begin with a basic introduction to the structure and function of our court system and judicial selection. We will discuss the role of judges and other court actors, both in terms of what they should do and what they actually do. We will examine the function of courts as they address matters of criminal law and civil law, focusing specifically on the consequences of various attributes of criminal and civil procedure. Next, we will study the appellate process. We will conclude the term with a look at how the courts t in to the larger political landscape, and how they work to shape life and law in America.

Required Materials

Course Objectives

After completing this course, the successful student will:

  1. Have a working knowledge of American court system structure, function, and procedures;
  2. Understand the way that procedures and institutions impact the nature of justice that results;
  3. Be able to analyze the merit of particular legal arguments and approaches, both from a socio-political and legal perspective;
  4. Interpret the various outcomes of the court system in terms of the political, institutional and social characteristics of the American legal system; and
  5. Be able to contribute meaningfully to the current debate about judicial selection in the American states.

Requirements & Evaluation

This course is taken completely online. All assignments must be completed online through the course WebCampus page by the time and date indicated. Please be sure to check your WebCampus and RebelMail accounts regularly throughout the term. Your grade will be assigned on the basis of my assessment of your work according to the scheme laid out below. There are no in person office hours, but I will be available via e-mail at during regular business hours for the duration of the semester.

Quizzes: 40% of Final Grade

Each module has specic has a specific set of readings. You should complete the readings before beginning the module. Each module consists of multimedia materials to help you make sense of the readings and they presuppose your familiarity with the facts and concepts from the readings.

Practice Quizzes. There will be a number of practice quizzes sprinkled throughout the modules. This quiz will elements from the module, but it will also include questions about information from the readings that weren’t presented in the module. You can take these quizzes multiple times and your highest grade will count. The practice quizzes will count for half of your quiz grade (or 20% of your final grade).

Mastery Quizzes. At the end of each module, there will be a mastery quiz. Your mastery quiz grades make up half of your quiz grade (which is 20% of the overall grade). They are not timed, but all of the quizzes must be completed by Friday at 10 pm of the week for which they have been assigned. Missed quizzes cannot be made up, so make sure you take these on time!

Participation: 20% of Final Grade

Because of the online format of the course, all of the participation will take place through WebCampus. The discussions will happen in groups, which will be assigned randomly in WebCampus on the first day of class. Each of the groups will consider the same weekly question; the group setting is intended to make the conversations more manageable and meaningful for students. On Monday of each week, a new conversation thread will open up in your group. The conversation starter will be a general topic, and it will be followed by several specific questions. By Wednesday at 6pm, each student in the group must answer a question that nobody else in the group has answered yet. By Sunday at 6pm, each student must respond to the posts of the other students in the group. Participation counts for 20% of the overall grade.

Final Exam: 40% of Final Grade

The final exam must be taken sometime on the last Friday of the course. You may begin the exam anytime that day before 10:00 pm, and you will be allotted two hours to complete the exam. The exam will cover information from the quizzes, but it will also include additional questions from the readings, the modules, and the discussion boards. It is a cumulative exam, and it is intended to confirm that students have mastered the material. The course is open book, but rules against plagiarism and academic dishonesty apply. Collaboration is not allowed. General use of internet sources and searches are not allowed for the test. You may consult the material from the course, but you should not be Googling the questions in an attempt to find the answers.

Schedule of Topics

Week 1 : Courts and Lawyers

  • Read American Judicial Process chapters 1-3.
  • Complete the Module 1.
  • Respond to Discussion 1 by Wednesday at 6 pm.
  • Take Mastery Quiz 1 before 6 pm on Friday.
  • Engage in dialogue with colleagues about Discussion 1 by Sunday at 6 pm.

Week 2: Court Organization and Staffing

  • Read American Judicial Process chapters 4-5.
  • Complete Module 2.
  • Respond to Discussion 2 by Wednesday at 6 pm.
  • Take Mastery Quiz 2 before 6 pm on Friday.
  • Engage in dialogue with colleagues about Discussion 2 by Sunday at 6 pm.

Week 3: Criminal and Civil Law

  • Read American Judicial Process chapters 6-7.
  • Complete the Module 3. 
  • Respond to Discussion 3 by Wednesday at 6 pm.
  • Take Mastery Quiz 3 before 6 pm on Friday.
  • Engage in dialogue with colleagues about Discussion 3 by Sunday at 6 pm.

Week 4 (June 25-29) – Trials and Appeals

  • Read American Judicial Process chapters 8-9.
  • Complete Module 4
  • Respond to Discussion 4 by Wednesday at 6 pm.
  • Take Mastery Quiz 4 before 6 pm on Friday.
  • Engage in dialogue with colleagues about Discussion 4 by Sunday at 6 pm.

Week 5: Courts as Policymaking Institutions

  • Read American Judicial Process chapters 10-11.
  • Complete Module 5.
  • Respond to Discussion 5 by Wednesday at 6 pm.
  • Take Mastery Quiz 5 before 6 pm on Friday.
  • Take the Final Exam on Friday starting sometime before 10:00 pm.
  • Engage in dialogue with colleagues about Discussion 5 by Sunday at 6 pm.

UNLV Policies

Please see the Syllabi Content Memo (Links to an external site.) for select, useful information for students. This document can be found at: (Links to an external site.)