Skip to main content

Local navigation


Let's see how you did on our test of your criminal justice knowledge! Answers are below.


1. True or False? Mens rea is one of the elements of crime. Its absence always guarantees a verdict of not guilty.

[FALSE] In so called strict liability crimes (like statutory rape) a prosecutor does not have to prove mens rea. Even if the offender can show that he or she was honestly mistaken about the age of the victim, that showing is irrelevant because mens rea is not an element of the crime of statutory rape.

2. In lecture, Grunewald explained how he, on his way to campus, counted the proportion of bicyclists who wore and did not wear a helmet. Once he reached campus, the number of bicyclists who did NOT wear helmets increased dramatically. Grunewald used this example to illustrate:

a. The broken windows phenomenon (rule violations are contagious)

b. The statistic that young adults (college students) are less likely to be involved in serious traffic accidents

c. The fact that police generally use their discretion in favor of younger people (here: not enforcing traffic safety laws)

d. The so called immaturity gap (the gap between being able to intellectually understand a risk and being able to control ones actions accordingly)

e. All of the above.

[Answer D] Research shows that males until the age of 25 and females until the age of 21 are not able to (fully) follow/act on what the know is right or wrong. The gap between intellectual maturity (knowing what is right or wrong) and psycho-social maturity (being able to behave according to that judgment) is called the immaturity gap. Young adults take risks even though they are aware of these risks but factors like peer pressure or feelings of being invincible override that awareness. In class we discuss that topic in detail. And, I actually counted helmets.

3. The execution of offenders under the age of 18 (juveniles)

a. is unconstitutional (under all circumstances).

b. is constitutional in 19 states, but only if the person is over the age of 16.

c. is constitutional if the jury finds that a juvenile over the age of 16 has a criminal history and background that can be used as an "aggravating factor."

d. is unconstitutional only if the person is found to have an IQ under 70.

e. is constitutional (under all circumstances).

[Answer A] In the section on the death penalty and juvenile justice we discuss Roper v. Simmons (2005). The Court found the death penalty for persons under 18 (at the time of the crime) unconstitutional. Interestingly, in exams students have second thoughts about that (very simple) fact.

4. Franz has been a great fan of social networks for years, and in order to stay in touch with all of his 856 friends, he constantly writes status updates, tweets, and sends text messages. As he tells one of his friends, his smartphone has become an extension of his body, and writing and replying to messages his “second nature.” One day, on a trip to the nearest electronic store, Franz drives on a busy street and receives a text message. He instinctively grabs his phone and types a reply. Although this takes less than 30 seconds, Franz misses a red light and hits a student on a bike. The student dies immediately. Franz is charged with negligent homicide. Franz defends himself in court. Which of the following arguments Franz makes in court will be successful?

a. Texting is an involuntary act (like a reflex) and therefore Franz is missing actus reus.

b. Texting is socially acceptable and should be decriminalized; therefore he should not be punished.

c. Texting while driving is only an infraction [you can assume that this is correct], and therefore homicide charges must be dropped.

d. Franz had no intention to kill anybody, and therefore charges should be dropped.

e. None of the above arguments will be successful.

[Answer E] I created that question after a class-room discussion in which some students argued [A] comparing texting to reflexes or reflex-like conduct. While it is true that actus reus consists of two elements (human conduct + controllability/voluntariness of that conduct) and that, for instance, killing somebody while sleepwalking or during a seizure would not fulfill actus reus (exceptions apply), texting is not a reflex (yet).

5. Hans plans to kill his wife Gretel. He mixes what he thinks is a fatal dose of poison into Gretel’s bratwurst and kraut dinner. When Gretel begins showing symptoms of poisoning, he leaves. Gretel, however, can call an ambulance because the dose Hans administered was not immediately fatal. Gretel is rushed to the hospital. The moment the paramedics carry her to the emergency entrance, a crazy man attacks them with a gun and shoots Gretel, who dies. Among other possible charges, Hans will probably be charged with:

a. Murder

b. Negligent homicide

c. Attempted homicide

d. Obstruction of justice

e. None of the above

[Answer C] This question falls into the area of criminal causation. Did Hans actually kill Gretel? Without giving Gretel poison, the crazy man wouldn’t have killed her. So even after long explanations that third parties (if they act voluntarily) break the chain of causation, students argue that Hans wanted to kill Gretel, and now she is dead. This question checks to which degree they understood elements of causation.

6. In class we distinguished absolute and relative theories/purposes of punishment. Which of the following is NOT a relative purpose of punishment?

a. Rehabilitation

b. Retribution

c. Deterrence

d. Affirmation of values

e. All of the above are relative purposes of punishment

Answer [C]
Traditionally, retribution is seen as not serving a specific goal or purpose. It is the “eye for an eye” or the “negation of the negation” (Hegel). All the other theories rely on punishment as a means to a different end. For example, in the case of rehabilitation, punishment serves the goal of the reintegration of the offender in the future; it has a purpose beyond the mere restoration of the moral imbalance caused by the crime.

7. True or False? The Supreme Court ruled that a suspect’s Constitutional rights (due process) have been violated if the prosecutor threatens to file further (lawful) charges if the suspect does not agree to a plea bargain.

Answer [False]
For as long as a prosecutor stays within legally acceptable charges that threat is acceptable.

8. Jesse was caught trafficking crystal meth from Chicago to Madison when he passed the state border with his car. He was charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a short prison term. To his surprise, the judge told him that he won’t get his car back once he is out of prison. Jesse argued that his car is still worth $5,000 and that he feels this is a “fine in disguise” on top of his prison sentence. The judge explained that seizing his car as part of his sentence is called:

a. Subsidy

b. Fine

c. Restitution

d. Forfeiture

e. Court fee

Answer [D]
A question that checks terminology, and also that sentences come in various shapes and can be combined.

9. In order for a stop to be permissible, officers must have:

a. Reasonable suspicion

b. Probable cause

c. A good hunch

d. Preponderance

e. Articulable certainty

Answer [A]
In lecture we discuss the various levels of suspicion an officer/judge must meet for stops, searches, etc. The issue of what “articulable facts” (a necessity for reasonable suspicion) are is discussed on the backdrop of the practices in the New York Police Department.

10. Cop Karl executes a warrant he got from his lieutenant. He drives to the address stated on the warrant and conducts a search and seizes contraband he finds in the house. When he reports back, it turns out that the judge made a mistake when he wrote the address on the warrant. The person whose house was searched has never been a suspect. Cop Karl honestly relied on the warrant. The evidence against that person can be used because of the:

a. Exclusionary rule

b. Good faith exception

c. Silver-platter rule

d. Inevitable discovery rule

e. Plain view doctrine

Answer [B]
In United States v. Leon the Supreme Court held that when an officer acted with honest belief (“good faith”) that he or she was following proper rules (here: that the warrant was legitimate) the evidence found can be used in court. This is an exception to the exclusionary rule.