The fight over how to govern the police has become the most controversial legal topic in American politics, yet American lawyers are often are unprepared to participate in the debate. They leave law school knowing next to nothing about the myriad legal rules that govern policing; the ways police can be encouraged to comply with those rules or punished for violations; or which legal solutions fit which problems. Worse yet, they are unaware of their ignorance. They are often led to believe that criminal procedure courses enable them to understand policing and its regulation. In this brief Article, published in the journal’s special issue on teaching criminal procedure, I describe the course I teach to fill this gap, The Law of the Police. A casebook for the course will be published next year. In the meantime, this Article describes how and why criminal procedure classes present a distorted picture of legal regulation of the police; it provides an overview of the materials and themes of the course I teach; and it includes one exam. The course is designed to consider how we govern policing in the United States and how we might do it differently, and if it is successful, it prepares law students to enter the public debate on policing ready to do the same.

Harmon, Rachel, Reconsidering Criminal Procedure: Teaching the Law of the Police (August 9, 2016). 60 St. Louis University Law Journal 391 (2016) ; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2016-54. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2820881

Rachel A. Harmon

Associate Reporter, Policing Principles

Rachel Harmon is the F.D.G Ribble Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.  She teaches in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure and civil rights, and her scholarship focuses on policing and its regulation. From 1998 to 2006, Harmon served as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice. After a brief stint at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, Harmon worked in the Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, prosecuting hate crimes and official misconduct cases, many of which involved excessive force or sexual abuse by police officers.


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