Criminal law establishes the rules for civil society by punishing conduct that the government determines undermines the social order. Criminal law also protects the people from government overreach through rights for the accused and limitations on the police power.

Criminal lawyers represent the interests of the community as prosecutors and the interests of those accused as defense attorneys. Prosecutors work in state and local jurisdictions (City Attorneys, District Attorneys, State Attorneys General) as well as in federal jurisdictions (U.S. Attorneys, Department of Justice) and the military (JAG Corp). Criminal defense attorneys work as public defenders on behalf of indigent clients, military defense attorneys representing members of the armed services, and in private practice defending individuals accused of a range of criminal conduct including white collar, environmental, or international crimes. Many prosecutors and defense attorneys engage exclusively in trial practice while some specialize in appellate practice – writing briefs and engaging in oral arguments before appellate courts. In addition to representing individual clients, criminal lawyers may work with Congress or state legislatures, in nonprofit organizations, and in executive branch agencies to draft policy and advocate for changes to law and policy.

Criminal law is also relevant to practitioners of other specialized areas of the law. These include civil rights, juvenile law, domestic violence, child and elder abuse, corporate law, compliance, securities enforcement, environmental law, immigration, and human rights/trafficking. While many lawyers in these areas are litigators or appellate advocates, others advise individual and institutional clients about the potential criminal consequences of their actions and assist them in complying with statutory or regulatory requirements.

Five courses, four of which are required for all law students, give students a foundation in the criminal law field. Criminal Law and Constitutional Law II analyze the substantive frameworks and theories undergirding our criminal law system. Criminal Procedure: The Investigative Process focuses on the constitutional requirements imposed on law enforcement when investigating crime, including the laws regarding search and seizure, interrogation and eyewitness identification. Evidence gives students an understanding of the type of witness testimony, documents, and exhibits that attorneys may use in criminal proceedings. Although not required for all students, Criminal Procedure: The Post Investigative Process focuses on constitutional requirements imposed on courts and the prosecution after a defendant’s arrest through to habeas corpus.

With these foundations, students who want to probe further can take courses listed below that focus on specialized aspects of doctrinal criminal law. In addition, students pursuing a career in criminal law will need to build skills and develop the professional values necessary for competent and ethical practice in the criminal law field. This can be done through a variety of paths. Students can work with and represent clients or the government through the Criminal Defense, Criminal Prosecution, and Modern Prosecution clinics. Students can also develop translatable skills in other clinical offerings that also provide opportunities to represent clients. In simulation courses such as Interviewing, Counseling and Negotiating or Trial Practice, students represent hypothetical clients and begin to develop critical lawyering competencies.

Foundational Courses

  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure: The Investigative Process
  • Constitutional Law II
  • Evidence
  • Criminal Procedure: The Post Investigative Process

Specialization Courses

  • Advanced Criminal Procedure: Anatomy of a Homicide
  • Civil rights courses that relate to § 1983 actions)
  • Criminal Justice Reform Seminar
  • Cyberlaw
  • Environmental Law
  • Families and the Law Clinic
  • Federal Criminal Litigation
  • Human Trafficking Seminar
  • Immigration Law: Deportation and Asylum
  • International Corruption and Compliance
  • International Criminal Law
  • Juvenile Law
  • Military Justice
  • Securities Regulation: Enforcement Procedures & Issues
  • White Collar and Business Crimes

Clinics, Skills, and Externships

  • Criminal Defense Clinic
  • Criminal Prosecution Clinic
  • Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Clinic
  • D.C. Modern Prosecution Program
  • Interviewing, Counseling & Negotiating
  • Trial Practice
  • Trial Skills: A Criminal Case Appellate; Advocacy

Faculty: Professors Drinan, Leary.