Crime and punishment are constantly in the news, and lay observers of the American system of criminal justice are often puzzled by its procedures and outcomes. What exactly is the criminal law trying to do? Why does it seem so difficult to convict criminals? What are the governing principles of American criminal justice, and how are they actually applied in the courts? This First-Year-Initiative course is intended to address these questions through a close analysis of cases and related materials concerned with the substantive criminal law and, at the same time, to introduce students to the legal method itself and the close-case-analysis characteristic of legal argument. It is thus not a course in law and economics, or law and philosophy, or law and government, but a course in law itself, much as it is taught to law students. Topics include the legal definition of criminal acts, causation, the mental element of crime, basic principles of justification, criminal responsibility and mental abnormality, and the law of homicide. Readings consist entirely of judicial opinions and related materials, and in class we will analyze these readings in detail to expose their logic and consider their practical implications. These readings are dense and intensive, and students will be asked in class to address difficult issues and defend their answers against rigorous critical questioning.