The case brief should be written according to the following guidelines, using the bolded topics as section headings in the order specified. The only optional heading is the last one (“Questions”). It should be no longer than two pages (typed, double-spaced, 12 font/Times New Roman), but may “spill over” for lengthy cases with a number of issues and opinions. Part of what makes a case brief effective is its length, so for basic opinions that go over two pages, or for longer/more complex opinions that do more than “spill over” onto page three, points will be deducted. Title and Citation: List the name of the case, the citation listed in text, and the year. (5 points) Facts: You should present the relevant facts necessary to understand the “story line” and pertinent to the issue(s) raised. Make sure that you write it in such a way that not only you understand it, but that someone reading it without knowledge of the case can understand the case enough to discuss the issues. This can be difficult as everything seems important (it is not). You must paraphrase. You should number the facts, 1 through whatever. Each number can have more than one sentence (i.e., if it takes you 2-3 sentences to summarize one thematic fact, that is fine). You can include the procedural history here (i.e., the holdings of the lower/appellate courts). (20 points) Issue(s): The only relevant issue(s) is/are the one(s) that result in a decision by the Court. Each issue should be ONE line. To be safe, you should (but are not required) to word the issue as, “whether…” (e.g., whether capital punishment is disproportionate to the crime of rape committed by an adult, thereby violating the 8th Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause). You can frame the issue as a question if you choose (e.g., Is capital punishment disproportionate to the crime of rape committed by an adult, thereby violating the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the 8th Amendement?) Be sure to number the issues if there are more than one (and make sure the holding/s address each issue, respectively). Be specific in the issue, and be sure to identify the Constitutional question (amendment). My example with CP and rape is from the case Coker vs. GA. (15 points) Holding: The holding should be one word to one sentence and directly address the issue(s) you identified. The holding should reflect the majority opinion. Do not identify dissents or multiple opinions (sometimes justices agree on the outcome, but for multiple reasons, in which case more than one justice in the majority may write an opinion). (10 points) Opinion/Reasoning: This may be the most difficult part of writing a case brief, as the reasoning in the court’s opinion will often go “back and forth” and refer to other cases. You should distill the reasoning down to key points that explain the court’s decision. You should summarize the key justification points in your own words. You can quote the Court briefly if you cannot find a better way to paraphrase the material—you must use quotations, and your use of quotations should be minimal (and appropriate). You can either number the key points (again, you can have more than one sentence for each line of reasoning, if it makes theoretical sense to do that), or you can write up the justification in a paragraph (definitely not more than two paragraphs and it only should exceed one paragraph if the case is complex). Do NOT go into any dissents or your opinion here. Your discussion is limited to the reasoning of the Court for the majority opinion. (25 points) Dissenting Opinion: Often, one or more justices will disagree with the majority opinion. As a result, they express a different line of reasoning. Your brief should contain this heading no matter what—if there are no dissents, then say, “this decision was unanimous.” If there were one or more dissents, then in a few sentences say, “Justice X or three justices dissented, arguing that the death penalty has been used in egregious crimes of rape for centuries and its use should be permissible, as there is no evidence that it is overused. They argued that its limited use for rape with aggravated circumstances does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.” (This dissent is fictitious—I was just keeping with the previous example—the case and outcome are real, but the dissent is not.) Do not go into detail, just 1-2 sentences summarizing the disagreement. (5 points) Your Opinion: In this section, you are to critically analyze the opinion of the court and state your own conclusion as to how you would rule on the issue(s) raised in the case. You should state your own reasoning to support your conclusion. You are free to agree or disagree with the court’s opinion and/or dissent, and you should cite points that you found persuasive or non-persuasive/errant in those opinions. This section should be about a paragraph long and in your own words. (5 points) Questions: If you have any questions about the case, list them here. If you think of other issues the Court should have raised (or dealt with), but didn’t, identify them here. There are times the Court will take on a case, but only address a small part of it, which can have large ramifications for law, policy, the justice system, and other social and political issues. This section of the brief is optional.
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