Case brief : smith v. maryland, 442 u.s. 735 (1979). | Criminal Investigation | Harris-Stowe State University

When required to complete such an assignment please follow the guidelines below.  Please note that a case brief is not an essay.  Each brief should be 2-4 pages in length.  Answers should be short and concise.  Pay attention to grammar and spelling (it is 30% of the grade).  

How to Brief a Case

Summarize the facts in a simple, direct way.  Remember – this is how this particular matter became a Supreme Court issue.  Describe the defendant’s or plaintiff’s actions and, to the extent possible, his or her intentions.  Describe the injury caused and any excuses or justifications raised.  Was the defendant convicted in the trial court?  Was his or case overturned or affirmed on appeal?  Summarize only the information that’s necessary to understand the case.   

What legal issue is raised in the case?  [Keep in mind that the U. S. Supreme Court is a court of appeal. They do not decide guilt or innocence – in fact they won’t even consider it.]  What is the question the court must answer?  Put that issue in a question format.  Sometimes the court’s opinion will clearly state the legal issue, but not always!  Because court opinions often address multiple legal issues, be careful to focus on the issue that is relevant to your assignment or the course you are studying.

Here’s where one may describe why the lower courts decided as they did.  What arguments or reasons did these lower courts rely on deciding the legal issue being brought before the court?  

How has the U. S. Supreme Court answered this legal issue?  If one is lucky, the court will state in its opinion something to the effect that “We hold…”  But be prepared for the court’s language to be less obvious.  

What was the decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in this matter?  Was the lower court’s decision affirmed, reversed, or remanded?  Were there any dissenters?  Why didn’t they agree with the opinion? (The answers will lie in the dissent – if any.)

Here is where you, the student, can ‘cut loose’.  But be careful; any answer must be supported.  What is your opinion?  Do you see any effect on today’s society?  Why or why not?  When giving an opinion remember to leave emotions out. 

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