Emotions and Criminal Law




Colin S. Diver Professor of Law

Project Summary

I spent this summer working for Professor Paul Robinson in the Penn Law School. Along with one other PURM student, I researched murder and assault cases, viewing them through the lens of emotions. For each case I studied, I tried to isolate the emotion that motivated the killing, in an effort to determine if and when strong emotions can serve as mitigating or aggravating factors in criminal responsibility and sentencing. For example, should we have more sympathy for a murderer who acts out of love or humiliation than for one who is jealous or hateful? And what about a killer who is cool and collected, totally in control of his or her emotions? Is this person more or less responsible? After thoroughly researching each case, using the trial record, newspaper articles, and books written about the murder, my partner and I crafted a narrative that highlights how the given emotion was at play. In the fall, our case write-ups will form the core of a seminar offered to Penn law students asking the same questions we did. I am excited to see how they will respond to these cases and whether or not they will be convinced by the argument that emotions can, in at least some cases, be factored into the equation for calculating responsibility. Over the course of this summer, my writing and editing skills have greatly improved. I have gained confidence in my ability to conduct research and learned to utilize important resources in the field, including the LexisNexis database for locating legal documents. I am grateful for Professor Robinson's mentorship as well as for the opportunity to work full-time in the Biddle Law Library. I have enjoyed thinking critically about the cases we studied, as well as about the general topic of emotions and criminal responsibility.