Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Spring 2007
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 22B

Philosophy of Law

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber


Some Cases and Handouts


Introduction -- There is more to murder than killing someone.

Twenty-One Legal Puzzlers -- Test your legal intuitions. Twenty-one puzzlers, some actual cases, some hypothetical, all touching on key areas covered in the course to whet your legal appetite. In attempting to resolve a particular puzzler, think how you yourself would decide the case rather than how you would predict the case would be decided in a court of law.

The Case of the Speluncean Explorers -- The defendants, having been indicted for the crime of murder, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged. . . They bring a petition of error before this Court. The four defendants are members of the Speluncean Society, an organization of amateurs interested in the exploration of caves. Early in May of 4299 they, in the company of Roger Whetmore, then also a member of the Society, penetrated into the interior of a limestone cavern of the type found in the Central Plateau of this Commonwealth. While they were in a position remote from the entrance to the cave, a landslide occurred. Heavy boulders fell in such a manner as to block completely the only known opening to the cave. When the men discovered their predicament they settled themselves near the obstructed entrance to wait until a rescue party should remove the detritus that prevented them from leaving their underground prison. On the failure of Whetmore and the defendants to return to their homes, the Secretary of the Society was notified by their families. It appears that the explorers had left indications at the headquarters of the Society concerning the location of the cave they proposed to visit. A rescue party was promptly dispatched to the spot.

A College Student and a Rat Make for an Explosive Issue -- Robert Walsh took a job with the General Machine Company, which, among other businesses, owned and operated a number of laundromats in Chicago. Walsh took the job in order to make some extra money for his college tuition. His job was to clean the coin-operated machines. One of the more effective cleansing agents was gasoline and Walsh was using gasoline to clean the machines at one of the laundromats during a cold spell. The room in which he was working was not very large, about eight by ten feet in area, and there was a gas heater installed at the base of the wall opposite the washers and dryers. This heater was lighted at the time with an open flame. While Walsh was engaged in his cleaning, a rat emerged from one of the machines.

A Good Samaritan Tries to Help Only to Be Shot in the Foot -- Richard Hunt ran out of gas while driving his truck down Route 3 some eight miles south of the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. He then parked the truck on the side of the road but the rear end (of the truck) was sticking dangerously out into the roadway. Hunt did not set out flares or any other warning signals. He did not turn on his hazard lights or switch on his left blinker. He took an empty gas can from the back of his truck and left in search of gasolene.

Bernhard Goetz and the Criminal Law -- A few days before Christmas, 1984, a slightly built man named Bernhard Goetz entered a subway car in New York City. He sat down next to four black youths. They are a somewhat boisterous lot and the 15 or 20 other passengers have moved to the other end of the subway car. One of the four, Troy Canty, asked Goetz how he was doing. Then Canty and perhaps one of the others asked Goetz for five dollars. Goetz took out a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and fired four shots at each of the four youths.

An Honest and Reasonable Belief or Assault in the Third Degree? -- On a Friday afternoon at about 4:40, Detectives Corey and Flintoff observed an argument between a driver of a brand new Chevy Impala and MacDuff in front of 224 West 94th Street. Corey and Flintoff were not in uniform. The driver of the car had pulled up at the curb and was sitting in his car with the engine running. MacDuff was in the middle of the street, arguing with the driver, trying to get him to "move out," "buzz off," or to "get a move-on," said in terms less polite than that. The driver refused to "buzz off," to put it politely, and MacDuff became increasingly agitated. He also continued to occupy a place in the middle of the street and traffic was building up behind him. Corey and Flintoff tried to chase MacDuff out of the middle of the street to allow traffic to pass. But MacDuff refused to budge

A Case of Homicide or A Mother's Love? --Whatever else may be true in a given criminal case, what a defendant had in mind at the time that the defendant committed the alleged criminal act matters. It matters to our ascertaining the defendant's guilt or innocence. Indeed, we might say: "It ought to matter," since our sense of fairness, our sense of whether it is right or just to punish someone for criminal wrongdoing, is intimately bound up not only with our determining whether a person did or did not do the dastardly deed with which he or she is charged, but also whether the person so charged had a guilty mind, a mens rea or a criminal intent

Justifiable Homicide or Murder without Justification or Excuse? - A Battered Woman's Defense -- Janice Subin was charged with murder for the stabbing death of her husband Chester Subin in the early morning hours of February 13, 1995. She was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment in the Idaho State Penitentiary. She has appealed her judgment for conviction and it is now before the Idaho Supreme Court. According to testimony at the original trial, the Subin marriage near its end was "an unhappy one, filled with a mixture of alcohol abuse, moments of kindness towards one another, and moments of violence "

A Duty to Rescue? - McFall v. Shimp -- McFall suffers from aplastic anemia, a disease in which the patient's bone marrow fails to manufacture certain necessary blood components. Shortly after his condition was diagnosed in June of 1978, a search began to find a bone marrow donor. Transfusions of bone marrow require a high degree of compatibility between donor and recipient and McFall's relatives were tested first. Initial tests of McFall's immediate family failed to produce a compatible donor, but preliminary tests of McFall's first cousin, David Shimp, indicated a high compatibility rating "

A Duty of Care? - Bernstein v. Harvard University Overseers -- Charles Gilbert was a sophomore at Harvard University as was Ariana Bernstein. Charles and Ariana had "gone out" together during the Spring semester, but Ariana had broken off their relationship before she went home for the summer. Charles pleaded with her to try again when they returned to the campus in the Fall, but Ariana had made up her mind. She asked him not to call or write. Charles went into a deep depression. Shortly after he arrived on campus to begin the Fall semester he became a voluntary outpatient at Harvard University Health Services. On October 5th he informed his therapist, Dr. Lawrence Stone, that he was going to kill Ariana as soon as she moved into her off-campus apartment. Ariana was planning to move sometime during the month of October, was not speaking to Gilbert, and knew nothing of his intentions "

A Duty to Warn and Rescue? - Yania v. Bigan -- John Bigan owned a coal strip-mining operation in Somerset County in Pennsylvania. There were several large trenches in the earth on his property where Bigan had removed dirt to uncover and remove the coal underneath. Some of these trenches had filled with rain water. In one of them Bigan had installed a pump to drain the water. The water was about 8 to 10 feet in depth and the dirt side-walls about 16 to 18 feet high. At around 4:00 p.m. on September 25, 1957 Joseph Yania, another strip mining operator, and Boyd Ross visited Bigan to discuss a business matter with him and while they were there, Bigan asked them to help him to start the pump. Ross and Bigan stood on one side of the trench and Yania stood atop the embankment on the other and Bigan urged him to jump into the water."

A Duty to Rescue? - Farwell v. Keaton -- On the evening of August 26, 1966 Siegrist and Farwell in separate cars drove to a trailer rental lot to return the car that Siegrist had borrowed from a friend who worked at the lot. While they were waiting for Siegrist's friend to finish work, they consumed some beer. Two girls walked by the entrance to the lot and the two men tried to engage them in conversation. They followed the girls on foot to a local drive-in restaurant down the street. The girls complained to some of their male buddies at the restaurant that they were being followed by a couple of "creeps." Six boys chased Siegrist and Farwell back to the lot. Siegrist escaped but Farwell was severely kicked and beaten "