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Ideas for a Criminology Course Research Paper

A research paper for a course in criminology will examine the nature, causes, control, and consequences of criminal behavior. Your approach will be part sociological, part psychological, and part anthropological.

There are many different schools of thought and theories that pertain to the field of criminology. Below you will find a list of general topic ideas that you can narrow down to fit the specific needs of your research paper's parameters.

Discuss legal discrimination, reasonable separation of people into categories

Some kinds of reasonable discrimination are legal in a court of law. In order to make laws, courts must determine what is fair or unfair. For example, affirmative action allows schools to show preference for certain minorities. Is this a form of legal racial discrimination? Consider the fact that non-citizens are not permitted to vote. Is that fair and legal discrimination? There is also discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, such as banning gay marriage. Age based discrimination often is determined to be legal; for example, people can't vote or obtain a driver's license until they reach a certain age. On the other hand, discrimination against the elderly is usually illegal. Research a particular kind of legal discrimination, and present your findings

Discuss different defenses that the accused may exercise in a criminal case

For this topic, it will be necessary to select a specific case, either real or hypothetical, and discuss different defense options that would best be employed by the defendant. The defendant may claim that she or he did in fact commit the crime but that s/he is not criminally responsible because s/he was entrapped, intoxicated, insane, or etc. Similarly, the defendant may claim that the crime was justifiable, for example, due to self-defense. Or perhaps the defendant may claim that no crime was committed at all. It would also be a good idea for a prosecutor to consider what kind of defense he or she may be up against.

Review the rights an accused person is entitled to under the US Constitution

Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial, most trials do not utilize a jury. The right to an attorney is also guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment. You might discuss the process of how jury panels are selected and the attorneys' preemptory challenges, as well as his or her right to exclude some prospective jurors without stating a reason. Explain also what is meant by a "speedy trial" and how that figures into real life situations. Discuss the right to compulsory process, the right for a defendant to confront a witness, and the Fifth Amendment rights. Why might an attorney discourage a defendant from taking the stand in his or her own defense? Discuss also common legal errors cited for reason for an appeal to a higher court.

Explain the investigative processes important for a particular criminal act

The investigative process of a criminal must follow certain standards. Select a real or hypothetical scenario, and present a theoretical process for the investigation. How might police secure an arrest warrant when a suspect is taken in to custody? The judge must believe there is probable cause, facts to connect the suspect to the crime. If a warrant is not used, what would constitute probable cause for questioning of the individual "on the street" by police officers? Reasonable suspicion may be a more likely action than an arrest. Some searches are allowed without a warrant, but if the search is determined to be unlawful, any evidence seized would also be disallowed. Consider also the concept of reasonable force, and the suspect's right to an attorney and to be free of self-incrimination (Miranda rights).

Argue that freedom must not be (or may be) sacrificed in the name of security

Consider the laws and policies as they pertain to terrorism and the "war on terror." You might argue, as many civil liberty groups have, that our rights to certain freedoms outweigh the need for certain laws or policies meant to protect us from terrorism. You might discuss the Patriot Act of 2001 and the way laws may change during times of war. While intended to protect national security, many would argue that individuals' rights to privacy were interfered with. You may discuss different types of profiling, surveillance, and searches, such as airport security. Consider also the legality of the way a person suspected of terrorism might be detained and interrogated. When - if ever - would aggressive questioning be considered appropriate, and where do we draw the line between a practice such as waterboarding and torture?

Pick a particular type of dispute, and discuss different options for settling it outside of court

Settling a dispute outside of the court can save the parties involved time, resources, and headache. Negotiation, arbitration, and mediation are three worthwhile ways to settle a disagreement without going to court. The basis for all dispute resolution is negotiation. Negotiation must be mutually beneficial to some extent, and each party may have some degree of satisfaction. Negotiation, while the most informal approach, is a necessary component of all types of dispute resolution. Arbitration is another option, and a third party gets involved to make a decision, acting as a judge who can come up with possible solutions to suggest. Mediation might also be a preferred alternative when the parties involved must work with a third party to resolve a conflict.

Argue that a sentence for a particular defendant who was found guilty did not fit the crime

The fact that the sentence determines the long-term fate of the defendant means that it must be an appropriate punishment for the crime. Assuming a defendant was guilty of a particular crime, present a particular instance where the punishment was either too light or too severe. Consider that suspended sentences, probation, house arrest, fines, community service, imprisonment, and death are all possible punishments. What might the purpose of the punishment be (i.e., retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation) and was the punishment effective to that end?

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