Criminal Law Research Group

Penn Law

The American Criminal Code Project

Because each of the 52 American jurisdictions has its own criminal code, it is difficult to know what the majority American rule is on any issue. Research on all 52 jurisdictions is sufficiently burdensome that most scholars and legislators simply do not do it and rely instead on common wisdom, which is commonly wrong.

The Project

Penn Law’s Criminal Law Research Group is undertaking a project that will for the first time give scholars and legislators world-wide accurate information about American criminal law. The project has two stages to it, the first of which may well be complete by the end of this summer.

Creating the Database

The project will collect, review, and index all provisions of the 52 American criminal codes, and create a database (eventually to be made publicly available on the web) that will allow users to quickly locate and display the text of all provisions in each state relating to a specific criminal law topic – e.g., it would display the code provisions of each jurisdiction relating to insanity, statutory rape, complicity, government bribery, “stand your ground” rule, or whatever subject the scholar or legislator was dealing with.

Drafting Chapters of the American Criminal Code and an Accompanying Commentary

Once the database is created, the Research Group will use it to create an “American Criminal Code” (ACC), which will reflect the majority rule as it exists in the 52 American jurisdictions. The CLRG-drafted code will include not only the American Code’s full text but also an official commentary that documents and explains the text and comments on the strengths and weaknesses of each aspect of the Code. The ACC is likely to have a broad and long-lasting effect as an accessible and influential resource for anyone doing work on criminal law codification anywhere in the world.

For the next several years, each year’s CLRG will research and draft several chapters of the ACC (the chapters to be decided by the Research Group). The work of each year’s group is likely to be published as a law review article, and all those students remain involved in the work until publication will be co-authors of the article. For publication examples from earlier CLRGs, see The Modern Irrationalities of American Criminal Codes: An Empirical Study of Offense Grading, 100 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 709-764 (2010); and Codifying Shari’a: International Norms, Legality & the Freedom to Invent New Forms, 2 Journal of Comparative Law (British) 1-53 (2007).

Selecting This Year’s Research Group

As with past CLRG projects, the size of the Research Group will depend on the specific demands of the project, which are not yet finalized. (A preliminary estimate suggests that a good size for this project would be 6 to 12 students.) As usual, students will register for the CLRG course (4 credit hours). (It may be possible for students to be paid instead of receiving course credit.)

Students who are interested in being considered for the project should send a current resume and an (unofficial) grade sheet to the CLRG Director, Professor Paul Robinson, at If you are interested in being considered for a post as Staff Director or Technology Director for the project, please indicate this in your submission. (Group leaders will receive additional course credit or pay.)

The weekly meeting time for the CLRG will be set by the Group so as to fit the schedules of all members.