Case Brief United States V. Watts

Case Brief Assignment

For your case brief assignment, you should review the case you were assigned. The case brief should be written according to the following guidelines, using the bolded topics as section headings in the order specified. While this is not meant to be a lengthy assignment, it will be quite difficult to put together a brief in less than 1 page (typed, double-spaced, 12 font/Times New Roman).The brief may “spill over” for lengthy cases with a number of issues and opinions.Part of what makes a case brief effective is its length, so for basic opinions that are less than one page, but that go over two pages, or for longer/more complex opinions that do more than “spill over” onto page three, points will be deducted.

Title and Citation: List the name of the case, the citation listed in text, and the year.

Facts: You should present the relevant facts necessary to understand the “story line” and pertinent to the issue(s) raised. Make sure that you write it in such a way that not only you understand it, but that someone reading it without knowledge of the case can understand the case enough to discuss the issues. You mustparaphrase.

Issue(s): The only relevant issue(s) is/are the one(s) that result in a decision by the Court. Each issue should be ONE line. To be safe, you should (but are not required) to word the issue as, “whether…” (e.g., whether capital punishment is disproportionate to the crime of rape committed by an adult, thereby violating the 8th Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause). You can frame the issue as a question if you choose (e.g., Is capital punishment disproportionate to the crime of rape committed by an adult, thereby violating the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the 8thAmendement?)

Holding: The holding should be one word to one sentence and directly address the issue(s) you identified. The holding should reflect the majority opinion. Do not identify dissents or multiple opinions (sometimes justices agree on the outcome, but for multiple reasons, in which case more than one justice in the majority may write an opinion).

Opinion/Reasoning: This may be the most difficult part of writing a case brief, as the reasoning in the court’s opinion will often go “back and forth” and refer to other cases. You should distill the reasoning down to key points that explain the court’s decision. You should summarize the key justification points in your own words. Your discussion is limited to the reasoning of the Court for the majority opinion.

Dissenting Opinion: Do not go into detail, just 1-2 sentences summarizing the disagreement.

Your Opinion: In this section, you are to critically analyze the opinionof the court and state your own conclusion as to how you would rule on the issue(s) raised in the case. You should state your own reasoning to support your conclusion. You are free to agree or disagree with the court’s opinion and/or dissent.

Case: Name of the case, (and year of the decision).

Facts: Who are the parties to the lawsuit, what is their dispute, and how did they get to the Supreme Court? In your own words, only include the few important facts necessary to understand the case; e.g. the time of day a defendant was arrested is usually not important, etc.

Issue: What is the basic legal question regarding what specific provision of law that is to be decided in the case?

Holding: What is the majority’s basic answer to the basic legal question in the case. Also include the vote count: majority/plurality—concurrence(s)—dissent(s)

***Majority Opinion Reasoning: What is the majority’s explanation why it reached its holding? You will want to create a summarized, condensed, paraphrased outline of the court’s reasoning. The reasoning simply consists of two things: the RULE and the APPLICATION (of the rule to the facts of the case):

A. Rule: What rule of law is announced in the case? A court first must announce a specific controlling principle of law (e.g. the court’s interpretation of a constitutional provision, NOT the constitutional provision itself!) that applies to the issue in the case. This is also the abstract, general legal principle that will be applied to all future cases involving this issue, using this case as a precedent, and it is important to understand under what factual circumstances the rule applies. Often the court will usually explain why the rule is being created or applied, such as the origin of the rule, or the policy behind the rule existing, and also will often explain why any alternative rules proposed by the parties or the dissenting justices are being rejected. Here the court usually looks at the words of a constitutional or statutory provision, the original intent behind that law, and public policy arguments. These are not the rule itself, but the explanation of, or justification for, the rule. You must quote precisely the actual rule itself (but not the explanation for the rule) that the court finally adopts and decides to apply; the actual wording of the rule itself is known as the “black letter law.” The rule itself must be quoted because every word matters: there is a huge difference between “a” and “the” or between “may” and “must” etc. But the justification for the rule should be primarily in your own words.

B. Application: How does the rule of law specifically apply given the specific facts of the case at issue? In other words, given the rule of law that should apply, which party wins according to that rule given the facts of the case being heard? The reasoning of the court here should consider the facts of the case, and might analogize or distinguish the facts of the current case to the facts of earlier similar or related cases. You should explain all this in your own words, quoting only an occasional word or phrase.

Concurring Opinion(s) Reasoning: What is the reasoning of each separate concurrence (justices who agreed with the majority’s holding but disagreed with the majority’s reasoning)? How do they differ in their proposed rule or application (or both)?

Dissenting Opinion(s) Reasoning: What is the reasoning of each separate dissent (justices who disagreed with both the majority’s holding and its reasoning)? How do they differ in their proposed rule or application (or both)?

Judges and their names and logic in the dissenting opinion.

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