For Schools

High School Students
Protecting Offenders' Rights

Note: a lawyer or judge could enrich this lesson at every stage, or in fact could present the lesson.


The Constitution includes several amendments that protect the rights of those accused and convicted of crimes, such as due process of the law, the right to defend oneself, and the freedom from double jeopardy. Many cases that the United States Supreme Court hears concern the possible violation of these rights. Kansas v. Hendricks, 117 S.Ct. 2072, 138 L.Ed.2d 501 (1997), is one such case. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether a Kansas law violates the constitutional rights of a convicted offender.


As a result of this lessons, students will:

  • Analyze the facts presented in a case study.
  • Identify the important issues involved in the case.
  • Draw conclusions about constitutional rights.
  • Determine how they would decide the case.
  • Evaluate the implications of their decisions.
  • Explain the reasons for their decisions.

Time Needed: 2-3 classes

Materials Needed: Student Handout 1 (.pdf) and Student Handout 2 (.pdf), one each per student


1. Briefly discuss the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Because this case involves Amendments 5 and 14, you may wish to focus on the meanings of these amendments. Read the following excerpts from the amendments and discuss their meanings with students.

Amendment 5
"… nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."

Amendment 14
"… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

2. Identify the process by which the Supreme Court decides cases. Explain that the Court decides a case after reviewing written and oral arguments. Decisions are made by a majority of the justices. The Court does not need a unanimous decision to decide cases.

3. Explain that students will analyze a case to determine whether a state law violates the constitutional rights of a convicted offender. Distribute copies of Student Handouts 1 and 2 to each student. The handouts are a case study and a case study worksheet.

4. Have students carefully read the case study, using the worksheet as a guide.

5. When students have completed their worksheet, use the following questions to guide discussion of the case:

  • What are the facts in this case?
  • Which facts are most important?
  • What are the issues in this case?
  • Which issues are most important?
  • Are any rights in conflict in the case?

6. Divide the class into groups of three or five students. Explain that the groups are to discuss the case and to make a decision. During the discussion, group members should consider the rights involved in the case and whether those rights have been violated. If rights are in conflict with one another, students should determine which rights take precedence. For example, does the public's right to be safe and secure outweigh the individual's right to personal freedom?

7. Ask each group to write a short opinion paper. The group should provide the following information in the paper: the decision, the reasons for the decision, the likely results of the decision for those involved in the case, and the impact the decision could have on society.

8. Have each group select a member to give a brief oral presentation of the opinion paper to the class. Allow a five-minute question-and-answer period after each presentation.

9. Conclude the activity by having the class compare and discuss the decisions and their implications. Then have them compare their reasoning with that of the Court. ( Decision)

Additional Activities
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court decided another case from Kansas that raised similar issues. In Kansas v. Crane, the question was whether due process requires a state to prove that a sexual offender cannot control his criminal behavior before the state institutes civil commitment proceedings.

Students can research this case by accessing a website such as FindLaw and searching on the case name on its U. S. Supreme Court section. That contains commentary, the briefs of the parties and of amici curiae, and the decision itself.

Students can compare and contrast this case with the Hendricks case, debate the decision, write short papers critiquing the decision, etc.

This article was written by Mabel C. McKinney-Browning, director of the ABA Division for Public Education. It is adapted from On Trial in California, American Bar Association, pp. 13-14, and from Update on Law-Related Education, 21.2, 1997, pp. 39-41. © 1997 American Bar Association.

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