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Law School Academic Support, Exam Study, and Bar Prep: Issue Spotting

Resources to help prepare for law school classes, exams, and the bar exam

Can you get a DUI on a skateboard?

Darin drank a few beers, then took his skateboard down to the corner store to pick up some more. On the way back, he swerved into the path of Nadine, who was riding a bike, causing a crash in which Nadine's arm was broken. A police officer was on the scene, noticed that Darin seemed intoxicated, had him do a field sobriety test, and arrested him for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

Parties:

  • Darin
  • Nadine
  • The state of Florida (represented by the police officer)

Relation:

  • Darin is the one who injured Nadine
  • Nadine is the one injured
  • The state is the maker and enforcer of the laws

Actions:

  • Drinking beer
  • Riding a skateboard
  • Swerving/Causing an accident
  • Administering a sobriety test
  • Arresting

Affected by actions:

  • Nadine was injured in the accident
  • Darin was given a sobriety test and arrested

Looking at each of these points helps us figure out what questions to research. Was Darin's operation of the skateboard while drunk illegal? Was it legal for the officer to conduct a field sobriety test? Was the arrest made lawfully? Nadine can't prosecute on her own behalf, as that's the state's job, but can she bring a civil suit against Darin for her injuries?

Issue Spotting Game

Issue Spotting Examples

Steps in Issue Spotting

In order to figure out all the legal issues in a fact pattern, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who are the parties?
  2. What is their relation to each other?
  3. What were their actions?
  4. Who was affected by their actions?
  5. How were they affected?

Breaking a problem down like this will help you find issues, after which you can determine what should be explored in your answer. Keep in mind the following:

  • There may be invisible parties-- for example, the government is the prosecuting party in criminal cases, and can be the defendant in civil rights or tort cases.
  • Relationships matter! If a child's act is at issue, a parent may be involved by extension. An employer may be liable for the acts of an employee in certain situations, or a principal may be bound by the acts of an agent.
  • Not every action will have legal consequences, but the first part of identifying the legal issues is to identify every action taken, then dismiss those that aren't relevant.