Mark Osler portrait

Mark Osler

Professor and Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law
J.D. Yale Law School
B.A. College of William and Mary
MSL 462
(651) 962-4852
Toll Free
(800) 328-6819, Ext. 2-4852

Professor Mark Osler's work advocates for sentencing and clemency policies rooted in principles of human dignity. In 2016, the graduating class chose him as Professor of the Year, in 2015 he won the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship, and in 2013 he was awarded the Outstanding Teaching award.

Osler's writing on clemency, sentencing and narcotics policy has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and in law journals at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Georgetown, Ohio State, UNC, and Rutgers. His University of Chicago Law Review article (with Rachel Barkow) was highlighted in a lead editorial in The New York Times, in which the Times' Editorial Board expressly embraced Barkow and Osler's argument for clemency reform.

A former federal prosecutor, he played a role in striking down the mandatory 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in the federal sentencing guidelines by winning the case of Spears v. United States in the U.S. Supreme Court, with the Court ruling that judges could categorically reject that ratio. He has testified as an expert before the United States Sentencing Commission and the United States House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

Osler's 2009 book Jesus on Death Row (Abingdon Press) critiqued the American death penalty through the lens of Jesus' trial. His second book, Prosecuting Jesus (Westminster/John Knox, 2016) is a memoir of performing the Trial of Jesus in 11 states. He serves as the head of the association of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools, and held the Byrd Preaching Chair at St. Martin's-by-the-Lake Episcopal Church in 2012. He has given sermons in five states and for three different denominations. His current work on clemency and mercy is rooted in ideals of the Christian faith. In 2011, he founded the first law school clinic specializing in federal commutations, and he trained hundreds of pro bono lawyers for Clemency Project 2014. 

The character of Professor Joe Fisher in the Samuel Goldwyn film American Violet was based on Osler, and in 2014 he was the subject of profiles in Rolling Stone and The American Prospect. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and Yale Law School.

Selected Publications


Memoirs of Christ’s Prosecutor (Book: Westminster/John Knox, 2016).


Prosecutors and Victims: Why Wrongful Convictions Matter (with Jeanne Bishop), 105 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 101 (2016).

Re-Creating Clemency Under Pressure (with Rachel Barkow), 82 University of Chicago Law Review 1 (2015). 

Forfeitures in a New Market-Reality Narcotics Policy, 52 Harvard Journal on Legislation 221 (2015).  

Treating Drug Crimes as White-Collar Crimes (with Thea Johnson), 61 Wayne State Law Review 1 (2015).  

1986:  AIDS, Crack, and C. Everett Koop, 66 Rutgers Law Review 851 (2014).  

Narcotics Prosecutors as Problem Solvers, 1 Stanford Journal of Criminal Law and Policy 1 (2014).  


Obama’s Clemency Problem, New York Times, April 1, 2016.

The President’s Idle Executive Power: Pardoning (with Rachel Barkow), Washington Post, November 26, 2014.

We Need Al Capone Drug Laws, New York Times, May 4, 2014.

Mark Osler Curriculum Vitae

Fall 2017 Courses

Fall 2017 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location
LAWS 783 - 01 Sentencing - - - R - - - 1330 - 1525 MSL 321
CRN: 43150 2 Credit Hours Instructor: Mark W. Osler This course examines sentencing, the portion of the criminal process that often matters most to the defendant and to society. The course covers state law, federal law (including the federal sentencing guidelines), and the death penalty. Because far more cases result in a sentencing than go to trial, and because the doctrines and rules that control sentencing can be very complex, the subject is important and challenging. The course is useful for those planning to practice criminal law or those considering it, as well as for those considering federal judicial clerkships. Typically , the grade for the course is determined by a final exam and a sentencing exercise.

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)
LAWS 950 - 17 Supervised Resrch & Writing - - - - - - - -
CRN: 43233 Instructor: Mark W. Osler Under the supervision of a faculty member, a student may receive up to two hours of course credit for researching and writing a substantial paper on a topic of the student's own choosing. The student must receive the instructor's per- mission to enroll in this course and must meet periodically with the instructor for discussion, review and evaluation. Each faculty member may supervise the research of no more than five students each semester.

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)
LAWS 953 - 01 Clinic: Fed. Commutations I M - - - - - - 1330 - 1525 MSL 459
CRN: 43118 Instructor: Mark W. Osler Students in the Federal Commutations clinic will work under the supervision of a professor representing individuals seeking federal commutations of sentence. Will likely involve travel to federal penitentiaries. Students in this clinic are expected to continue work in the spring semester. 2 credits/semester (spring semester is called Clinic: Advanced Federal Commutations). Enrollment by permission only. Prerequisite: LAWS 725 Professional Responsibility (concurrent registration allowed).

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)

J-Term 2018 Courses

J-Term 2018 Courses
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Spring 2018 Courses

Spring 2018 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location