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 2016 Courses

Fall 2016 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location
LAWS 931 - 01 Interscholastic Moot Court - - - - - - - -
CRN: 43459 2 Credit Hours Instructor: Mark W. Osler Interscholastic moot court competitions involve writing and advocacy against teams of students from other law schools. In a typical academic year, teams will be selected to part- icipate in the National Moot Court Competition during the fall semester and in a number of spring competitions. Teams are chosen by a committee of faculty members in consultation with student members of the Board of Advocates. Prior to participation in the competition, team members must write, edit, and submit a brief and practice oral arguments before students, faculty and attorneys. All interscholastic moot court teams work under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)
LAWS 950 - 32 Supervised Resrch & Writing - - - - - - U -
CRN: 43448 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)

J-Term 2017 Courses

J-Term 2017 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location

Spring 2017 Courses

Spring 2017 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location
LAWS 615 - 01 Criminal Law M - W - - - - 1330 - 1455 MSL 321
CRN: 22559 3 Credit Hours Instructor: Mark W. Osler This course will examine the origins, development, purposes and application of the criminal law, which may be the most direct expression of a society's collective morality. The class will be both theoretical and practical. Students will study and discuss theories of crime and punishment, as well as the real-life consequences of enforcing these theories in an imperfect world. Students will learn the general prin- ciples of criminal liability and related defenses, the ele- ments of various crimes, the nature of criminal acts and the requisite mental states. The course will emphasize heavily the ethics of criminalizing behavior and society's treatment of criminal wrongdoers.

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)
LAWS 780 - 01 Criminal Practice - T - R - - - 0830 - 1025 MSL 242
CRN: 22595 Instructor: Mark W. Osler Criminal Practice is a practical class for those students who are committed to pursuing the vocation of criminal law. While Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure cover essential statutes and precedents, Criminal Practice teaches students how to use that knowledge and ethically practice criminal law in the field. For example, in Criminal Law students may have learned what a suppression hearing is, and in Criminal Procedure they will have studied the law that can be relied upon to suppress evidence. Criminal Practice builds on that knowledge and covers the actual preparation and presentation of a suppression motion-how to write the motion (and response), how to prevent evidence at the hearing, and how to interact with clients and agents before, during, and after the hearing. Because the course is rooted in practice, much of the student work is done in the form of exercises, which track the work done throughout the criminal case. As much as possible, these exercises are crafted to reflect the challenges faced in real cases.

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)