Mark Osler


Osler, Mark
(651) 962-4852
(800) 328-6819, Ext. 2-4852

Office Location: MSL 462

J.D. Yale Law School

B.A. College of William and Mary

Mark Osler is a Professor of Law at the University of St, Thomas Law School in Minnesota. A graduate of the College of William and Mary and Yale Law School, Prof. Osler is a former federal prosecutor whose work has consistently confronted the problem of inflexibility in sentencing and corrections.

As lead counsel he won the case of Spears v. United States (2009) in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Court held that sentencing judges can categorically reject the 100:1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in the federal sentencing guidelines. Justice Stevens (in dissent) also quoted Prof. Osler in the seminal case of United States v. Booker (2005), which struck down the mandatory guidelines. As an appellate attorney, Osler has briefed or argued cases (often as Amicus for other sentencing experts) in six federal courts of appeal and in the United States Supreme Court, and as a sentencing expert he has testified in Congress (2009) and before the U.S. Sentencing Commission (2004).

He serves as the head of the Association of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools, and often lectures on issues relating to sentencing, ethics, and faith and the law. His work on one case is portrayed in the Samuel Goldwyn film American Violet, where the character of Prof. Joe Fischer is based on Osler’s role in working with a former student to address suspect practices by a District Attorney. His book, Jesus on Death Row (Abingdon, 2009) challenges the death penalty based on the experience of Christ as a criminal defendant. He has also authored over twenty academic articles and has been interviewed as a sentencing or Supreme Court expert on CNN, NPR’s Morning Edition, ABC’s Good Morning America, and in hundreds of newspapers. In 2009 (while serving as a professor at Baylor University) he was named “Wacoan of the Year” by Wacoan Magazine. 

In 2014, Osler was the subject of an expansive profile in The American Prospect titled "The Quality of Mercy," which detailed his life and work as one of the nation's most effective advocates for criminal justice reform.

Courses Taught

Number Title Credits
615 Criminal Law 3
780 Criminal Practice 4
783 Sentencing 2
793 Topics 0
931 Interscholastic Moot Court 1
934 Negotiations Competition 1
939 Moot Court Trial 2
950 Supervised Resrch & Writing .5
953 Clinic: Fed. Commutations I 2
954 Clinic: Fed. Commutations II 2

Areas of Academic Expertise:

Sentencing and Corrections

From the article "Grand Ideas: Faculty members describe the best ideas from their scholarship" St. Thomas Lawyer Magazine Fall 2011

My most important idea in scholarship has been the stubborn insistence that the crack/powder cocaine ratio in the federal sentencing guidelines comport with the demands of the Sixth
Amendment. This has led to a series of articles, briefs and lectures that culminated in the Supreme Court win in Spears v. United States, in which I was lead counsel.

Upcoming: I will focus on the death penalty and broader reforms in federal sentencing and commutation practice.

Contributions and mentions in the media


Mark Osler, Jesus On Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment (Abingdon Press, 2009).


Mark Osler, Unashamed and Unafraidin The Baptist and Christian Character of Baylor (Donald D. Schmeltekopf et al. eds., 2003).


Mark Osler, Roe's Ragged Remnant:Viability, Stan. L. & Pol’y Rev. (forthcoming 2013).

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Mark Osler, A Biblical Value in the Constitution: Mercy, Clemency, Faith, and History, U. St. Thomas L.J. (forthcoming 2013).

Mark Osler, What Would It Look Like If We Cared About Narcotics Trafficking? An Argument to Attack Narcotics Capital Rather than Labor, 15 UDC/DCSL L. Rev. 113 (2011).

Mark Osler, After the Implosion: Trailing-Edge Guidelines for a New Era, 7 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 795 (2010).

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Mark Osler, Seeking Justice Below the Guidelines: Sentencing as an Expression of Natural Law, 8 Geo. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 167 (2010).

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Mark Osler, Policy, Uniformity, Discretion, and Congress’s Sentencing Acid Trip, 2009 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 293 (2009).

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Mark Osler, Aseret Had’varim in Tension: The Ten Commandments and the Bill of Rights, 49 J. Church & St. 683 (2007).

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Hon. Jeffrey Manske & Mark Osler, Crazy Eyes: The Discernment of Competence by a Federal Magistrate Judge, 67 La. L. Rev. 751 (2007).

Mark Osler, Christ, Christians, and Capital Punishment, 59 Baylor L. Rev. 1 (2007).

Mark Osler, This Changes Everything: A Call for a Directive, Goal-Oriented Principle to Guide the Discretion of Federal Prosecutors, 39 Val. U. L. Rev. 625 (2005). 

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Mark Osler, The Lawyer’s Humble Walk, 32 Pepp. L. Rev. 483 (2005).

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Mark Osler, Indirect Harms and Proportionality: The Upside-Down World of Federal Sentencing, 74 Miss. L.J. 1 (2005). 

Mark Osler, Must Have Got Lost: Traditional Sentencing Goals, The False Trail of Uniformity of Process, and the Way Back Home, 54 S.C. L. Rev. 649 (2003).

Mark Osler, Capone and Bin Laden: The Failure of Government at the Cusp of War and Crime, 55 Baylor L. Rev. 603 (2003).

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Brian Serr & Mark Osler, Criminal Procedure, 34 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 649 (2003).

Mark Osler, Two Preachers, A Trial Lawyer and Aristotle, 29 Religion & Educ. 78 (2002).

Brian Serr & Mark Osler, Criminal Procedure, 33 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 811 (2002). 

Mark Osler, Shock Incarceration: Hard Realities and Real Possibilities, 55 Fed. Probation 34 (1991). 

"Restructuring Clemency: The Cost of Ignoring Clemency and a Plan for Renewal "

Barkow, Rachel E. and Osler, Mark William, Restructuring Clemency: The Cost of Ignoring Clemency and a Plan for Renewal (2014). University of Chicago Law Review, 2014, Forthcoming; U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-28; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper. 

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Short Pieces

Mark Osler, Joseph G. Allegretti, The Lawyer’s Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice (1996), 1 J. Christian Legal Thought 25 (2011). 

Mark Osler & Matthew Fass, The Ford Approach and Real Fairness for Crack Convicts, 23  Fed. Sent’g Rep. 228 (2011).

Mark Osler, Jesus on Trial in Texas, 179.3 Christian Ethics Today 18 (2010).

Mark Osler, Intensive Parenting and Banishment as Sentencing: Alternatives for Defendant Parents, 22 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 44 (2009). 

Mark Osler, Texas Juries, Buyer’s Remorse, and Booker’s Fatal Flaw, 22 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 100 (2009). 

Mark Osler, Death to These Guidelines, and a Clean Sheet of Paper, 21 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 7 (2008). 

Mark Osler & DeAnna Toten Beard, Susan Glaspell Goes To Law School: Adventures in Teaching Trifles to Criminal Practice Students, 4 Tex. Theater J. 43 (2008). 

Mark Osler, More Than Numbers: A Proposal for Rational Drug Sentences, 19 Fed. Sent’g Rep.  326 (2007). 

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Mark Osler, Ball in a Cup: The Case for Stability and Patience, 18 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 164 (2006).  

Mark Osler, Uniformity and the Death of Traditional Sentencing Goals in the Age of Feeney, 16  Fed. Sent’g Rep. 253 (2004).

Mark Osler, The Blakely Problem and the 3X Solution, 16 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 344 (2004).

Mark Osler & Douglas A. Berman, Criminal History in Practice: The Practices and Practicalities of Criminal History, 13 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 307 (2001).

Mark Osler & Avern Cohn, The Calculation of Criminal History by AUSAs and Defendants: A Study of Inefficiency in the Eastern District of Michigan, 13 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 327 (2001).