Mark Osler portrait

Mark Osler

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

Professor Mark Osler's work advocates for sentencing and clemency policies rooted in principles of human dignity. In 2016 and 2019, 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 received the Outstanding Teaching award.

Osler's writing on clemency, sentencing and narcotics policy has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and in law journals at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Georgetown, Ohio State, UNC, William and Mary 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. He is also the sole author of a new casebook, Contemporary Criminal Law (West, 2018).

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 currently serves as the Ruthie Mattox Chair of Preaching at First Covenant Church-Minneapolis, and held the Byrd Preaching Chair at St. Martin's-by-the-Lake Episcopal Church in 2012.  In 2011, he founded the first law school clinic specializing in federal commutations, and in 2015 he co-founded (with Rachel Barkow) the Clemency Resource Center, a one-year pop-up law firm that prepared clemency petitions. Between the two projects, over 100 people have been freed from prison.

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

BOOKS

Contemporary Criminal Law (West, 2018).

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

ARTICLES

Clemency as the Soul of the Constitution, 34 Journal of Law & Politics 31 (2019).

Short of the Mountaintop: Race Neutrality, Criminal Law, and the Jericho Road Ahead, 49 Univ. of Memphis Law Review 77 (2019).

Designed to Fail: The President’s Deference to the Department of Justice in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform (with Rachel Barkow) 59 William & Mary Law Review 387 (2017).

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).  

EDITORIALS

“The Clemency Process is Broken. Trump Can Fix it” (with Rachel Barkow & Mark Holden), The Atlantic, January 15, 2019.

“Presidential Pardons for Friends are Legal-but They’re Wrong,” Washington Post, April 20, 2018.

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 2020 Courses

Fall 2020 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location
LAWS 783 - 01 Sentencing - - - - F - - 1330 - 1525 MSL 244

Days of Week:

- - - - F - -

Time of Day:

1330 - 1525

Location:

MSL 244

Course Registration Number:

47424 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 931 - 01 Interscholastic Moot Court - - - - - - - -

Days of Week:

- - - - - - -

Time of Day:

-

Location:

Course Registration Number:

48649 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 934 - 01 Negotiations Competition - - - - - - - -

Days of Week:

- - - - - - -

Time of Day:

-

Location:

Course Registration Number:

47548 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

1 Credit Hours

Instructor:

Mark W. Osler

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)
LAWS 950 - 21 Supervised Resrch & Writing - - - - - - - -

Days of Week:

- - - - - - -

Time of Day:

-

Location:

Course Registration Number:

47610 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 - - - R - - - 0815 - 1015 MSL 242

Days of Week:

- - - R - - -

Time of Day:

0815 - 1015

Location:

MSL 242

Course Registration Number:

47540 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 2021 Courses

J-Term 2021 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location

Spring 2021 Courses

Spring 2021 Courses
Course - Section Title Days Time Location
LAWS 615 - 1 Criminal Law - T - R - - - 1300 - 1425

Days of Week:

- T - R - - -

Time of Day:

1300 - 1425

Location:

Course Registration Number:

26474 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 615 - 2 Criminal Law - T - R - - - 1450 - 1615

Days of Week:

- T - R - - -

Time of Day:

1450 - 1615

Location:

Course Registration Number:

26477 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 950 - 21 Supervised Resrch & Writing - - - - - - - -

Days of Week:

- - - - - - -

Time of Day:

-

Location:

Course Registration Number:

26592 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

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 954 - 01 Clinic: Fed. Commutations II - - - R - - - 0815 - 1015

Days of Week:

- - - R - - -

Time of Day:

0815 - 1015

Location:

Course Registration Number:

26451 (View in ClassFinder)

Credit Hours:

Instructor:

Mark W. Osler

This is the second semester of the two-semester clinic related to Federal Commutations work. Prerequisite: LAWS 953

Schedule Details

Location Time Day(s)