Mark Osler

Professor and Robert & Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law

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

Professor Mark Osler's work advocates for sentencing and clemency policies rooted in principles of human dignity. In 2013, he was awarded the Outstanding Teaching award by the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
In 2014-15, Osler's writing on clemency, sentencing and narcotics policy has appeared or will appear in The New York Times and law journals at Harvard, Stanford, Rutgers, Northwestern, Wayne State, DePaul and the University of Chicago. 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. Much of his work has been in collaboration with other academics, commentators and judges, including Tom Ashbrook, Rachel Barkow, Amy Baron-Evans, Judge Mark W. Bennett, Douglas Berman, Jeanne Bishop, Graham Boyd, Judge Avern Cohn, Randall O'Brien, Randy Roberts Potts, Nkechi Taifa and Bill Underwood.
Osler's 2009 book Jesus on Death Row (Abingdon Press) critiqued the American death penalty through the lens of Jesus' trial, and led to an improvised performance of that trial that has been conducted in 11 states, with Osler serving as the prosecutor. 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.

Courses Taught

Number Title Credits
615 Criminal Law 3
780 Criminal Practice 4
783 Sentencing 2
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, Jesus on Trial in Texas, 179.3 Christian Ethics Today 18 (2010).

"Narcotics Prosecutors as Problem Solvers"

Mark Osler, Narcotics Prosecutors as Problem SolversStanford Journal of Criminal Law and Policy (2014).

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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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"Law & Tactics for a Market-Reality Narcotics Policy"

Osler, Mark William, Law & Tactics for a Market-Reality Narcotics Policy (2015). Harvard Journal on Legislation, 2015, Forthcoming; U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-04.

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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).