Dean Hiram Chodosh of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law recently announced that Paul Cassell had been named the Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law. Cassell, a member of the Quinney College faculty since 1992, Cassell teaches criminal procedure, crime victims’ rights, criminal law, and related classes.
In the following interview, Cassell discusses his current work on behalf of crime victims’ rights, his new research and writing projects, and his fortuitous 1991 interview with Ronald Boyce that inspired Cassell to come to the University of Utah.
What kinds of projects are you currently working on?
The main focus of my scholarly research right now is crime victim’s rights — that is, research on how we recognize the interests of victims in a criminal justice system that has traditionally accommodated on the interests of the state and the defendant. A particular interest right now is restitution. The general purpose behind restitution in criminal cases is to have the defendant pay the crime victim back for losses caused by the crime, thereby restoring the victim (to the extent possible) that she would have been in had no crime been committed. Unfortunately, however many limits on restitution keep it from fully achieving that purpose. In my research, I hope to make the case for removing some of the limitations that currently exist on crime victims restitution.
I am also doing a bit of work on the issue of false confessions. The focus of my research here is to try and identify particular causes of false confessions and possible solutions to the problem. I believe that some researchers in the area of overstated the problem of false confessions, alleging that such confessions are endemic to the criminal justice system. I believe that the problem tends to be concentrated among particular kinds of defendants, namely the mentally retarded and juveniles, and that solutions to the problem need to concentrate on particular vulnerabilities in these populations.
Will the appointment to the Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor in Criminal Law affect your scholarship? If so, how?
I am greatly honored to be named the Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law. In 1991, my very first [interview] as an aspiring faculty candidate was with Professor Boyce. I remember well how he was almost hidden behind a pile of books on his desk! He helped convince me that the University of Utah was the place for me, particularly because the faculty was fully supportive of a wide range of scholarly interests and approaches. He was right, and I have never regretted following his advice and coming to the law school. It was a great honor for me also to be able to work with him not only here at the law school, but later at the U.S. District Court, where I served as a federal district judge at the same time as he served as a federal magistrate judge. In my teaching I constantly try to remind my students of the great work done by Professor and Judge Boyce, citing his scholarly works and opinions whenever I can.
What research have you done since the appointment?
Perhaps my most interesting recent article is the one entitled “In Defense of Victim Impact Statements,” published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. I try to provide a broad justification for permitting crime victims to testify to the impact of crimes at sentencing. While victim impact statements are a widely-recognized feature of state and federal criminal justice systems, many academic commentators have been critical of them. In my article, I contend that the criticism is unwarranted and that victim impact statements both provide useful information to sentencing judges and give crime victims important participatory and cathartic benefits.
I am also working on updating my co-authored law school casebook: Victims in Criminal Procedure. There are many new cases to include in the book, including some pro bono cases that I have argued in the last two years on behalf of victims.