Two U of U Criminal Law Professors on Opposing Sides of U.S. Supreme Court Case

by Marty Stolz

Two University of Utah criminal law professors are dueling amici curiae before the United States Supreme Court.  The twosome – Paul Cassell and Daniel Medwed – stand opposed on issues and are often asked to weigh in on the critical legal and policy questions of the day.

The two S.J. Quinney College of Law professors increasingly find themselves on opposite sides of important legal issues, as seen in their clash of amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of District Attorney’s Office v. William G. Osborne.  The Court heard oral arguments in Osborne on March 2, 2009.

“Dan and I enjoy working together very much,” Prof. Cassell said. “It forces both of us to stay on our toes, knowing that the other one is around the corner ready to correct any mistakes that we might make.”

“Paul and I rarely see eye to eye,” Prof. Medwed concurred.  “But we do share one thing in common: a deeply-rooted passion for criminal justice. We just have drastically different visions of what constitutes ‘justice.’ ”

William Osborne was convicted in 1993 in Alaska for rape and attempted murder. Osborne seeks to make an “innocence” claim, but he has not had access to the biological evidence for DNA testing.  He brought a civil action against Alaska, claiming deprivation of rights under a federal statute for denying him post-conviction access to the biological evidence.  He also raised a constitutional claim, that the state’s denial of access to the evidence deprived him, under the Fourteenth Amendment, of his due process rights.

Prof. Cassell authored an amicus brief on behalf of the National Crime Victim Law Institute, a Portland, Ore.-based non-profit advocacy and educational organization dedicated, in part, to developing case law on behalf of crime victims.  Cassell teaches courses on criminal law, criminal procedure and victims’ rights.  He is a former federal district judge and an advocate of crime victims’ rights.

Prof. Medwed assisted in the production of two amicus briefs – one on behalf of 11 wrongfully-convicted individuals who have received clemency as a result of DNA testing and another on behalf of eight current or former prosecutors, including former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, a Democrat, and former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican.  Medwed teaches courses on criminal law, evidence, wrongful convictions and civil rights. He is a board member of the national Innocence Network, a consortium of innocence projects across the country, and a proponent of robust appellate access for the convicted.