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Former Federal Prosecutor Joins Temple Law Faculty

Lauren -Ouziel -ProfileThe Temple Law community will welcome a new faculty member in the fall.  Lauren Ouziel, who will teach Evidence, Criminal Procedure, and Civil Procedure, joins the faculty after practicing for several years as a federal prosecutor in New York and Philadelphia.  We caught up with her as she settled in to her office in Klein Hall, where she spoke with us about her love for the law, her scholarship, and what she wants to accomplish here at Temple Law.

TL: You've clerked, worked in private practice, and spent eight years as a federal prosecutor in New York and Philadelphia.  Now you're joining the academic world as a full-time professor.  What inspired you to shift from legal practice to legal education?

LO: I love being a lawyer, and I loved practicing law.  It's engaging, challenging, at times thrilling. I have found it equally rewarding, though, to be able to take a few steps back and consider how my own experiences fit in to the much larger systemic picture-and why and how that picture looks the way it does.  In my practice, I also very much enjoyed mentoring newer lawyers as well as law students, and I look forward to mentoring even more as a law professor.       

TL: Specifically, what was it about Temple Law as an academic institution that attracted you? What do you hope to accomplish here?

LO: I wanted to be at a school that values both teaching and scholarship, because I value both.  I hope to instill in my students curiosity, critical and strategic thinking, and a deeper, more nuanced insight into some of the pressing legal issues of today (and tomorrow). And through my scholarship I hope to build upon those insights, further enriching my students' learning.

TL: Do you draw upon your experiences in practice when you teach? How?

LO: All the time!  It's impossible for me not to draw on my experiences, they inflect every aspect of my classes.  I might bring to life a rule of evidence or legal issue with reference to a particular case I tried; or I might tell a student who offers a novel legal argument: "Great! I love it, and here's all the reasons you should be right-but a judge probably won't buy it, and here's why."

TL: Let's talk about your scholarship.  You focus on "institutional dynamics in criminal investigation and adjudication."  Can you elaborate on the idea of institutional dynamics?  What's the basic question or problem that you're trying to address?

LO: Criminal law on the books is very different from criminal law in the courthouse and in our communities.  Legislators write laws, but prosecutors and police decide which laws to enforce, and against whom.  Legislators and sentencing commissions suggest penalties for crimes; but prosecutors decide, by virtue of the charges they bring, which penalties will apply, and judges decide what specific sentence will be imposed in a given case. And in a system that functions almost entirely through plea-bargaining, prosecutors' decisions-which cases to charge, what charges to bring, and what charges to dismiss-reflect the realities of how juries or judges decide tried cases, and how judges sentence.  To understand why our laws are enforced the way they are, then, we need to ask what affects these dynamics. What institutional pressures or incentives cause police or prosecutors to focus on certain crimes and not others? How do law enforcement decisions impact communities, and in turn the juries that are drawn from those communities?  And how do (or how should) community norms influence judges and sentencing commissions?

TL: Why is this issue so important to you?  How did you come to be so passionate about it?

LO: Constitutional doctrine and legislation do very little, in practice, to regulate the criminal justice system.  Any real balancing of the system comes primarily through the interplay of the groups that comprise it: prosecutors, judges, juries, sentencing commissions, legislatures.  To the extent we think criminal justice in this country should be administered differently than it currently is, we need to consider what motivates the actors within each of these institutions, and how laws, policies and norms influence those motivations.

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