What Process Is Due?: The History and Use of Private Prosecutions in American States,  and an Exploration of Constitutional Rights and the Contours of Due Process  

October 13, 2022, 4:00 to 6:00 pm
Walter F. Mondale Hall
Ballard Spahr Conference Room (3rd Floor)

University of Minnesota Law School
229 19th Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Join the Human Rights Center and Riesenfeld Rare Books Center for a book talk with Professor John Bessler (U. Baltimore). Bessler will discuss his new book, Private Prosecution in America: Its Origins, History, and Unconstitutionality in the Twenty-First Century (2022), the first comprehensive and historical examination of a practice that dates to the colonial era. In Private Prosecution in America, Bessler shows how private prosecutors—acting on their own behalf, as next of kin, or through retained counsel—have initiated and handled prosecutions and sought the punishment of offenders, including in capital cases.

Private prosecution is still with us today. After reviewing current state laws and locales that continue to allow private prosecutions by interested parties, Bessler makes the case that such prosecutions violate defendants' constitutional rights and should be outlawed. This talk will give an overview of the arguments and stimulate discussion on an important and ongoing issue relating to the due process rights of defendants.

About our Speaker: 

Professor John Bessler has taught at the University of Baltimore School of Law since 2009, becoming a tenured faculty member in 2014. He has also taught at the University of Minnesota Law School, the George Washington University Law School, the Georgetown University Law Center, Rutgers School of Law, and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He clerked for U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. “Jack” Mason of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, and practiced law full-time for many years in the area of civil litigation. In 2018, he was awarded the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Faculty Award for Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity.  In 2018, he was also a visiting scholar/research fellow at the Human Rights Center of the University of Minnesota Law School.

Bessler has written or edited eleven books, six on the subject of capital punishment, two on the origins of American law, one on the craft of writing, and a biography of the eighteenth-century Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria. His undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota is in political science, and in addition to an M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University, he has a master’s degree in international human rights law from Oxford University. His law degree is from the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington. His law review articles have appeared in the American Criminal Law Review, the Arkansas Law Review, the Northeastern University Law Review, the Montana Law Review, and elsewhere, and his books have received numerous awards, including the Scribes Book Award for The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution (Carolina Academic Press, 2014).

Among his notable publications on capital punishment are Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders’ Eighth Amendment (Northeastern University Press, 2012), The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition (Carolina Academic Press, 2017), The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World (Carolina Academic Press, 2018), and The Baron and the Marquis: Liberty, Tyranny, and the Enlightenment Maxim That Can Remake American Criminal Justice (Carolina Academic Press, 2019). A forthcoming book, The Death Penalty’s Denial of Fundamental Human Rights: International Law, State Practice, and the Emerging Abolitionist Norm, will be published by Cambridge University Press in November 2022.

CLE Credits
1 standard CLE credit has been requested. Pending event code: 473570

The reception will be held in Ballard Spahr Conference Room from 5-6pm. 

Light Refreshments will be served. 

Accessibility Information

If you are unable to attend the in-person lecture, a video recording will be available and linked from this event page following the event.

Parking Information