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Duke Law professor among most cited criminal law faculty

Courtesy of Brandon Garrett
Courtesy of Brandon Garrett

Driven by his concern for underrepresented people, a Duke law professor has developed numerous widely-cited studies in criminal justice and is now ranked as one of the best-renowned scholar in his field. 

Brandon Garrett, the inaugural L. Neil Williams professor of law, explained that he grew interest in civil rights law while doing poverty and eviction-prevention work in New York City—not long after he graduated from law school. 

“I learned how important due process is when people face losing their home or their welfare benefits,” Garrett wrote in an email. “And I saw how important it is to have a prepared advocate."

Garrett is the fourth most-cited professor in criminal law and procedure in the U.S, according to Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports. Ranging from being cited by Associate Justice Stephen Breyer for his research on the death penalty to books that have received national accolades, Garrett’s work aims to incorporate empirical studies with legal scholarship.

“In general, I have been pleased and honored to have my work cited by courts,” Garrett wrote. “I do think that in criminal justice matters, judges are increasingly aware that there is empirical evidence and research that can truly help to inform their decisions.  It is an exciting time for criminal justice policy and research.”

The youngest of all those ranked on his field, Garrett was cited 750 times from 2013 to 2017. He fell just behind Christopher Slobogin—Milton R. Underwood chair in law at Vanderbilt University—with 770 citations and Rachel Barkow—Segal Family professor of regulatory law and policyat New York University—with 775 citations. 

The most-cited professor was Orin Kerr—Frances R. and John J. Duggan distinguished professor of law at University of Southern California—cited 1300 times.

In June 2018, Garrett’s empirical studies on the death penalty were cited in Associate Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent to the denial of death row inmates’ petitions for certiorari. Garrett wrote that Breyer tends to use “evidence-based” arguments on the arbitrary nature of death penalty sentences. 

Breyer referred to Garrett’s research to illustrate that, despite death penalties declining in recent years, they have become increasingly concentrated in fewer counties. Garrett wrote that he believed Breyer cited his data correctly and that it is “important for courts to make evidence-informed decisions.”

“In the mid-1990s, more than 300 people were sentenced to death in roughly 200 counties each year,” Breyer wrote. “By comparison, these numbers have declined dramatically over the past three years. A recent study finds, for example, that in 2015, all of those who were sentenced to death nationwide (51 people in total) were sentenced in 38 of this Nation’s more than 3,000 counties; in 2016, all death sentences (31 in total) were imposed in just 28 counties nationwide (fewer than 1% of counties).”

Garrett documented the findings featured in the opinion in his book, End of its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice, and in an article entitled "The State of the Death Penalty Decline." 

He also has online data sets pertaining to his research from the book, including an interactive map displaying the geographic concentration of death penalty sentences since 1991.

But this was not the only time Garrett’s work has crossed the mind of a Supreme Court justice. 

“My research on wrongful convictions has been cited by the Supreme Court several times,” Garrett wrote. “For example, [former] Justice Antonin Scalia cited to my research, with Peter Neufeld, describing the role that invalid forensic testimony played in DNA exoneration cases. Justice Scalia was highlighting how important it is to get scientific evidence right in the courtroom.”

Garrett has also been cited by lower federal courts, state supreme courts and the supreme courts of Canada and Israel.

End of Its Rope is not Garrett’s only book that has achieved national acclaim. Another one of his books–Convicting the Innocent–was deemed an Atlantic Best Book about Justice in 2012, received an honorable mention at the American Bar Association’s 2012 Silver Gavel Awards and was a co-winner of the Constitution Project’s 2011 Constitutional Commentary Award.

Garrett attended Columbia Law School as a Kent Scholar and served as an articles editor of the Columbia Law Review. 

After graduating, he clerked for the Pierre N. Leval of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and later became an associate at Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin LLP in New York City. He wrote that his practice focused on the intersection of civil rights suits and the criminal justice system.

“I represented people who had been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, including people who had falsely confessed or been misidentified by eyewitnesses,” Garrett wrote. “The lawsuits focused on securing compensation for the years those people spent in prison for crimes they did not commit. I also worked on police use of force cases, challenging unreasonable use of force, as well as a mixture of other matters.”

From 2005 to 2018, Garrett was the Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished professor of law and White Burkett Miller professor of law and public affairs at the University of Virginia School of Law. For several years, he has participated in research and education efforts as part of the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Science. 

At Duke Law School, Garrett is currently teaching a forensics litigation course and will co-teach a forensic science seminar in the spring. He also works with two post-doctoral students along with affiliates of the Duke School of Medicine on a series of projects studying criminal justice outcomes in North Carolina.

“Duke is a fantastic place to do this work because there is such a longstanding focus on bringing together researchers from different disciplines to collaborate,” Garrett wrote.


Stefanie Pousoulides | Investigations Editor

Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.

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