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John D. Bessler


Associate Professor, University of Baltimore School of Law, Adjunct Professor of Law

B.A., University of Minnesota; J.D., Indiana; M.F.A., Hamline University; M.St., Oxford

John Bessler, an Associate Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, teaches a death penalty seminar, a course he previously taught at the...

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John Bessler, an Associate Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, teaches a death penalty seminar, a course he previously taught at the University of Minnesota Law School, The George Washington University Law School, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and Rutgers School of Law. He clerked for U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Mason of the District of Minnesota, and practiced law full-time for many years in the area of civil litigation as a partner at the Minneapolis law firm of Kelly & Berens, P.A. Professor Bessler has written nine books, including several books on the subject of capital punishment. Two of those books, Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America (Northeastern University Press, 1997) and Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), were Minnesota Book Award finalists. Another of his books, Writing for Life: The Craft of Writing for Everyday Living, was a Midwest Book Award finalist and the winner of an Independent Publisher Book Award. Yet another, Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment (Northeastern University Press, 2012), received a Silver designation in the U.S. History category for the Independent Publisher Book Awards and was also a finalist in the History category for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award. He has a B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota, and served as the Senior Managing Editor of the Indiana Law Journal at the Indiana University School of Law – Bloomington. He also has an M.F.A. degree from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a master's degree in International Human Rights Law from Oxford University. Professor Bessler served as the Writing Center Director as a visiting professor at The George Washington University Law School and has taught courses in lawyering skills, civil procedure, contracts, comparative criminal law, and international human rights law. He taught at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in 2017, and he will be a visiting scholar at the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School in 2018. He has also served for the past three years as the Region III Director of the National Moot Court Competition. His law review articles have appeared in the American Criminal Law Review, the Indiana Law Journal, the Arkansas Law Review, the Hastings International and Comparative Law Review and elsewhere, and he is also the author of various book chapters on capital punishment. His 2014 book, The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution, was published by Carolina Academic Press and won three book awards, including the prestigious Scribes Book Award--an annual award given out since 1961 for "the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year." He is also the editor of Justice Stephen Breyer's Against the Death Penalty, a book published by Brookings Institution Press in August 2016 which reprints, contextualizes and annotates Justice Breyer's recent dissent in Glossip v. Gross, 135 S. Ct. 2726 (2015). Professor Bessler is also the author of The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition (2017) and The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World (2018), both published by Carolina Academic Press. He is also of counsel to the Minneapolis law firm of Berens & Miller, P.A., which represents a variety of clients and handles complex commercial litigation.

In the News

The Methods to the Madness: The Electric Chair, Lethal Injection and Now Nitrogen Gas,” an academic commentary by Adjunct Professor John D. Bessler, in the Jurist, April 30, 2015.

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The Methods to the Madness: The Electric Chair, Lethal Injection and Now Nitrogen Gas,” an academic commentary by Adjunct Professor John D. Bessler, in the Jurist, April 30, 2015.

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