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Criminal Law

The clients of criminal defense lawyers have their property, their liberty, and sometimes even their lives at stake. Prosecutors on the other side of those same cases are responsible for protecting the community from dangerous criminals and seeking justice for what are often heinous acts. Because of the importance of criminal litigation, criminal lawyers spend a great deal of time in the courtroom and litigating constitutional issues. The issues at stake for both sides make criminal law one of the most exciting, rewarding, and demanding areas of practice. It is also one in which many Cincinnati alumni have excelled.

Defense lawyers work in a variety of practice settings. Many are employed by Public Defender Offices and represent persons charged with crimes who cannot afford their own counsel. Accordingly, they tend to represent people charged with “street crimes,” such as robbery, assault, theft, and narcotics offenses. Many federal judicial districts have Federal Public Defender offices, which represent people charged with federal crimes who cannot afford to pay for counsel. Many defense lawyers are also in private practice either in a solo practice, small firms, or departments of large firms. Some private criminal defense lawyers specialize in certain areas of criminal law such as a member of a large, primarily civil, law firm who handles securities, white collar, and financial crimes.

Prosecutors also work in many different offices with authority to conduct criminal prosecutions. Most prosecutors work for local, county, and state governments. Crime is primarily local, and, therefore, depending on jurisdictional requirements, prosecutors in these offices do the vast majority of prosecutions. However, a substantial number of prosecutors also work for the U.S. Department of Justice either in Washington D.C. or in one of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, which are located in each state. Federal prosecutors prosecute federal crimes such as narcotics, white collar fraud schemes, organized crime, and crimes related to violent gangs. There are also a few state and federal offices with specialized prosecutorial jurisdiction over, for example, tax or environmental offenses.


All students will take Criminal Law during their first year. Those considering a career in this area generally select foundational courses such as Criminal Procedure I, Criminal Procedure II, White Collar Crime, and Evidence in the second year of study. Trial Practice and other classes that teach litigation skills are also helpful. Students can further refine their knowledge and skills in this area by selecting from these criminal law courses:

  • Antitrust
  • Computer Crime Law
  • Counterterrorism Law
  • Crimmigration
  • Criminal Procedure I
  • Criminal Procedure II
  • Evidence
  • Indigent Defense Clinic
  • Ohio Innocence Project
  • Sixth Circuit Clinic
  • Trial Practice
  • Trial Practice: Competition Team
  • White Collar Crime

Because the practice of criminal law so often involves litigation, many students interested in criminal law will also take many classes from the litigation and alternative dispute resolution curriculum. The following elective courses would also be helpful.

  • Administrative Law
  • Advanced Legal Research
  • Advanced Decision Analysis
  • Advanced Problems in Legal Ethics
  • Appellate Practice
  • Client Counseling
  • Complex Litigation
  • Crimigration
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Current Problems in International Women's Human Rights
  • Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic
  • Electronic Discovery: Procedural and Evidentiary Issues
  • Federal Courts
  • Gender and the Law
  • Introduction to Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Introduction to Law and Psychiatry
  • Judicial Externships
  • Legal Externships
  • Moot Court
  • Negotiations
  • Pretrial Litigation
  • Witness Preparation

Sample Student Schedule

Linked here is a sample of a student schedule of a fictitious student who is interested in criminal law. This is designed to give some idea of the many ways courses can be woven into a curriculum designed to build your knowledge of criminal and other areas of the law, prepare you to take a bar exam, and help you acquire professional skills. You can create many wonderful schedules that meet your goals. This one is merely a sample, that, frankly, should only be used to spur your ideas of the best curriculum for you. You may also want to discuss your scheduling choices with professors, practitioners, upper-level students and Dean Oliver. Please remember that you must ensure that your schedule will meet all the requirements for graduation. Also remember that the classes listed in this sample schedule may not be offered in the particular semester shown here while you are in law school and that the number of credits may vary from year to year.

Gwen Alum — Student interested in working as a prosecutor

Other Student Learning Opportunities

Experiential Learning Opportunities

Centers and Institutes

Other Student Activities

Student Organizations — sampling

* See complete list of student organizations.

These national organizations offer student memberships:

Volunteer Opportunities — sampling

* Get more information about volunteer opportunities.

Full-Time Faculty

Jennifer S. Bard
Dean and Nippert Professor of Law and Professor, Department of Internal Medicine

Mark A. Godsey
Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Faculty Director,
Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/ Ohio Innocence Project

Christo Lassiter
Professor of Law and Criminal Justice

Janet Moore
Associate Professor of Law

Yolanda Vazquez
Associate Professor of Law

Recent Student Stories

Anna Lammert '12. Early in her law student career, St. Louis native Anna Lammert focused on international law. Today, however, the recent College of Law graduate is back home studying for the Missouri bar, which is just one more step in the process of beginning a career in criminal defense. (Read More)

Rex Marvel '12. After three years in Cincinnati, (Johnathon) Rex Marvel is off to the other Queen City – Charlotte, N.C. Marvel, a recent graduate of the College of Law, will spend the next three years at the Mecklenburg County Office of the Public Defender, as part of the 2012 Class of Public Defender Corps Fellows. (Read More)

Lindsey Fleissner '12. Lindsey Fleissner ’12 knew for many years that she wanted to be a lawyer. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Fleissner attended the University of Dayton for undergraduate degree, where she majored in psychology. Throughout college, Fleissner’s participation in legal internships and other experiences fed her interest in being a lawyer, and in criminal law in particular. (Read more)

Zach El-Sawaf ’12. Zach El-Sawaf ’12 is a native Cincinnatian. Although he attended the University of Notre Dame for college, where he majored in political science, he ultimately returned to Cincinnati for law school. This wasn’t always his plan, however; El-Sawaf spent a year after college working for Easter Seals, an organization he had worked seasonally throughout college. “Law school was always in the back of my mind, though,” said El-Sawaf. “I always enjoyed arguing, and I had really enjoyed the mock trial experiences I had had during high school. I also knew that a JD would benefit me in any career I chose to enter.” (Read more)

Innocence Reform Bill Crafted at UC College of Law On Verge of Becoming Ohio Law. What one legislator termed "one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century" was passed by the Ohio House on Tuesday with broad bipartisan support, putting the bill that began as a winter-break research effort by UC law students on the cusp of becoming state law. (Read more)

OIP Students. After serving 20 years in prison for rapes that he had always maintained he did not commit, 46-year-old Roger "Dean" Gillispie walked out of prison into the arms of his mother and father three days before Christmas — thanks to the persistent efforts of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), operated by the UC College of Law. Since the case became OIP's first one nine years ago, students and Professor Mark Godsey, OIP director and former federal prosecutor, have doggedly worked on it. (Read More)

UC Alumni Careers

Some places our graduates have worked include:

  • Chicago Public Defender's Office
  • Innocence Project of Florida
  • Ohio Attorney General's Office
  • Porter Wright Morris & Arthur
  • Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
  • United States Attorney's Office in Philadelphia and Boston
  • Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office

Other Resources

Special Focus Law Reviews and Journals

  • American Criminal Law Review
  • American Journal of Criminal Law
  • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
  • Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law

Internet Resources