Criminal Law Theorist Kimberly Kessler Ferzan to Join UVA Law Faculty

Kimberly Ferzan

Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, whose papers and teaching have won awards, says "eating, sleeping and breathing criminal law" has been a way of life since her first year in law school.

April 23, 2014

Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, a criminal law theorist with a background as a federal prosecutor, will join the University of Virginia School of Law in the fall as a professor of law.

"Kim Ferzan is one of the most distinguished criminal law theorists of her generation, and perhaps simply the most distinguished," said UVA Law professor Frederick Schauer, an expert in legal reasoning and philosophy of law. "Her work on the nature of criminal responsibility, the principles of punishment, and the intersection between the criminal law and the principles of evidence and proof has attracted great and deserved attention."

Ferzan, who was a visitor at the Law School last fall, is currently a distinguished professor of law at Rutgers University, Camden, where she is co-director of the Rutgers Institute for Law and Philosophy. She is also an associate graduate faculty member in the school's New Brunswick Philosophy Department, consistently ranked among the top in the nation. She is the author of numerous articles on criminal law, and the co-author of the monograph, "Crime and Culpability: A Theory of Criminal Law."

"I'm thrilled," Ferzan said about joining the Law School. "Virginia is a tremendous community. Both the students and the faculty are incredibly bright, rigorous thinkers while being warm and genuine people. I cannot wait to bat around ideas with other legal theorists and to join the rich and diverse criminal law program."

She said she knew early on during her legal studies at the University of Pennsylvania that she wanted to specialize in criminal law.

"I'm somebody who fell in love with criminal law my first year of law school," Ferzan said. "The planets aligned for me, and I was eating, sleeping and breathing criminal law."

Ferzan's recent scholarship includes the article "Beyond Crime and Commitment," which was selected for the 2013 American Philosophical Association's Berger Memorial Prize (for the best paper written in law and philosophy for the prior two years) and "Beyond Intention," an article selected for the 2006 Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum in the category of criminal law. She received the Rutgers Dean's Award for Scholarly Excellence in 2012.

In addition to her own works, Ferzan is co-editor in chief of the journal Law and Philosophy, and is on the editorial boards of Legal Theory, and Criminal Law and Philosophy. She said those responsibilities will continue when she joins UVA.

Ferzan writes and teaches, in part, based on her practical experience. From 1997-2000, she worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division, where she investigated and prosecuted criminal offenses committed by federal, state and local officials. She also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia.

"It is rare to find a theorist with such a rich background in practice," said Josh Bowers, a UVA Law professor whose scholarship focuses on criminal procedure and justice theory. "Kim has drawn on this rich mix to produce fascinating and original scholarship. And I have seen her draw on it also in the classroom. She had the students completely engaged."

Schauer agreed that Ferzan is a top-notch instructor. "[Ferzan's] ability to convey her insights in the classroom with clarity and wit will benefit our students as much as her academic work benefits the larger scholarly community," Schauer said.

At Rutgers, she received the campus-wide Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence in 2010, and she was selected as Professor of the Year by the Classes of 2004 and 2010.

Ferzan said she will teach Evidence and first-year Criminal Law at UVA, along with two other seminars, one of which will be an advanced criminal law course.

She will also continue to work on her latest book, which examines how self-defense applies to the theory of preventive detention. The concept of a responsible agent — a person capable of grasping the moral implications of his actions — is central to the book's arguments.

"When an agent is responsible, then even if he is dangerous, we cannot simply lock him up in advance." Ferzan said. "Traditionally, the thought is that for responsible and dangerous people, the state must wait until the individual commits a crime and then it must use criminal law. However, I question that conventional wisdom. I am extending a theory of self-defense — when we are permitted to stop responsible agents from harming us — to preventive detention. This theory is meant to cover everything from terrorism to sexual predators to the common criminal."

Bowers said students and faculty will benefit from Ferzan's wealth of knowledge, and as he pointed out, he was speaking from experience.

"I cannot think of anyone currently writing about substantive criminal law from whom I have learned more," Bowers said.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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