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School of Law



Associate Professor of LawBessler
John and Frances Angelos Law Center, Room 1108

Administrative Assistant: Rose McMunn
John and Frances Angelos Law Center, Office of the Dean


M.ST., University of Oxford
M.F.A., Hamline University
J.D., Indiana University School of Law
B.A., University of Minnesota

Curriculum Vitae

Areas of Expertise

Capital Punishment
Civil Procedure
Lawyering Skills

Bessler has taught at the University of Baltimore School of Law since 2009, and he has also taught at the University of Minnesota Law School, the George Washington University Law School, the Georgetown University Law Center, and Rutgers School of Law-Camden. He clerked for U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Mason of the District of Minnesota, and practiced law for many years in the area of civil litigation as a partner at the Minneapolis law firm of Kelly & Berens, P.A. He has written six books, four on the subject of capital punishment, one on the origins of American law, and one on the craft of writing. His undergraduate degree is in political science, and in addition to an M.F.A. in Writing, he has a master's degree in international human rights law. His law review articles have appeared in the American Criminal Law Review, the Indiana Law Journal, the Arkansas Law Review, and elsewhere, and his books have received numerous awards.  His latest book, The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution (Carolina Academic Press, 2014), is the recipient of the 2015 Scribes Book Award, an annual award given out since 1961 for "the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year."  That book also earned a First Prize in the American Association for Italian Studies Book Award competition and was the Gold Winner in the IndieFab Book Award competition in the history category. Bessler, a two-time Minnesota Book Award finalist, also currently teaches a capital punishment seminar as an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

 Selected Publications

Books and Book Chapters

"Capital Punishment Law and Practices: History, Trends, and Developments," in James R. Acker, Robert M. Bohm & Charles S. Lanier, eds., America's Experiment with Capital Punishment: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of Ultimate Penal Sanction (3rd ed. 2014).

"The American Enlightenment: Eliminating Capital Punishment in the United States," in Capital Punishment: A Hazard to a Sustainable Criminal Justice System? (Lill Scherdin, ed., 2014).

The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution (Carolina Academic Press, 2014).

Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment (Boston: Northeastern University Press) (released in paperback in 2013).

Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012).

Writing for Life: The Craft of Writing for Everyday Living (Minneapolis: Bottlecap Books, 2007).

Kiss of Death: America's Love Affair with the Death Penalty (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003).

Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997).

Reviews of John Bessler's books.

Articles and Essays

Foreword: The Death Penalty in Decline: From Colonial America to the Present, 50 Crim. L. Bull. 245 (2014).

The Anomaly of Executions: The Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause in the 21st Century, 2 Brit. J. Am. Legal Stud. 297 (2013).

Tinkering Around the Edges: The Supreme Court's Death Penalty Jurisprudence, 49 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1913 (2012).

Revisiting Beccaria's Vision: The Enlightenment, America's Death Penalty, and the Abolition Movement, 4 Nw. J. L. & Soc. Pol'y 196 (2009).

In the Spirit of Ubuntu: Enforcing the Rights of Orphans and Vulnerable Children Affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa, 31 Hast. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 33 (2008).

The Botched Hanging of William Williams: How Too Much Rope and Minnesota’s Newspapers Brought an End to the Death Penalty in Minnesota, The Rake (Mar. 2004).

Injustice Casts Shadow on History of State Executions, StarTribune, Dec. 7, 2003.

America’s Death Penalty: Just Another Form of Violence, 82 Phi Kappa Phi Forum 13 (Winter 2002).

The “Midnight Assassination Law” and Minnesota’s Anti-Death Penalty Movement, 1849-1911, 22 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 577 (1996).

The Public Interest and the Unconstitutionality of Private Prosecutors, 47 Ark. L. Rev. 511 (1994).

Televised Executions and the Constitution: Recognizing a First Amendment Right of Access to State Executions, 45 Fed. Comm. L.J. 355 (1993).

Defining “Co-Party” Within Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 13(g): Are Cross-Claims Between Original Defendants and Third-Party Defendants Allowable?, 66 Ind. L.J. 549 (1991).

Articles on Social Science Research Network