Deborah Ahrens

Deborah Ahrens

Vice Dean for Intellectual Life and Professor of Law

 Sullivan Hall 459


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  • Criminal Law & Procedure
  • Sentencing and Plea Bargaining


  • B.A., Brown University, 1994
  • M.P.P., Harvard University, 1996
  • J.D., magna cum laude, New York University School of Law, 2000
  • NYU Law Review senior articles editor


Deborah Ahrens is a tenured Professor who teaches and writes about criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence. Before joining the faculty at Seattle University, Professor Ahrens served as a law clerk for Judge Amalya Kearse of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a legal fellow at the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, an Assistant Public Defender at the Richland County (South Carolina) Public Defender, and a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law. She earned an AB in Public Policy from Brown University, a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and her JD Magna Cum Laude from New York University, where she was the senior articles editor of the Law Review.

Professor Ahrens' scholarship focuses on the cultural significance of contemporary policing practices and criminal sanctioning regimes, with particular emphasis on drug policy, on the regulation of student speech and conduct, and on the reforms necessary to ameliorate the consequences of our failed experiment with mass incarceration and a hyper-punitive war on drugs. Her articles have appeared in a variety of journals including the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, the American Criminal Law Review, the Florida State Law Review, and the Missouri Law Review. She is a sought-after media commentator on questions related to criminal law and criminal justice policy and a frequent speaker at academic and professional events on a wide variety of criminal procedure, evidence, and sentencing issues.

Professor Ahrens is an innovative and highly regarded teacher and is frequently honored by graduating students for her teaching. She is also a highly engaged member of the local professional community, who serves on the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee, and the Executive Board of the William L. Dwyer Inn of Court.


  • Retroactive Legality: Marijuana Convictions and Restorative Justice in an Era of Criminal Justice Reform (forthcoming, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology).
  • Using Media in Criminal Law Teaching, in LAW AND POPULAR CULTURE (3d ed. forthcoming 2019).
  • Of Dress and Redress: Student Dress Restrictions in Constitutional Law and Culture, 54 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. _ (2019) (with Andrew Siegel).
  • Incarcerated Childbirth and Broader "Birth Control": Autonomy, Regulation, and the State, 80 Missouri L. Rev. 1(2015)
  • Drug Panics in the Twenty-First Century: Ecstasy, Prescription Drugs, and the Reframing of the War on Drugs, 6 Albany Gov't L. Rev. 397 (2013)
  • Schools, Cyberbullies, and the Surveillance State, 49 Am. Crim. L Rev. 1669 (2012)
  • Don't Blame Crawford or Bryant: The Confrontation Clause Mess Is All Davis's Fault, 39 Rutgers L. Rec. 1042 (2012) (with John Mitchell)
  • Methademic: Drug Panic in an Age of Ambivalence, 37 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 841 (2010)
  • Note, Not in Front of the Children: Prohibition on Child Custody as Civil Branding for Criminal Activity, 75 N.Y.U. L. REV. 737 (2000)


In the News

Anti-Abortion Leader Says a 10-Year-Old’s Abortion Wouldn’t Count July 14, 2022 | Vice News

SU law professor: State was 'actually an outlier' before court ruling on drug possession February 26, 2021 | KIRO News Radio

Professor Deborah Ahrens says Washington was the only state with strict liability for drug possession.