Deborah Ahrens

William C. Oltman Professor of Teaching Excellence and Associate Professor of Law
Curriculum Vitae


Sullivan Hall 459
(206) 398-4159


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


Criminal Law & Procedure
Sentencing and Plea Bargaining


Deborah Ahrens is the William C. Oltman Professor of Teaching Excellence and a tenured Associate 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 who currently holds the William C. Oltman Chair in Teaching Excellence 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, the Washington State Bar Association’s Council on Public Defense, the King County Bar Association’s Public Policy Committee, and the Executive Board of the William L. Dwyer Inn of Court.

Recent Activity

In the News

Low level drug prosecutions

June 17, 2019 | KUOW

Professor Deborah Ahrens explains the reasons why prosecuting minor drug offenses don't help anyone.

What does a federal lawsuit mean for Seattle's safe injection sites?

February 08, 2019 | Crosscut

Professor Deborah Ahrens contrasts support for marijuana legalization with attitudes toward opioids.

Does Gov. Inslee's marijuana pardon measure not go far enough?

January 10, 2019 | KIRO News Radio

Professor Deborah Ahrens says the state should be more proactive in clearing marijuana convictions.

The KOMO Politicast: Polls and Punishment

October 14, 2018 | KOMO News

Professor Deborah Ahrens explains why the Washington Supreme Court found the death penalty unconstitutional.

With Kavanaugh vote on the horizon, Seattle speaks out

October 04, 2018 | Crosscut

Professor Deborah Ahrens describes the law school's efforts to process the Kavanaugh controversy.

'History in the making': Kavanaugh hearing becomes the day’s lesson for law students and others

September 27, 2018 | The Seattle Times

Professors Brooke Coleman and Deborah Ahrens, along with law students, comment on the hearing.

VIDEO: Tackling the Kavanaugh hearing

September 27, 2018 | KIRO

Professors Brooke Coleman and Deborah Ahrens debrief with students after the Senate committee hearing.

Seattle U law students disappointed with the politics of the Kavanaugh hearing

September 27, 2018 | KOMO News

Professors Brooke Coleman and Deborah Ahrens lead students in a legal discussion after the hearing.