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Death penalty scholar Michael J.Z. Mannheimer joins Penn State as visiting professor

What happens when the federal government seeks the death penalty for crimes committed in a non-death penalty state? Professor Michael Mannheimer plans to find out.
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer is a scholar of states' rights and the death penalty.

What happens when the federal government seeks the death penalty for crimes committed in a non-death penalty state? Professor Michael Mannheimer plans to find out.

He joined the Penn State Law faculty as a visitor from Northern Kentucky this fall and focuses his teaching and research on the death penalty.

For instance, Mannheimer believes the federal government will seek the death penalty for the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect. However, Massachusetts abolished its death penalty nearly 30 years ago.

The crux of the issue is Mannheimer’s true interest: states’ rights. Mannheimer explains that the authors of the Bill of Rights were Anti-Federalists—very pro-states’ rights. “It’s fascinating to me because we don’t think of it that way anymore,” he said. “My research delves into how we can interpret the Bill of Rights with that states’ rights spin.”

To start off, Mannheimer will study a 1937 federal death penalty case, U.S. vs. Chebatoris, in which the federal government imposed a death sentence on a bank robber in Michigan, a death penalty-free state. Despite the efforts of then-governor Frank Murphy, Chebatoris was hanged on July 8, 1938, the first person executed in Michigan in 108 years. 

Mannheimer originally decided to become a professor while pursuing his J.D. at Columbia Law School, but knew it would be beneficial to get some practical experience under his belt. After law school, he clerked for The Hon. Robert E. Cowen, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and The Hon. Sidney H. Stein, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

He was senior appellate counsel at the Center for Appellate Litigation in New York City from 1999-2004, where he briefed and argued over forty appeals and related collateral proceedings on behalf of indigent criminal defendants in the New York Appellate Division, New York Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was also an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City from 1997-99.

Authored by Noelle Mateer

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