Associate Professor of Law
Law College Building
648 N. Shaw Lane Rm 455
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
Ph.D. 2007, University of Michigan; J.D. 1996, Order of the Coif, University of Colorado School of Law; B.A. 1993, cum laude, Bowdoin College
Curriculum Vitae (PDF)
Professor O’Brien joined the Law College faculty in 2007. She completed a Ph.D. in social psychology the same year at the University of Michigan, where her training included advanced coursework in research methods and statistics.
Professor O’Brien’s scholarship examines the role of race and other extra-legal factors in criminal investigations, trials, and the administration of capital punishment. She has published several articles applying empirical methodology to legal issues, such as identifying predictors of false capital convictions and understanding prosecutorial decision-making.
In August 2010, O’Brien and Professor Catherine M. Grosso released a comprehensive study showing striking patterns of racial discrimination in North Carolina capital case charging, sentencing, and juror selection decisions. The project, which was conducted in response to the state’s Racial Justice Act, has been cited in claims by more than 150 North Carolina death row inmates seeking to prove racial bias at the time of their charging or sentencing; those who succeed will be re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Professors Grosso and O’Brien teamed up with the Michigan State Law Review to host a spring 2011 symposium on the effect of race in capital punishment cases.
Professor O’Brien graduated Order of the Coif in 1996 from the University of Colorado School of Law, where she was an associate editor for the University of Colorado Law Review. She clerked for both the Honorable Michael P. McCuskey and the Honorable Harold A. Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. She spent a total of three years as an assistant defender and then panel attorney for the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender. O’Brien was an adjunct professor at Thomas M. Cooley School of Law prior to joining the MSU Law faculty.
In addition to teaching Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure at the Law College, O'Brien has served as an adjunct professor in the Michigan State University Department of Psychology since 2008.