Jelani Jefferson Exum

Jelani Jefferson Exum

Dean, School of Law
Philip J. McElroy Professor of Law

Jelani Jefferson Exum
Contact Info:
Campus: Riverfront Campus
Building: Dowling Hall
Room: 202
Phone: 313-596-0210
Jelani Jefferson Exum
Areas of Expertise:
Constitutional Law
Criminal Law
Criminal Procedure
Death Penalty
Race & the Law
Sentencing Law


  • J.D., Harvard Law School '04
  • A.B., Harvard College '01


Jelani Jefferson Exum is a nationally recognized expert in sentencing law and procedure. Before joining academia, Dean Jefferson Exum served as a law clerk for the Honorable James L. Dennis, United States Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Honorable Eldon E. Fallon, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  

Dean Jefferson Exum joined the Detroit Mercy Law faculty as the Philip J. McElroy Professor of Law in 2019 and as Dean for the School of Law in 2021. Prior to joining the Detroit Mercy Law faculty, she was a Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Toledo College of Law, an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, and a visiting associate professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Dean Jefferson Exum has also been a Forrester Fellow and Instructor in Legal Writing at Tulane Law School. 

Dean Jefferson Exum is a member of the Editorial Board of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, and her work has been featured on prominent sentencing blogs, such as Sentencing Law and Policy. Dean Jefferson Exum mainly writes in the area of sentencing law and policy, but her research interests also include comparative criminal law and procedure, policing, and the impact of race on criminal justice. 

Dean Jefferson Exum is the mom to three young children, so her favorite pastimes these days are playing dress-up, having dance parties, and making up silly songs and stories.


    Courses Taught

    Constitutional Law

    Criminal Procedure Investigations

    Criminal Sentencing

    Race and American Law


    Selected Publications

    Where Black Lives Matter Less: Understanding the Impact of Black Victims on Sentencing Outcomes in Texas Capital Murder Cases from 1973 to 2018, 66 Saint Louis University Law Journal (forthcoming 2022)(with David Niven)

    Addressing Racial Inequities in the Criminal Justice System Through A Reconstruction Sentencing Approach, 47 Ohio Northern Law Review 557 (2021) 

    Presumed Punishable: Sentencing on the Streets and the Need to Protect Black Lives Through a Reinvigoration of the Presumption of Innocence, 64 Howard Law Journal 2 (2021)

    That's Enough Punishment: Situating Defunding the Police Within Antiracist Sentencing Reform, 48 Fordham Urban Law Journal 625 (2021) (with Jalila Jefferson-Bullock)

    Reconstruction Sentencing: Imagining Drug Sentencing in the Aftermath of the War on Drugs, Am. Crim L. Rev (Georgetown) 1685 (2021)

    Sentencing Disparities and the Dangerous Perpetuation of Racial Violence, 26 Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights & Social Justice 491 (2020)

    From Warfare to Welfare: Rethinking the Purposes of Sentencing During the Opioid Crisis, 67 U. Kan. L. Rev. 941 (2019). 

    Nearsighted and Colorblind: The Perspective Problems of Police Deadly Force Cases, 65 Clev. St. L. Rev. 491(2017). 

    Should Death Be So Different?: Sentencing Purposes and Capital Jury Decisions in an Era of Smart on Crime Sentencing Reform, 70 Ark. L. Rev. 227 (2017). 

    Purpose-Focused Sentencing: How Reforming Punishment Can Transform Policing, 29 J. Civ. Rts. & Econ. Dev. 1 (Fall 2016) (St. John's University School of Law). 


    Selected Presentations

    Reconstruction Sentencing, Opioid Paradigms: How Crisis Can Inform Change, The  Journal of Law in Society and Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School  Symposium, March 10-12, 2021 (invited panelist). 

     Race and Policing: Putting Breonna Taylor’s Killing Into Context, Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor, A Daylong Symposium, University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law, October 23, 2020 (invited panelist). 

    Reconstruction Sentencing: Imagining Drug Sentencing in the Aftermath of the War on Drugs, Prison Brake: Rethinking the Sentencing Status Quo, 2020 Symposium co-hosted by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Criminal Law Review (Georgetown), October 20, 2020 (invited panelist). 

    TedxToldeo 2020, #Presumed Punishable: Sentencing on the Streets, September 17, 2020,

    Sentencing Disparities and the Dangerous Perpetuation of Racial Bias, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law Faculty Connection Program, September 16, 2020 (invited panelist). 

    TEDxToledo 2014, Theme: Human, The Death Penalty on The Streets, September 18, 2014 (contextualizing the use of fatal force by police officers as an unprincipled and Unconstitutional form of the death penalty),