Professor of Law
J.D. 1991, Stanford Law School
Donna Coker has a J.D. (1991) from Stanford Law School, an M.S.W. (1982) from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a B.S.W. from Harding University (1978). Before joining the University of Miami faculty in 1995, Professor Coker practiced law with a major west coast law firm and taught domestic violence law at Stanford Law School and Santa Clara School of Law. She served as Academic Associate Dean from 2005–2009. She has taught criminal law, evidence, domestic violence, family law, wrongful convictions and other advanced criminal justice courses.
Professor Coker's scholarship focuses on criminal law, gender and inequality. She is a nationally recognized expert in domestic violence law and policy. Her research concerns three major areas: the connection between economic vulnerability and domestic violence; restorative justice and other alternative criminal justice interventions; and gender and criminal law doctrine. She is a leading critic of the disproportionate focus on criminal justice responses that characterizes U.S. domestic violence policy. Her widely cited research illustrates the negative impact of this focus on battered women marginalized as a function of poverty, race, or immigration status.
Her empirical study of the adjudication of domestic violence cases in Navajo Peacemaking Courts has influenced work in the fields of restorative justice and domestic violence in the United States and abroad. Her work on the nature of "heat of passion" doctrine uncovered gender related assumptions imbedded in criminal law doctrine. She continues to explore gender and mens rea in her Criminal Law Stories chapter on Wanrow, a self- defense case frequently cited as the first "women's self-defense" case. Professor Coker and Professor Robert Weisberg (Stanford Law) are the co-editors of the Criminal Law Stories (2013).
Before attending law school, Professor Coker worked in the domestic violence field for 10 years. This work began in 1978 when she was became the sole staff person for a newly opened battered women's shelter in Little Rock, Arkansas. In subsequent years she was the Coordinator of a community based battered women's project in Honolulu, Hawaii, overseeing advocacy and support for more than 100 women a year. She trained religious professionals, military police, shelter staff, attorneys and judges in responding to domestic violence; co-authored an influential article on child custody and domestic violence; and served as an expert witness in custody cases involving allegations of spouse abuse.
Professor Coker's public service includes amicus curiae representation of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (Legal Momentum); training lawyers, activists and child abuse/neglect investigators; service as a board member for a state-wide project providing civil representation for battered women; and expert consultation and testimony on sentencing and child custody. She serves as co-editor for the Criminal Law section of Jotwell (an online journal).
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Professor Donna Coker's book, Criminal Law Stories (co-edited with Robert Weisberg 2013) was recently published. This book is a collection of case stories which focuses on the pre-litigation behavior of defendants, raising important moral and cultural questions about human nature and human society and how social norms get translated into workable legal doctrines.