Prof. Kimberly Ferzan

speaker Prof. Kimberly Ferzan

We actually have these incredibly broad laws on the books that are allowing citizens not just to stand their ground when they’re defending themselves but to actually go on the offense and arrest and use force in the name of the state.

Kimberly Kessler Ferzan is the Earle Hepburn Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is also the Co-Director of its Institute of Law & Philosophy. Ferzan teaches criminal law, evidence, advanced criminal law, and advanced law and philosophy seminars. Ferzan’s work focuses on criminal law theory. She is the co-editor in chief of Law and Philosophy, and is also on the editorial boards of the Stanford Encylopedia for Philosophy (Philosophy of Law), Legal Theory, Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, and Criminal Law and Philosophy. She is the author of numerous articles, the co-editor of three books, and the co-author of Crime and Culpability: A Theory of Criminal Law (Cambridge University Press), with Larry Alexander and Stephen Morse, and Rethinking Crime and Culpability (Cambridge University Press), with Larry Alexander. Prior to joining the UPenn faculty in 2020, she was the Harrison Robertson Professor of Law and the Joel B. Piassick Research Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law. Prior to joining the Virginia faculty in 2014, Ferzan was on the Rutgers University faculty for 14 years. Before teaching, Ferzan clerked for Judge Marvin Katz in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and then worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Public Integrity Section, investigating and prosecuting criminal offenses committed by federal, state and local officials. She also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia.

Talks by Prof. Kimberly Ferzan

related talk Deadly Force as Self Defense
Deadly Force as Self Defense

The law of self-defense permits the use of deadly force under a strict set of conditions: the threat must be both imminent and unlawful, and the response, both necessary and proportionate. But what of the murkier scenarios where multiple parties, ensnared in the throes of perceived danger, believe themselves justified in their fears? Consider the tragic case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin—where does the law stand when fear is misplaced, and how swiftly can one lawfully escalate to lethal force? Professor Kimberly Ferzan of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law navigates these shadowy waters and others offering her insights into the delicate balance between legal theory and the stark realities of personal safety.

Professor Ferzan uses the high-profile cases of Ahmaud Arbery to shed light on self-defense laws, particularly focusing on the contrasts between "duty to retreat" and "stand your ground" statutes. These distinctions highlight how one's legal obligations during a confrontation can vary significantly from state to state. She clarifies the roles of aggressors and provocateurs in these scenarios—those who initiate violence yet claim self-defense when faced with retaliation, revealing the layered complexities and rapid judgments required by law.

Professor Ferzan explores Kyle Rittenhouse's case to discuss how guns can further complicate self-defense claims. The presence of a firearm can, on the one hand, necessitate a quicker escalation to lethal force, legally justified by the potential threat of the weapon being used against its owner. On the other hand, bringing a weapon into an already tense situation can potentially be seen as a provocative act, influencing the legal framework (and public opinion) on what constitutes legitimate self-defense. Thre notorious examples and hypotheticals, Ferzan sheds light ont the interplay between legal principles, ethical considerations, and the real-world implications of defensive actions.