Associate professor of law Caren Morrison is drawn to understanding people, which is what led her to study law. Before attending Columbia Law School, she spent several years as a music journalist living in London. It even continued into her legal career, as she continued to freelance and traveled to Cornwall to interview the band Oasis right before her first-semester 1L finals. (“Maybe not the best decision in terms of my grades,” she says).
“I really enjoyed what I did, but I felt like I wanted to do something that had more social value,” Morrison remembers. “I thought I was an entertaining writer, I was a good interviewer, but I wanted to make more of a difference.”
After graduating, she clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Eugene H. Nickerson of the Eastern District of New York and for Judge John M. Walker Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. She then joined the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the E.D.N.Y., where she stayed for more than five years.
“During my hiring interview, I told them specifically that I didn’t want to do narcotics cases,” Morrison says. “So of course, they put me in narcotics for two years. But I ended up meeting my husband who was a DEA agent at the time, so I guess it all worked out in the end.”
In 2009, Morrison joined the College of Law, where she teaches evidence and criminal procedure. Her scholarship is wide-ranging. The first five or six years, she researched how technology affects the criminal justice system, from the impact of juries doing their own internet research to the interplay of Facebook passwords and the Fifth Amendment. “Also drones, data encryption, and body cameras,” she says. She has since written about police violence, racial bias in jury selection, and intimate-partner homicide.
“Everything in life is more complex than you think and those are the things that interest me. I look at areas where you find injustice or complexities that haven’t been looked into and do my best to dig into that.”
She is currently researching the psychiatric effects of killing on police officers who have shot civilians. She says that psychological studies are beginning to show that it can cause the same kind of trauma as it does to soldiers in the field.
“Determining that a shooting was legally justified does not really answer the community’s pain when someone is shot and killed by police,” says Morrison. “The laws are very protective of police officers, but they don’t always help the officers who are being protected, because they are then prevented from taking responsibility for what they did.”
Morrison says the exploration in her scholarship over the past 11 years at Georgia State Law has allowed her to learn and grow, but it’s her students and colleagues that she most enjoys.
“It takes me 45 minutes to just get into my office in the morning because I stop in to chat to my friends on the way down the hall. Having close friends at the office, hearing from students years later who say that a particular class helped them—that’s the best part of the job.”
Written by Mara Thompson