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H. Richard Uviller (1929-2005)

H. Richard Uviller (1929-2005)

Professor H. Richard Uviller, a professor of criminal law at Columbia and among the nation's foremost authorities on criminal procedure and evidence, died April 19. He was 75.

"Richard made an invaluable contribution to Columbia over the last four decades. His teaching touched innumerable lives and his scholarship has built the School's reputation as a center of learning about the criminal justice system," said Dean David Schizer.

Prof. Uviller was born in New York on July 3, 1929 and grew up in the West Village. He studied psychology as a Harvard undergraduate and earned his law degree in 1953 from Yale, where he was the note and comment editor on the Yale Law Journal.

Fresh out of law school, Prof. Uviller headed to Washington, D.C., to work in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice. The job was too slow-paced for the young lawyer who, assigned the preparation of one legislative history after another, often found himself falling asleep in the library. Yearning for more action, he accepted a job at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, then under the leadership of the Hon. Frank Hogan ‘28.

Prof. Uviller stayed 14 years - serving from 1961-68 as chief of the Appeals Bureau - and tried many cases, including some before the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a period of enormous ferment in the law of criminal procedure, and Prof. Uviller's influence remains part of the canon of criminal procedure.

Berger v. New York (1967), whose petitioner was indicted and convicted of conspiracy to bribe the chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority based upon evidence obtained by eavesdropping, is still studied by every student in criminal procedure. Prof. Uviller took the defense of New York's notoriously permissive wiretapping statute as an occasion for persuading the Court of the need to articulate balance between the demands of law enforcement and the protection of civil liberties. The case today is important not for the invalidation of New York's statute - which was anticipated at the time. Berger is read, instead, for the Supreme Court's enunciation of the terms pursuant to which a wiretapping statute might be recognized as consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Prof. Uviller's advocacy helped pave the way to this result.

Prof. Uviller was recruited to Columbia by Professor Herbert Wechsler ‘31 who, among his many achievements, was the chief reporter for the ALI's Model Penal Code. Prof. Wechsler came to know Prof. Uviller both through his distinguished reputation and through their work on a commission undertaking a major revision of New York's criminal code. By the fall of 1968, Prof. Uviller was teaching a unique course he'd developed called Criminal Process. Coming on the heels of riots that had engulfed the Columbia campus, the class, packed with students who were intensely interested in the study of police practices, had to be moved to larger quarters.

At the time, the Law School had no class in criminal procedure. His course became the foundation for Columbia's current curriculum in the field. In 1975, he published The Process of Criminal Justice: Investigation and Adjudication, the foremost casebook on the subject.

Though he'd become an academic, Prof. Uviller was not content to observe the world of criminal law from an ivory tower. In 1984, he used eight months of sabbatical to ride in the patrol car of the N.Y.P.D.'s experimental unit known as Nine RIP (Robbery Identification Program). The territory was the rough and tumble world of the Lower East Side, and in one passage he described three teenage subjects leafing through a binder of mugshots as if it were a yearbook. His experience became the basis for Tempered Zeal (1988), which the New York Times called "a shrewd appraisal of how police officers handle...searches and seizures, arrests, line-ups, and interrogations."

Among his other books were Virtual Justice: The Flawed Prosecution of Crime in America (1996), The Tilted Playing Field (1999), and The Militia and the Right to Arms (2003) a definitive work in Second Amendment history and interpretation. Prof. Uviller wrote dozens of articles for the academic and mainstream press and an oft-quoted source in newspapers, radio, and televison.

He also designed and led the School's Moot Court Program and oversaw his Workshop in Briefcraft, which honed the editing skills of 2Ls and prepared them to teach others in the first-year class. Prof. Uviller

was appointed to the Arthur Levitt Professorship in 1991 and took emeritus status three years ago. Students knew him for his humor and generosity, and his willingness to mentor them on the great - and sometimes, unanswerable - questions in criminal law.

Asked by a reporter in a 1999 whether he'd ever wanted to be a judge, he answered, "No. I can't make up my mind. For the most part, I like asking the questions, not answering them."

Professor Uviller is survived by his wife, the Hon. Rena Katz Uviller ‘62, a daughter, and a granddaughter.

Memorial service plans are pending.

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Statement from Dean David Schizer

Our friend and colleague, Richard Uviller, has died after a battle with cancer that began last fall.

Richard was a truly special person. We will always remember his kindness, optimism, good humor, and the generosity he showed to all in the Columbia community. Our hearts go out to his wife Rena and to their daughter Daphne; Daphne's husband, Sacha Spector, and their daughter Talia.

Professor Uviller, the Arthur Levitt Professor Emeritus of Law, was a 1953 graduate of the Yale Law School. Before coming to Columbia Professor Uviller spent the bulk of his distinguished career as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, then under the leadership of Frank Hogan. Richard was an outstanding public servant in that highly respected office - becoming chief of its Appeals Bureau - for 14 years. He joined the Columbia faculty in 1968 and soon became widely recognized as one of the nation's foremost authorities on criminal procedure and evidence. Professor Uviller was the author of four books and numerous essays, articles, and case comments. He was an important advocate in several important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Richard made an invaluable contribution to Columbia over the last four decades. His teaching touched innumerable lives and his scholarship has built the School's reputation as a center of learning about the criminal justice system. This is a great loss for Columbia and for the legal academy.

Condolences may be sent to the family c/o Columbia Law School, Office of Development  & Alumni Relations, 435 West 116th Street, New York, New York 10027. There will be no funeral, but a memorial service on the Columbia campus is pending.

David Schizer

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Memorial Sevice for H. Richard Uviller

A memorial service for Professor H. Richard Uviller will be held on:

Tuesday, May 24th, at 10:00 a.m., in St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University Campus.

There will be a reception (immediately following the service) in the Law School, in Drapkin Lounge, Third floor, Jerome Greene Hall.

Please RSVP to Kathleen Janson at kjanso@law.columbia.edu or by phone at 212-854-1571.

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In Memoriam by William Merkel '96

Richard Uviller was one of the most gracious and giving people I have ever met. I first got to know him in the fall of 1994, when I took his course on the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments during my second year at Columbia Law School. An after class discussion about the Second Amendment soon ripened into a collaborative endeavor that grew in size and scope over the years, and until he died earlier this week, Professor Uviller held a special place in my life as mentor, co-author and friend. He brought to all of our work together a sense of judiciousness, purpose, and decorum far beyond what I might have managed on my own. Countless times during my younger years when our project was mired in a rut because of my own indecision and lack of focus, he interjected the right measure of system and energy to get us back on track. Our article, papers, and book owe immeasurably to his grace, style, vision, and keen sense of logic. In all of his writing - his much loved course materials, his numerous articles on search and seizure, confessions, and evidence, and his four books Tempered Zeal, the Tilted Playing Field, Virtual Justice, and The Militia and the Right to Arms - he displayed a unique gift for expression, often evinced in a nearly lyric turn of phrase. His knowledge of criminal procedure was encyclopedic. Generations of students were amazed by his capacity to remember the details and doctrinal nuances of hundreds upon hundreds of cases, many of which he explained in the context of personal narratives or inside stories garnered from his numerous friends and colleagues in criminal law. Impressive as he was in the class room, I soon learned that he was even more gifted in bringing out the best in the students' writing when he supervised them closely in independent study or research as he did with me, or in the workshop in briefcraft he ran for student editors for so many years in conjunction with the mandatory moot court program.

Apart from his capacious wisdom and personal touch as a supervisor, I will remember most his sense of hospitality and good cheer, displayed unfailingly in the class room, his office, his homes in Chelsea and in Cornwall on Hudson, and in conferences and during scholarly exchanges. I cannot recall a single instance when he did not offer up his time in full measure to assist a student in coming to grips with complex doctrines of the law or in getting started in his or her career. He was also a man of many and varied interests, and talking with Richard about classical music, literature, or travel was as engaging and convivial as his conversation about law was insightful and challenging. I am enormously saddened that I can no longer stop in at his Eighth Floor office following after noon classes to benefit from his wisdom, humor, and judgment. My heart goes out to Judge Rena Katz-Uviller and to the Uviller family, who, like Richard himself, treated me with supreme kindness since we first met in the Lebanese Restaurant beneath their Manhattan home to celebrate the publication of Richard's Virtual Justice in 1996. H. Richard Uviller was a wonderful and decent man who contributed enormously to many lives including my own, and, more broadly, to this law school and to the study and practice of criminal justice. I will miss him very much.

William Merkel
JD Columbia 1996
Associate in Law

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