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.