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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carolina People: Carissa Hessick

Carissa Hessick

DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF LAW

2 years working at Carolina

WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE IN YOUR JOB?

I come in, answer emails, get ready for class, teach, come back, answer some more emails and hopefully get some research done, too. I teach first-year criminal law, a seminar on current issues in criminal justice and professional responsibility, which is the ethics course that all law students have to take in order to graduate.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK SUPPORT CAROLINA’S MISSION?

I’ve been doing various research projects since I got here. One thing that’s difficult to get across in the classroom to students is how they would go about solving problems in the real world. We can teach them information and we can try to show them how they might go about solving a hypothetical problem, but through these projects, my students are being asked to solve real problems that have an impact beyond what they can see at Carolina.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?

Generally, it’s being up in front of the classroom. There’s nothing that compares to it. Trying to figure out the best way to teach people things is a day-to-day thrill because you never know what students are going to ask. The research component of my work is the most challenging. Whenever you can finish a project and be successful, that’s really great, but you only get a few of those every year. The feeling of accomplishment from class is something that you get on a more regular basis.

WHAT IS THE PROSECUTORS AND POLITICS PROJECT?

It’s a project for which we got funding to gather information about campaign contributions and elected prosecutors. It’s a really great project because not only is that information really not available, but there hasn’t been any academic scholarship about it at all. In our criminal justice system, prosecutors have a lot of power and judges won’t second guess their decisions in large part because prosecutors are generally elected. Voting is supposed to serve as a check on prosecutor behavior. One of the major theories of campaign contributions is that they prevent voters from making informed decisions about their elected officials because a lot of it happens outside the public eye. Our project is going to analyze this theory with prosecutor elections in particular.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS PROJECT?

The hope is to get a nationwide database of campaign contributions to prosecutor elections. I’ll use that information to run analyses and hopefully publish a lot of papers or maybe even a book. We want to make this information available to everyone, so we are going to archive it with UNC Dataverse. This will also allow other researchers to have a better sense of how campaign contributions affect various things in the criminal justice system.

Carolina People is a regular feature in each issue of the Gazette that asks one of your fascinating colleagues five questions about the work they do for the University. Do you know someone with an interesting or unique job at Carolina? Please email your suggestions to gazette@unc.edu and put Carolina People in the subject line.