Avani Mehta Sood

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Avani Mehta Sood is a social psychologist and legal scholar who joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2013. She teaches Criminal Law, Evidence, and a Colloquium on Law & Psychology.

Sood studies how legal decision makers—particularly judges and jurors—make decisions about criminal liability, evidence, and punishment. She employs experimental and observational methodologies, theories of psychology, and doctrinal analysis to identify where and why the legal system’s assumptions about how its laws and procedures operate are at odds with the cognitive realities of the human decision makers who apply them. She further explores the implications of these disconnects, and tests legal and psychological routes to remedying them, in order to improve the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system.

One of Sood’s primary areas of research is the covert operation of motivated cognition—an unintentional human tendency to construe information in a motivated manner to reach desired outcomes—in legal decision making. Sood has empirically demonstrated this psychological phenomenon, and identified ways in which to curtail it, in judgments about suppressing unlawfully obtained evidence in criminal cases and regulating morality through the criminal law.  Sood’s scholarship has also uncovered doctrinal contexts in which the law itself—and the legal standards and instructions through which it is conveyed—can give rise to misunderstanding and biases in jury decision making. To test a potential procedural approach to resolving such risks, she has recently embarked on a new line of experimental work on verdict format in criminal cases. Sood has also experimentally studied the psychological motives underlying support for severe interrogation in the context of terrorism, and has written in the areas of reproductive rights, gender justice, and international human rights law.

Sood’s work has been published in law reviews and empirical journals, including the Stanford Law Review, Virginia Law Review, Harvard Law Review Forum, Georgetown Law Journal, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, California Law Review, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, among others. She recently received UC Berkeley’s Hellman Faculty Fund Award in support of her research.

Sood holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal; represented indigent clients in the New Haven Legal Assistance Clinic; conducted international research with the Lowenstein Human Rights Law Clinic; and was awarded the Robert L. Bernstein Fellowship in International Human Rights.  She also holds a B.A. summa cum laude and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Princeton University, where she was awarded the Howard Crosby Warren Senior Prize, the Edward E. Jones Memorial Thesis Prize, the Center for Human Values Graduate Prize Fellowship, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Graduate Prize Fellowship, and the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars.

Prior to entering academia, Sood worked as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Kimba M. Wood in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; as a litigation associate at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; and with the Center for Reproductive Rights on field research and publications that identified large-scale violations of women’s rights—as well as domestic and international legal mechanisms for redressing them—in India and Kenya. She has also worked at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in New York, the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, and the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

Sood is a co-founder of the Law and Society Association’s Collaborative Research Network on Law, Society, and Psychological Science. In addition, she is an Affiliate of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Personality and Social Research, the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, the Center for the Study of Law and Society, the Institute of Governmental Studies, and the Institute for South Asia Studies. Sood serves on the Advisory Board of Partnership for Trauma Recovery (a non-profit organization that provides psychosocial services for survivors of war, torture, human trafficking, and persecution); as an inaugural member of the University of California Consortium on Social Science and Law; and as a peer reviewer for various legal, scientific, and empirical journals.

Education

A.B., Princeton University (1999)
J.D., Yale Law School (2003)
M.A., Princeton University (2011)
Ph.D., Princeton University (2013)