After graduating from UC Davis School of Law, Elisabeth Semel became a deputy public defender. In 1980, she entered private practice and, in 1983, formed the firm of Semel & Feldman. Semel has defended criminal cases in the state and federal courts with an emphasis on representation at the trial level, including homicides and capital cases. In 1997, Semel left private practice to serve as the director of the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project in Washington, D.C.
Semel joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2001, as the first director of the Death Penalty Clinic. She represents clients facing capital punishment at all stages of the proceedings in California and several states in the South. Semel and her students have filed amicus curiae briefs in death penalty cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, including Miller-El v. Cockrell, Miller-El v. Dretke, Snyder v. Louisiana, and Williams v. California (all dealing with race discrimination in jury selection).
In 2020, Semel and several of her students published “Whitewashing the Jury Box: How California Perpetuates the Discriminatory Exclusion of Black and Latinx Jurors,” which provided the evidentiary support for the California Legislature’s passage of AB 3070. The new statute dramatically reforms jury selection in criminal trials. Semel’s other publications include “Batson and the Discriminatory Use of Peremptory Challenges in the 21st Century” in Jurywork: Systematic Techniques (West, 2020-21ed.); Reflections on Justice Stevens’s Concurring Opinion in Baze v. Rees: A Fifth Gregg Justice Renounces Capital Punishment, 43 UC Davis L. Rev. 783 (2010). She has written numerous articles about criminal defense practice, including: “Talk to the Media About Your Client? Think Again” (with C. Sevilla, 1997) (all published in The Champion); “Breathing Life into Batson” (2003); “The Lone Star State is Not Alone in Denying Due Process to Those Who Face Execution” (1999); “Racial Injustice: Work to be Done Outside the Courtroom” (1998); “The Good, the Bad and the Evil: News from the Hill” (1997); and “Victims’ Rights: New Amendment to the Federal Constitution?” (1996), all published in the California Criminal Defense Practice Reporter. Beginning in 2003, Semel’s annual annotated summaries of cases dealing with Batson v. Kentucky (focusing on race discrimination in jury selection) have been posted electronically and included in various criminal defense publications. Semel frequently provides media commentary on issues relating to the rights of individuals accused of crime, particularly those facing the death penalty.
B.A., Bard College (1972)
J.D., UC Davis (1975)