Clarence Thomas, Crime, David Sentelle, Law Professors, Supreme Court Clerks, UVA Law, Violence

Notre Dame Criminal Law Professor Accused of… Crime

Professor Stephen Smith

Perhaps this is part of some elaborate research project into the workings of the criminal justice system. Professor Stephen F. Smith, who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure at Notre Dame Law School, stands accused of a serious crime.

According to the South Bend Tribune, Professor Smith faces one count of domestic battery, a class D felony. He’s accused of striking and kicking his wife at their home, in an incident that allegedly took place back in June.

Professor Smith doesn’t fit the profile of the typical defendant in a domestic violence case. How many DV defendants have clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court? How many have graduated from Dartmouth College, where Smith served as a trustee, and the University of Virginia School of Law, where he once taught?

After graduating from Dartmouth and UVA Law, Smith clerked on the D.C. Circuit (for Judge David Sentelle) and SCOTUS (for Justice Clarence Thomas). He practiced at Sidley Austin before joining the UVA Law faculty, where he served as John V. Ray Research Professor before moving to Notre Dame. (Query: What prompted Professor Smith to move from UVA to ND?)

Legal pedigrees don’t get much better than this. But enough of Professor Smith’s dazzling résumé. Let’s learn about the lurid allegations against him — and hear from ND law students about a campus controversy he created….

UPDATE: Please note the updates added to the end of this story. Thanks.

The South Bend Tribune reports:

A trial date has been set for a University of Notre Dame criminal law professor accused of striking and kicking his wife at their south side home in June. Stephen F. Smith appeared in St. Joseph Superior Court Tuesday, when Judge Jerome Frese set his trial for Jan. 3.

Smith, 43, faces one count of domestic battery, a class D felony. If convicted, he would face a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Professor Jones

Interestingly enough, Professor Smith isn’t the first criminal law professor to be hit with allegations of criminality. Remember Professor D. Marvin Jones, the Miami Law professor accused of soliciting a prostitute? But that was merely a misdemeanor (and Professor Jones was never convicted; the charge was dismissed and the record was expunged).

That will suffice for comparison of Smith v. Jones. Back to the allegations against Professor Smith:

Prosecutors allege that Smith became angry with his wife after they had been out with friends on June 24. Smith allegedly tried to punch her in the face in their upstairs bedroom but she dodged his fist and it grazed her cheek.

He then allegedly knocked her to the ground and kicked her.

Smith’s 23-year-old son heard the argument and confronted Smith, and the pair began struggling down the steps onto the main floor, according to court documents.

This must have been quite the scene. One ND law student describes Professor Smith as “a huge, imposing guy,” estimating his height at 6’7″ — not a guy you want to mess with.

Smith’s son, along with the victim and her 10-year-old son, then fled to a neighbor’s house, according to court documents. Smith remained in the residence and came out after several police officers had staged outside.

He was arrested at the scene, and was released three days later after posting $1,000 bond, according to jail records. He was ordered to have no contact with his wife as a condition of his bond.

These allegations are both terrible and tawdry. And wait, they get worse:

Police confiscated two rifles and a shotgun from the house, as well as a safe that may have contained additional weapons, according to court documents.

I fully support Second Amendment rights as a theoretical matter, but find actual gun ownership to be rather déclassé. Coupled with allegations of domestic violence, it paints a picture of Professor Smith as someone who belongs in a trailer park in a reality TV show, not a faculty lounge.

What do Notre Dame law students think of this matter? Here’s what one of them told us:

Strangely, the incident and arrest happened in June, but nobody seems to have found out about it until [yesterday]. Every Notre Dame employee I know of has a morality clause in their contract. The prof is indeed still teaching (1L Crim Law).

And apparently he sometimes alludes to his familial difficulties before his students:

In the past, he has always made fun of his wife in class, but never mentioned divorce. Apparently this semester he told his 1L crim class several times that he is getting a divorce.

This seems like oversharing, no? Query whether Professor Smith will start talking about his own brush with the law in his Crim class.

He doesn’t seem to mind being the center of attention. A tipster tells us:

Interestingly, this prof is the reason NDLS has standardized grading this year. Two years ago, his Crim Law section grade average was 3.4, while all other 1L classes were curved to a 3.1.

He refused to change his grades to fall in line, so the faculty finally voted to standardize grades across classes. Previously, faculty had rejected such proposals.

Professor Smith sounds like a colorful character. If you have information about him that you’d like to share, please drop us a line (subject line: “Stephen Smith”).

UPDATE (12:55 PM): In the comments, responding to my statement that “Professor Smith doesn’t fit the profile of the typical defendant in a domestic violence case,” a reader points out that “[d]omestic violence happens across education-level, socio-economic class, race, culture, etc. — to continue supporting the notion that it doesn’t, serves to silence victims and create a whole host of other barriers for those who need to seek help.”

This is a fair point. But I still don’t think many members of The Elect, aka Supreme Court clerks, have been accused of domestic violence. (If you can think of even a single one, email us.)

UPDATE (3:05 PM): A commenter directs our attention to Professor Smith’s explanation of his move from UVA to ND: “I wanted to become a part of the making of a top-10, authentically Catholic law school. That has never been done before, but Notre Dame has all of the vital components.”

Other commenters praise Professor Smith as a teacher and describe him as a “devout Catholic” (which would seem to exist in tension with the domestic violence allegations against him and the claim that he has discussed divorce).

Notre Dame law professor’s trial date set in domestic battery case [South Bend Tribune]
Dartmouth Board of Trustees elects Stephen F. Smith [Dartmouth News]
Stephen F. Smith bio [Notre Dame Law School]

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