Professor Ron Wright heads to Kosovo to help form new sentencing laws

Photo of Wake Forest Law Professor Ron Wright

Professor Ron Wright is one of the nation’s best known criminal justice scholars. He is the co-author of two casebooks in criminal procedure and sentencing; his empirical research concentrates on the work of criminal prosecutors.

A Wake Forest Law professor is heading to Kosovo to help establish the Rule of Law in the new country.

Needham Yancy Gulley Professor of Criminal Law Ron Wright, who has been appointed interim Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the next academic year, has been invited by five former Wake Forest Law LL.M. students to visit Kosovo beginning July 6 to meet with different groups interested in U.S. sentencing laws.

“They want someone to talk to judges and prosecutors working for the Ministry of Justice about sentencing laws,” explained Wright, who has been working with Wake Forest Law LL.M. students on this subject for the past two years. This fall, Wake Forest Law will host four LL.M. students from Kosovo – two prosecutors and two judges, according to Fiona McCormick, director of international programs.

“Our LL.M. students from Kosovo are coming over based in part on grant money from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Justice, which is trying to help build up institutions in the new country,” Wright explained. “We have had students who are prosecutors and judges. Part of that same program is to send U.S. judges, prosecutors and scholars over there to help them figure out what we are doing over here.”

Robert J. “Bobby” Higdon (’85, JD ’89) is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Raleigh, N.C., who has spearheadsed an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice initiative to develop criminal and civil procedures in Kosovo, a part of the former Yugoslavia that declared its independence in 2008.

Higdon and Frank Bradsher (’82), also an assistant U.S. attorney in Raleigh, visit Kosovo frequently to train prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and police officers. In the past five years, they’ve made numerous trips to teach investigative techniques and legal procedures and to offer advice on ongoing investigations and trials. The program is the only one of its kind between a U.S. Attorney’s Office and a foreign country, Higdon said.

“We are so fortunate to live in a country where the rule of law is respected,” Higdon said. “We benefit so much from a court system and criminal justice system. It’s not perfect, but it functions really well and keeps us safe.

“In Kosovo, they don’t have that or they haven’t had that for so long. We feel it is incumbent to share what we can to help them. Otherwise there’s no explanation for why a couple of prosecutors from North Carolina get invited to go over to Europe to teach people in a country that’s existed a lot longer than ours.”

Wright adds that North Carolina is only one of about 20 states that have a sentencing commission, which sets guidelines for judges and prosecutors.  “The prosecutors in Kosovo are working under discretionary sentencing and they would rather have more guidance under the law about what sentences should be, “ he explained.

Wright will travel to Kosova’s capital Pristina. In addition to meeting with judges and prosecutors, he may also lecture at one of Wake Forest Law’s former LL.M. student’s Fama College. “I’m going to learn a lot, so I really look forward to this exchange,” Wright said.