Jamar R. Brown

Former African American Studies Major, Now a Prosecutor

By Nathan McCall

Jamar R. BrownOver the years, Jamar R. Brown had felt a trace of a calling to practice law. As much as anything else, his time as an African American Studies (AAS) major at Emory helped him take the critical steps toward heeding that call.

A 2006 Emory grad, Brown now works as a prosecutor for the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City. He credits his experience as an AAS major, among other influences, for helping him prepare for that role.

“African American Studies prepared me to communicate effectively,” Brown said in an email recently. “Intellectually, so much of my job is about communicating persuasively - convincing a judge or a jury to not only adopt, but also champion, my position. Through the extensive writing required as an African American Studies major I learned how to articulate a complex idea simply and make a logical, cogent argument.”

Brown’s interest in law was first sparked at Loyola Prep in Shreveport, La., where he was born. In his high school senior year, he enrolled in a law class taught by the school’s board chairman, who was a former prosecutor.

“That was my first real exposure to courtroom advocacy,” said Brown. “I found it to be extremely engaging and rewarding.”

It didn’t hurt that Brown had a “distant relative” who was a prominent attorney. It was none other than Johnnie L. Cochran, the famed attorney known for successfully defending former football great O.J. Simpson in a 1990s celebrity murder trial that still resonates worldwide today.

“We are cousins on my maternal grandfather's side of the family,” said Brown

By the time he entered Emory in 2002, Brown had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do. Still, he had not yet figured out how to make it happen. He eventually settled on a double major, in African American Studies and Political Science.

Through African American Studies he got a chance to serve an externship at the Georgia Capital Defenders program (GCD). GCD provided legal help to death row inmates in the state who were challenging their convictions in appellate courts.

“This opportunity became my first real exposure to the criminal justice system,” said Brown.

After graduating from Emory, Brown landed a job as a project assistant at one of Atlanta's most prominent law firms, King & Spalding, LLP. The job exposed him to what he called "big law." King & Spalding represents some of the country's top businesses.

Brown later worked as an assistant paralegal in the Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender Program, Inc., in Atlanta. The public defender’s job was similar to the kind of work he had done at GCD, taking on death row clients who were appealing their convictions in federal court.

He earned his Juris Doctor degree at the University of Maryland law school, where he thrived as a student. In 2010, he was a finalist in the National Institute for Trial Advocacy tournament. He emerged as a finalist in the American Association of Justice Regional Student Trial Advocacy Competition in 2010 and 2011.

“I'm confident that each of these experiences were made possible -- directly and indirectly -- through opportunities afforded me as an African American Studies major,” said Brown. “African American Studies, my externship at GCD in particular, provided me real world exposure to the social and systemic factors and consequences at play in the administration of the criminal justice system. For example, at GCD I learned that research shows that, historically, individuals who are convicted and sentenced to die for a capital offense are disproportionately black, poor, or have an intellectual disability -- or some combination thereof. My awareness, of not just this fact, but also other social and societal implications of the criminal justice system, informs my role as an administrator of our justice system and, as is my hope, makes me a better prosecutor.”

He joined the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City in 2012. He has argued more than 100 cases in District and Circuit Court in Baltimore and boasts a success rate of about 70 percent.

While he has been away from Emory for several years, Brown still maintains ties to the university. He serves on Baltimore's Chapter of the Emory Alumni Board and attended the Emory International Alumni Leadership Conference in 2013.

Although as an assistant state’s attorney he prosecutes criminal cases, Brown remains deeply concerned about structural inequities in the criminal justice system, which disproportionately affect black Americans.

“For anyone who has read and examined closely Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow, it cannot be overstated that this issue is the single greatest problem facing the American criminal justice system,” he said. “I applauded Attorney General Eric Holder for making as the focal point of his administration the over-incarceration of black men through the country's failed War on Drugs policies.

“We have to get smarter about our criminal laws and their application regarding simple possession of drugs, such that these laws don't result in the disproportionate incarceration of blacks, when research shows us the rates of use are essentially the same among varying races. We have to stop criminalizing drug addiction and treat it for what it is -- a chemical dependency. Finally, we have to provide opportunity. We know that the greatest deterrent to crime is having an opportunity that gives one an alternative to crime, and too many African Americans suffer from a lack of opportunity -- both real and perceived.”