Professors Mlyniec and Armbrust
J.D. Practicum 566
| 4 credit hours
Wrongful Convictions is an experiential course designed to combine an academic seminar with actual investigations of prisoner’s claims concerning innocence. The course will be conducted in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to correcting and preventing wrongful convictions in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The seminar portion of the course will provide an understanding of the various ways innocent people are convicted and discuss remedies for exoneration. The seminar discussions will systematically prepare students to undertake the investigations necessary to assess prisoners' claims of factual innocence.
Students will act as intake investigators to determine whether representation of a prisoner’s claim of innocence should be undertaken. The work entails understanding core legal concepts relating to criminal trials, reading transcripts, performing legal analysis, and investigating cases in order to determine whether an inmate has a claim worth pursuing. Although the investigations are as varied as the cases, they can generally be placed into two categories; (1) cases involving searches for DNA evidence, and (2) cases involving non-biological evidence. In all of the cases, students, supervised by the faculty and MAIP staff and volunteers, will work with the prisoner, former attorneys, courts, and police departments to create complete files. Once the file is complete, students will read the documents and work with their supervisors to determine an investigative strategy. In DNA cases, students contact (and sometimes visit) courthouses, police departments, labs, and hospitals to determine whether any testable physical evidence remains in files or warehouses from cases that are often decades old. In non-DNA cases, student will interview eyewitnesses, alibi witnesses, co-defendants, and, in some cases, alternative suspects, and perform other necessary investigation. If the student investigations are successful, the cases are assigned to attorneys who enter an appearance on behalf of the inmate. Ideally, the students who worked on the case will remain involved with it once it is assigned to an attorney, thus preserving continuity and providing students with an even fuller experience.
The course will be limited to twelve students working in groups of three. All students are welcome to apply. The classes will be taught by Professor Wallace Mlyniec and Adjunct Professor Shawn Armbrust, Director of MAIP.
Recommended: Criminal Justice (or Curriculum B) or Criminal Procedure. Criminal Procedure may be taken concurrently with professor permission.
Students may not concurrently enroll in this practicum course and a clinic or another practicum course. Students may concurrently enroll in this practicum course and an externship or clinic in the spring semester, but may not concurrently enroll in an externship in the fall semester.
Students who wish to receive credit for the Externship Seminar and a practicum course that has the same field placement may do so only if: (1) the practicum course is taken in a semester following the Externship Seminar; and (2) the student receives permission from the Assistant or the Associate Dean for Clinical Programs. To receive such permission, the student must explain in writing how the practicum course field work would serve substantially different learning goals than did their externship field placement.
This is a 4 credit course. 2 credits will be awarded for the 2-hour weekly seminar in the fall, 1 credit for 5 hours per week of field work on Innocence Project "cases" in the fall semester, and 1 credit for 5 hours per week of field work on "cases" in the spring semester. Both the seminar and field work portions of the course will be graded. There is no final exam. Several reaction papers and case memos are required. Grading for all credits will occur at the end of the spring semester. Although there are no formal classes in the spring, team members will meet with the faculty weekly about their cases and occasional seminar sessions may be held. Selection preference in preregistration will be given to students who were members of the Innocence club in a prior year. This course cannot be taken pass/fail.
Note: Selection preference in preregistration will be given to students who were members of the Innocence club in a prior year.
Students who enroll in this course will be automatically enrolled in both the seminar and practicum components and may not take either component separately. A student wishing to withdraw from the course will be withdrawn from both the seminar and field work components.
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