Criminal and Community Defense Clinic
Professor Anthony Thompson
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
No prerequisites or co-requisites
The Criminal and Community Defense Clinic will be offered to 8 students as a year-long 14-credit fieldwork course and seminar. Students should expect to devote 12-15 hours per week to their fieldwork.
This clinic adds a new component to the former Community Defender Clinic: individual criminal defense representation. The clinic offers students an exciting vehicle through which they can begin to explore the ways that defenders can provide holistic representation to clients charged with criminal offenses in Manhattan, It also allows students to explore the ways that defenders can work in collaboration with community groups and their clients to address broad, pressing issues in the criminal justice system. The clinic will utilize an interdisciplinary approach to explore ways that defender offices can be more grounded in the communities from which their clients come and to which they will return. The clinic will also focus on ways that defender offices can assume a more activist role in the criminal justice community and in the broader community in which their clients reside. We will work with defenders at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem in their individual representation of clients and in their efforts to fashion more active roles in the justice, social and political processes.
Students will observe, collaborate and consult with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS), a neighborhood-based public defender office. Students will be assigned to work with lawyers on criminal teams and will have the opportunity to work directly on criminal matters facing clients. The work will involve intake, investigation, working with witnesses, legal research and court hearings. In addition, students will focus on larger issues affecting the client community. NDS is a pioneer in the area of community-based indigent defense, but they recognize the need to examine ways that they can be an effective instrument of change in the Harlem community on justice issues facing that community. In recent years, NDS has focused on working with high school students to help them navigate police encounters and other justice problems that young people of color typically face in economically subordinated communities. NDS is looking to partner with this clinic to begin to explore ways that it might expand and enhance its community efforts by surveying the views of community partners and other interested voices in the Harlem community.
We expect the fieldwork to be a vehicle for examining how defenders frame the problems they address and the strategies they deploy. What does it mean to provide client-centered holistic representation? Does team representation help to provide the kind of comprehensive representation that clients need in today’s justice system? Do the problems that defenders address more accurately reflect what the clients face or what the lawyers happen to know? Do the strategies employed more accurately reflect what might best address the problem (such as work with community partners) or what the office routinely regards as lawyer's work? These questions put squarely into issue just how well-grounded defender offices are in the communities in which they operate. Do they understand community views about criminal justice policies, community concerns about the criminal justice system, community attitudes toward defenders and their clients? Do defenders see themselves as accountable to these communities? Should defenders play a part in educating communities about the criminal justice system?
Some feel for the fieldwork of the clinic can be found in our work in previous years. Fieldwork has included the following:
- Intake and investigation of cases when individuals “retain” the services of NDS for representation in criminal matters.
- Working clients and witnesses in the preparation of defenses to criminal charges.
- Legal research in preparation for matters that arise in criminal cases.
- Appearances in court in arraignment hearings.
- Devising and implementing a comprehensive legal needs assessment for NDS to determine the services a neighborhood-based defender office should provide.
- Advocating, in coalition with other community-based providers, for the use of alternatives to incarceration and sentencing reform.
- Advising clients with criminal records on their legal rights and obligations related to employment.
- Conducting initial interviews with clients and their families seeking representation by NDS.
- Collaborating with social work staff to match services within the community to individual client needs.
- Advocating for other policies that facilitate the reentry of individuals returning to their communities.
The seminar will examine various conceptions of the role of the defender office in an effort to begin developing a vision that treats individual representation as the primary, but not sole responsibility of a defender office. Students will be introduced to approaches that attempt to move defender offices toward more community-based, activist roles in the political and justice systems. Students will explore the range of roles that defenders can play in advocating for their clients and client communities. Students will be exposed to principles of problem-identification and problem-solving as theoretical constructs. Then, through case studies of individual representation, outreach, education and organizing initiatives, students will closely examine ambitions, methods and achievements in light of those theories. The interdisciplinary approach of the seminar is designed to encourage students to share ideas and theories across disciplines as a means of developing stronger analytical, consensus-building and leadership skills.
The seminar will also provide a forum for a collaborative effort with staff from local defender offices and justice advocacy groups to begin the process of moving beyond the defender's constitutional mandate to represent individual clients charged with crimes toward a role that involves greater participation in the larger community. The seminar will explore various policy roles that defender offices might begin to assume. Students will examine the tendency of traditional defender offices to isolate themselves from the larger community and will attempt to determine whether and how these offices might become more actively involved with client communities, the media and others in position of influence to shape and advance an agenda on behalf of defenders' client base.
The seminar will include simulations and materials to expose students to various forms of advocacy. Students will focus on methods of assessing the needs of a community, building coalitions and participating in community action. Students will explore ways to develop facts and frame issues, collaborate with staff and communities, and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies that have been developed. Class discussions will examine the differences between - and interrelationship of - individual and group representation, informal and formal advocacy, and litigation and non-litigation strategies.
Please submit your clinic application, resume and unofficial transcript through CAMS, the online application system. You will be contacted for an interview. If you have any questions, please contact Damaris Marrero at 212-998-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students who wish to know more about the clinic may speak with the following students who are currently enrolled in the Criminal and Community Defense Clinic:
* 14 credits includes 3 clinical credits and 4 academic seminar credits per semester.