Civil Rights in the Criminal Legal System Clinic

LW.12820 / LW.12821
Professor Alexis Karteron
Professor David Chen
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Spring semester
7 credits*
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

The Civil Rights in the Criminal Legal System Clinic represents people who have suffered civil rights violations while incarcerated or under criminal justice supervision. Clinic students utilize litigation and other legal advocacy tools to vindicate their clients’ rights. Recent examples of clinic work include representation of people sentenced to life in prison in their parole proceedings and related appeals, representing people on appeal of sentences to solitary confinement, a First Amendment challenge to a state statute that limited internet access for certain parolees, representation of a habeas petitioner who alleged he was subjected to a federal law enforcement agency’s racially discriminatory practices, and advocacy on behalf of a group of jailhouse lawyers seeking to enforce a federal settlement agreement with a corrections department. Clinic students develop legal theories, analyze potential claims, make strategic decisions, and draft pleadings, briefs and other litigation documents. Through the clinic seminar, students explore different approaches to public interest lawyering, consider the limits of litigation as a tool to achieve social change, and review case studies of efforts to challenge mass incarceration.


Students in the clinic work in pairs on fieldwork projects, which include litigation and other forms of legal advocacy. Students are responsible for leading all work on their projects. This may include a wide range of tasks, such as drafting pleadings or briefs, interviewing clients, conducting legal research, devising legal strategy, negotiating with opposing counsel, and appearing at oral argument. Examples of recent cases and projects include:

  • Advocating for the release of people sentenced to life in prison in parole proceedings and related state court cases.
  • A federal lawsuit, brought with co-counsel, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, asserting a novel First Amendment theory regarding the right to speak on the internet for people on parole or post-release supervision.
  • Filing an administrative appeal and state court suit on behalf of an incarcerated individual illegally sentenced to solitary confinement in violation of the Human Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT Act) and securing his release from solitary; developing legal theories to challenge systemic violations of the HALT Act by New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The clinic is also part of a legal team representing the plaintiff class in Fields v. Annucci, which challenges DOCCS’ implementation of the HALT Act.
  • Representing a federal habeas petitioner in an appeal alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The petitioner was convicted of federal crimes in connection with a reverse sting by the ATF involving a fake drug stash house, a notorious practice whose targets are virtually all people of color. The client alleges that his attorney’s untimely motion for discovery regarding racially selective enforcement by the ATF prejudiced him, as a timely motion before trial might have led to evidence of unconstitutional race discrimination and dismissal of his criminal charges.
  • Advocacy on behalf of the Inmate Legal Association, Inc. (ILA), an organization of jailhouse lawyers that provides legal services to incarcerated people in a New Jersey prison, in connection with its efforts to enforce a federal settlement agreement with the NJ Department of Corrections that ensures access to legal services for incarcerated people.


The seminar component of the clinic covers foundational questions about the role of lawyers and litigation in achieving social change as well as substantive and skills issues that arise in fieldwork. Students consider the limitations of litigation in addressing constitutional and civil rights violations in the criminal legal system, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to lawyering, such as movement lawyering and client-centered lawyering. The seminar will also include case studies of litigation and other advocacy efforts to challenge mass incarceration.

Application Procedure

Students interested in applying for the clinic should submit the standard application, resume, and transcript online through CAMS. Some students may be interviewed by Professor Karteron. If you have questions regarding the application procedure, please contact Professor Karteron.

Student Contacts

Jahne Brown
Zoe Chang
Michelle Dahl
Kate Evans
Morgan Hale
Djuna Schamus
Colin Threlkeld

* 7 credits include 5 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits.