Course Description

This clinical program offers students the unique opportunity to exercise their lawyering skills by reviewing and investigating actual claims of innocence on behalf of Pennsylvania inmates and, where appropriate, pursuing legal avenues for exoneration and release from prison. Each student will be assigned cases under the supervision of the Director of the Innocence Project or one of the mentoring attorneys. In the course of investigating factual claims and researching legal issues, students will review criminal files, interact with investigators, contact other attorneys, interview the client and witnesses, gather documentation and prepare legal documents and memoranda. Although most claims will be resolved by written pleadings and briefs, any court appearances will also involve students. Each student will also review new applications of a valid and viable claim. As a consequence of this work, students will have many opportunities to develop and hone their lawyering skills in interviewing, fact investigation, factual and legal analysis, legal writing and problem-solving. The classroom component will cover topics including the definition of a claim of innocence, investigating and raising claims of innocence under Pennsylvania law, preservation of innocence claims for federal review, post conviction discovery rules, state and federal post conviction procedures and problems, investigative techniques and skills, the nature and uses of DNA and other scientific evidence and the state and federal rules governing admissibility of such evidence. As the semester progresses, students will explore the substantive and procedural issues in the context of the actual cases on which they are working as well as discuss the ethical issues common to this areas of practice.

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Time Requirements

Students meet at the Pennsylvania Innocence Project office on Wednesdays each week, and are responsible to the Project for the full day. The first two weeks are full day trainings after which there are weekly check-ins on cases and hour-long presentations on various legal issues related to innocence work. Students should expect to work 8-10 hours per week, including the time on Wednesdays. Over the course of the semester, this means that each student should log a total of 112-140 hours of practice or work time, not including the hour-long classroom presentations.

Important Notes

This can be a time intensive clinic that may require your availability at irregular hours.

Prerequisites

  • Law 532 Criminal Procedure I
  • Law 540 Evidence (Grade of C or better)