Defending clients in the criminal legal system
The Criminal Defense & Advocacy Clinic (CDAC) cultivates best practices in representing clients in the criminal legal system, including a deep look at what is considered normal or acceptable criminal defense practice, particularly with respect to representation of survivors of gender-based violence who have been criminalized.
CDAC projects vary each semester, but the clinic prioritizes criminal cases that involve or center on gender, with a significant number of clients who were arrested because of their involvement in the commercial sex industry or experiences with family violence. Students represent clients in court, draft clemency petitions, and work to obtain post-conviction relief.
Clinic participants develop mastery of criminal procedure law and process and explore larger questions involving gender justice in the criminal legal system. This experience allows students to engage in additional advocacy, including designing and leading legal trainings and Know Your Rights workshops for women incarcerated at Rikers Island, working with clients detained in state prison and engaging in legislative efforts.
CDAC students use the combination of experience and observation to determine the kind of lawyers they want to be. Clinic members learn to think about cases, and client needs, comprehensively, guided by problem-solving and consistent reflection. Through this practice, the clinic engages in critical analysis of the criminal legal system – its practices, larger trends and intentions, race, gender and class dynamics and where to situate reform.
Clinic students handle all aspects of each case including interviewing, conducting investigations, developing mitigation, coordinating resources and referrals, pre-trial motions, engaging in plea negotiations and advocating at trial and sentencing. Students have primary responsibility for the case and client communication and appear in court pursuant to a student practice order.
Clinic projects ranges and vary according to where need is the greatest. Launched in 2017, the clinic has handled dozens of misdemeanor prostitution-related cases adjudicated in diversion courts and has navigated clients through the process leading overwhelmingly to dismissal of the charges. Clinic clients primarily identify as women and range in age from 18 to 56 years old. Over 90% of clinic clients are women of color.
In addition, using New York State law, clinic students prepare motions for post-conviction relief for clients who have experienced human trafficking and were compelled to engage in conduct that led to their own arrest and criminalization. Students work with clients to vacate prior convictions and clear criminal records. In its first two years, the clinic helped survivors of trafficking clear nearly 400 convictions from their records.