Ursula Bentele

Professor of Law

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 780-7990 |  Email
Areas of Expertise
Criminal Law
Capital Punishment
Public Interest Law
B.A., Swarthmore College
J.D., University of Chicago Law School

Appellate Advocacy

This seminar teaches the methodology and strategies of the appellate process. It is taught by members of the faculty with extensive experience in appellate litigation, and it adopts a practical,"hands-on" approach to the development of appellate skills. Faculty use actual transcripts to teach students about the scope and standard of review, the importance of selecting and framing the issues, and the techniques of persuasive brief-writing. The seminar also provides instruction on effective techniques of oral advocacy. The seminar is highly recommended for students participating in Moot Court competitions.

Grading and Method of Evaluation

Letter grade with pass/fail option. Each student researches the issues and writes a brief based on the minutes of a real case. The brief may be used to satisfy the Upper Class Writing Requirement.

Capital Punishment and Postconvictions Proceedings

This course focuses on two topics: the law governing imposition of the death penalty in the United States and the procedures involved in securing state and federal postconviction relief, in both capital and non-capital cases. After briefly discussing the history and development of capital punishment in this country, we will examine closely the Supreme Courts jurisprudence, primarily under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as it affects the substantive and procedural implementation of capital sentencing schemes in place in the states that still employ this punishment. We consider the impact of race, the treatment of juveniles and those with mental disabilities, and an international perspective on the death penalty. We then study the progress of a capital case from jury selection through the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. Finally, we shift to postconviction proceedings, looking at direct appeals and collateral challenges to convictions and sentences (including but not limited to death sentences), as well as the clemency process. As the federal habeas corpus remedy is increasingly limited by Congress and the Supreme Court, state postconviction proceedings have taken on a larger role, and we will discuss the most significant aspects of both potential avenues for ensuring that convictions have been obtained in compliance with constitutional requirements.

Grading and Method of Evaluation

Letter grade with pass/fail option. Students are graded on short written assignments and a final exam.

Clinic - Capital Defender and Federal Habeas

Prerequisites: Constitutional Law

Recommended: Advanced Criminal law: Capital punishment and Federal Habeas, Criminal Procedure II, Evidence

This clinic, available to second, third, and fourth year students, provides students with the opportunity to participate in the post conviction representation of death row inmates in other states and defendants in New York who have filed federal habeas corpus petitions. The post conviction work for defendants under sentence of death consists of filing petitions for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Preparation of cert. petitions involves careful reading and digesting of a trial record, research of the legal issues raised by that record and presented to the state appellate court, evaluation of the strength of each possible claim, and writing several drafts of the petition. Students monitor closely the current Supreme Court docket and begin to learn some of the strategies involved in constitutional litigation. Most students attend at least one Supreme Court argument in a case raising issues relevant to the clinic.

The work on federal habeas petitions generally begins with the selection of cases, unless ongoing clinic cases require additional work. Students review several pro se petitions filed by inmates in the Eastern District of New York in order to choose cases that might benefit from representation by the clinic. For this task, students must first become familiar with the standards for granting a federal writ, standards which are complex and ever more restrictive. Once the cases have been selected, students review the record, research the issues, correspond with the client, including visiting him or her in prison, and prepare a supplemental memorandum to be submitted to the court. In cases requiring further fact investigation regarding the underlying conviction, students prepare discovery motions and take depositions where appropriate. If the court grants an evidentiary hearing, students will conduct the necessary examinations. If relief is denied in the district court, students may file a brief and argue the appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Seminar Credits: 2.00

Seminar: The clinic includes a weekly seminar in the fall and a bi-weekly seminar in the spring.

Enrollment Notes: This is a one-semester clinic. In 2012-13, it is being offered only the spring 2013 semester.

Criminal Law

This course consists of an introduction to the criminal process and the role of the Constitution in reconciling the authority of government with the rights of the individual. The primary focus of the course is, however, on the substantive aspects of the criminal law. The role of the criminal law as the principal means of social control is explored, as well as the limitations on legislative power to define and punish criminal behavior. Cases and statutes are studied to develop a critical understanding of the fundamental concepts of criminal responsibility. The course includes the study of some specific crimes such as homicide and conspiracy, as well as the general principles of jurisdiction, accessorial liability, justification and the impact of mental disease, intoxication and mistake on criminal responsibility.

Grading and Method of Evaluation

Letter grade only. Final exam.