Rights and Liberties
From civil rights enforcement, child advocacy, and criminal and federal defense to criminal prosecution and fighting wrongful convictions, Minnesota Law students work side-by-side with clinical faculty and attorneys, as well as agencies such as the United States Attorney’s Office, the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, and the City Attorneys’ Offices of Minneapolis.
The Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic (the “CAC”) is a full academic year, seven credit program beginning in the fall semester in which students represent indigent clients in juvenile delinquency and child welfare matters before the Hennepin County Juvenile Court and custody cases before the Hennepin County Family Court. Over the last two years, students have been actively involved in two cutting edge areas of the law: they have represented adults seeking custody of unaccompanied immigrant minors under the Special Immigrant Justice Status federal statute, and they have represented two inmates serving life without parole (LWOP) in Minnesota prisons for offenses they committed as juveniles. In connection with their LWOP cases, students have represented clients in extensive sentencing proceedings before state and federal courts, including the District of Minnesota and the Eighth Circuit.
CAC students represent multiple clients during the course of the year and, under the supervision of CAC faculty, undertake every aspect of direct representation: from interviewing witnesses, to performing fact investigation, to drafting pleadings, to engaging in settlement negotiations, to appearing for court hearings, to conducting trials.
Many classroom sessions are held in conjunction with the Indian Child Welfare Clinic and cover not only applicable procedure, substantive law and relevant trial skills, but also address broader systemic issues. Students are consistently challenged to consider the historical context and purpose of the family and juvenile courts and to think critically about the effectiveness and equity of the present-day system.
- Weekly status meetings with Profs. Moriearty or Sanderson and the student director assigned to any particular client file are required throughout the entire academic year.
- Attend regular lunchtime Clinic Roundtables which focus on client case work.
What to expect when working on cases and with clients:
- Students will represent an average of 3-5 clients.
- To ensure a fulfilling experience in the CAC, students must be willing to make a substantial time commitment that goes beyond the classroom work. This may require students to arrange their class schedules in a way that allows students to appear in court, conduct investigations, and meet with clients. We also strongly recommend that students enroll in Evidence.
The state and federal appellate courts play an important role in explaining what our laws mean, and their decisions have far-reaching effects that impact many aspects of daily life. In the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, students will immerse themselves in the work of the state and federal appellate courts, including state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. They will develop strong skills in oral and written appellate advocacy while working on cases involving issues of civil rights, social and criminal justice, and racial equity. Students will be involved in all aspects of the clinic's work and specific projects will vary each semester depending on the clinic's current caseload and the stage of the assigned appeals. Projects may include participation in case selection, reviewing the record on appeal, in-depth research and argument development, drafting merits briefs or amicus briefs that will be filed in court, and participating in preparation for oral argument. Whenever possible, students will participate in client meetings and assist in developing case strategy. The subject matter of the casework will center on civil rights and social justice work and may involve issues such as prisoner's rights, capital punishment, voting rights, gender equity and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, section 1983 litigation, federal habeas appeals, or racial discrimination and inequity. The clinic will be accompanied by a weekly seminar, where students will learn key components of appellate advocacy, strategize on casework, and engage with guest speakers who are experts in the appellate field.
The Clemency Clinic advocates for inmates serving disproportionately long prison sentences. Inaugurated in 2014 in response to President Obama’s clemency initiative for non-violent and low-level federal inmates, the clinic has since expanded its client-base beyond federal clemency applicants to include state clemency applicants and also petitions for a judicial “second look” at the inmate’s sentence under available processes, including, for example, compassionate release regulations, release mechanisms under the First Step Act, and habeas corpus.
Students meet once a week and explore sentencing processes in state and federal sentencing systems, the role of sentencing advocacy in securing favorable outcomes, the factors that influence its quality, and the insights from social scientists that can critique and improve it. The class draws on the wealth of interdisciplinary expertise on the University of Minnesota campus as well as in our local professional community.
In addition, each weekly session will cover an aspect of law practice management: engagement letters, maintaining adequate time records, managing client expectations, communication of decision to decline representation, etc.
Most notably, however, the students learn by doing—through hands-on involvement in actual clemency or “second look” petitions. Each student gets their own case, under Prof. Murray’s supervision and with Prof. Murray as counsel of record, and as such, will get to know a real human being and their family members, many of whom have served a substantial portion of a long sentence and have many more years to go. The student will strategize, research, and develop an effective clemency/second-look petition. Using a “teaching hospital” format, and subject to a strict confidentiality protocol, students then brainstorm each other’s cases, critique the clemency/second- look strategy, and learn from any judicial or executive outcomes.
In the Criminal Defense Clinic, you will have a challenging and rewarding experience working as a student-attorney defending clients in Hennepin County District Court. Through your classroom and courtroom work, you will develop client-centered trial skills that will serve you well as you embark on your career as a lawyer. You will also be challenged to think critically and creatively about the criminal justice system, the role of defense lawyers, legal ethics, and criminal law and procedure.
The course will involve a combination of classroom work and supervised student representation of clients charged with petty misdemeanor offenses in Hennepin County District Court. Student lawyers will represent clients at all stages of the criminal process, including arraignments, pretrial conferences, and trials. There will also be a weekly two-hour seminar component that will include presentations on substantive criminal law and procedure, criminal justice policy issues, evidence, and trial advocacy skills, as well as simulation and skills training exercises, and case strategy discussions. The focus of the course will be to develop the skills to provide client-centered representation in criminal cases.
- You should arrange your class schedule so you have at least one morning available each week to appear in court.
- Students enrolling in this Clinic must have successfully completed an Evidence course or they must be enrolled in Evidence during the fall semester.
What to expect when working on cases and with clients: Students will meet with out of custody clients who are making first appearances in court on petty misdemeanor offenses. Students will represent each client until his or her case is resolved. Cases may be resolved through negotiation or trial. Students will be expected to meet with the client and to thoroughly prepare the client’s case. This may involve visiting the scene of the offense, interviewing witnesses, researching statutes and relevant case law, and prepping for trial. Depending on the client’s wishes, students may negotiate with the prosecutor on behalf of the client. If the client does not wish to resolve the case, students will represent the client at trial. Students can expect to work on 3-5 cases. Students will learn the advocacy skills that will enable them to be client-centered defense lawyers.
This clinic is grounded in the development of fundamental practical and legal skills necessary to serve you well as you embark on your career as a practicing attorney. You will also be challenged to think critically and creatively about the criminal justice system, the role of prosecutors, legal ethics, and criminal law and procedure.
The primary goal of the Criminal Prosecution Clinic is to provide students with the opportunity to develop the substantive and practical skills to function as an effective and ethical prosecutor in the criminal justice system.
The Criminal Prosecution Clinic Course will involve a combination of classroom work and supervised student prosecution of individuals charged with petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor, and gross misdemeanor offenses in Hennepin, Ramsey, and Anoka County District Courts.There also will be a weekly two-hour seminar component that will include lectures on substantive criminal law and procedure, criminal justice policy issues, simulation exercises, role playing, skills training exercises, and self-evaluation.
Students enrolled in the Criminal Prosecution Clinic are further encouraged to enroll in Trial Practice and/or Criminal Procedure.
To ensure a fulfilling experience in this Clinic:
- Students must be willing to make a time commitment that goes beyond the classroom work
- Students must arrange their class schedules in a way that allows them to appear in court, conduct investigations, and meet with students.
- Students must have at least one morning available each week to appear in court.
What to expect when working on cases and with clients: Students will handle cases at all stages of the criminal process, including arraignments, pre-trial conferences, and court trials.
In this clinical seminar, students assist in the defense of indigent persons charged with federal crimes, under the supervision of the Federal Defender for the District of Minnesota, assistant federal defenders, and Professor Reitz. This clinic is offered once each year, usually in the spring semester.
Fieldwork includes assignments such as research and writing of Eighth Circuit appeal briefs, memoranda in support of or response to motions, and legal research on a wide variety of topics. When cases are available, students may also be given various second-chair assignments in the preparation for and conduct of court and jury trials. If consistent with assignment deadlines and with Coronavirus precautions, students are encouraged to observe hearings and other federal criminal court proceedings. Students are also encouraged to attend weekly Zoom office meetings held by the Federal Defenders Office which discuss important current topics, often with a judge or other invited guest.
Additional Commitments/ Requirements: In addition to regular Zoom conferences with Professor Reitz, students work about twelve hours per week on clinic assignments, for a total of approximately 150 fieldwork hours. Although most student fieldwork will be done remotely, with considerable flexibility as to days and times when the work is done, each student should arrange a regular weekly schedule, totaling at least ten weekday business hours, when they will be available for phone consultations with attorneys in the Federal Defenders Office. Students may select the time periods during the week which best fit their other commitments (fewer separate time periods and days are preferred) but must stick to their agreed phone-availability schedule unless modified with advance notice to the Office. These requirements serve to minimize delays in assignments of fieldwork and consultation with supervising attorneys.
After receiving notification from the Law School registrar of their enrollment, students will be contacted by Professor Reitz to discuss clinic procedures. Due to the very limited enrollment [four students] there may be a waiting list. Accordingly, students should only register if they are quite certain that: they wish to take the clinic; they have the required course pre-and co-requisites; and they will not have any major conflicts of interest (e.g., working for a prosecution office). If a student decides they need to withdraw, they should do so promptly and notify Professor Reitz, so that a wait-listed student may enroll.
Students work side-by- side with staff attorneys from the Innocence Project of Minnesota (IPMN) as they investigate and litigate inmates' claims of actual innocence. These investigations go to the heart of current issues in the criminal justice system, such as the reliability of eyewitness identification, the problem of false confessions, the use of snitches and informants, government misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, and forensic sciences including DNA testing. Class time is devoted to training and case work.
Students are assigned cases and expected to gather source materials such as police reports and transcripts. They will organize and summarize those materials. After educating themselves about their cases, students will design and implement an investigative plan with their supervisor and pursue that investigation. This may include locating evidence, experts and witnesses. If proof of innocence is developed they may draft post- conviction motions. Interested students may also participate in policy work.
This clinic puts students on the cutting edge of scientific and social science issues that affect the practice of law in the criminal justice system as well as hands-on experience in managing and analyzing large-scale cases for litigation.
- Students must be willing and able to meet with and interview witnesses at a variety of locations. Some local travel will be required.
- Students must have regular access to a computer with internet. Students will be required to track their hours and work on a cloud based program.
- Students must also communicate regularly with IPMN staff via email.
- Students may not work for a prosecutor’s office while in this clinic.
- There will be a single night weekend retreat required for students in this clinic. It will be held the weekend after Labor Day.
What to expect when working on cases and with clients: Students will generally work on between 3-6 cases through the course of the year and will sometimes work in pairs on a case. Most of the cases will involve applicants who are incarcerated and serving lengthy prison sentences.
The Racial Justice Law Clinic will teach second and third year students how to engage in direct representation, strategic litigation, and other forms of advocacy as part of a greater movement to advance the rights of Black, Indigenous, Latine/x, Asian-American Pacific Islander, and/or other People of Color.
In its first year, Clinic students will do the work of setting up a legal practice from the ground up. Students will determine the priority issue areas for the Clinic’s legal advocacy in partnership with impacted community members, local movement leaders, and organizations already working to advance equity and justice for people of color in Minnesota. Clinic priorities will be dynamic and responsive to community needs and therefore may vary from year to year. Issue areas may include some combination of policing, employment, education, housing, and/or others.
Through classroom instruction, students will learn fundamental Critical Race Theory concepts and apply those teachings as guiding principles throughout their legal practice. Through the seminar, case supervision, and case team work, students will learn a broad range of skills important to community and movement lawyering and to the effective representation of clients in civil rights litigation and complementary forms of advocacy, such as: community outreach; building and maintaining relationships with potential community partners, co-counsel, and clients; planning and leading listening sessions; engaging in public speaking and public education; client contact and communication; client interviewing; legal ethics; legal research and fact investigation; and crafting a strategic plan and recommendations for the Clinic’s near-term docket and priority issue areas.
- Students must be willing to meet with and interview community members and potential clients at a variety of locations. Some local travel will be required. Any in-person meetings are to be conducted in a manner that prioritizes the safety and health of participants during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Students must have regular access to a computer with internet.
- Students must have access to a phone.
- Students should expect and be prepared likely evening and weekend work to accommodate the needs and schedules of working community members and clients. However, the Clinic endeavors to model work/life balance and encourages students to counterbalance any evening and weekend work responsibilities, to the extent possible.
If access to transportation, a computer, internet, or any of the above requirements presents a barrier, the Clinic will assist students in meeting this need. If working evenings or weekends presents a barrier for any reason (e.g., childcare, work, familial responsibilities, religious observance, other), students will be encouraged to work together with their case teams to provide coverage that is sensitive to the needs of their classmates and colleagues.