Criminal Justice Clinic

The Criminal Justice Clinic represents low-income individuals caught in the criminal legal system. CJC defends people who are charged with misdemeanor offenses in state court and helps non-citizens seek post-conviction relief when facing immigration consequences of past criminal offenses. CJC also fights for the release of prisoners who are serving lengthy prison offenses due to outdated and unjust sentencing laws.

Under the close supervision of the clinic director, clinic students represent indigent clients in several different aspects of the criminal legal system. Clinic students represent those charged with misdemeanors in local state criminal court. Clinic students also represent individuals seeking post-conviction relief due to the adverse immigration consequences that resulted from past criminal convictions. Finally, students represent a person currently serving a lengthy and excessive sentence and fight for their release, typically in federal court

Students will work on all aspects of case preparation and make all required court appearances. Tasks may include legal research and writing, fact investigation, the development of case strategy, and plea negotiations.

Clinic students will strengthen many key lawyering skills, including client interviewing, oral advocacy, negotiation, strategic thinking, and developing a theory of the case. Adhering to a holistic model of criminal defense, students will also work to assess their clients’ interests beyond the narrow confines of the criminal case, and will assist their clients with needs such as housing, mental health treatment, and employment. The classroom component will cover relevant substantive law, including state criminal procedure and the intersection of immigration law and criminal law. Students will place their individual client work in the broader context of the local community and the criminal legal system, and will consider issues of local and national importance, including race and policing, mass incarceration, and the challenges of reentry.

The Criminal Justice Clinic provides free criminal defense representation to low-income individuals charged with misdemeanors. Call for more information: (949) 824-8152

La Clínica de Justicia Criminal (CJC) provee representación de defensa criminal gratis para individuales de bajos recursos acusados de un delito menor. Llame para más información: (949) 824-8152

Highlighted Project: Protecting DACA Students

One client of the clinic was a college student with DACA status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) charged with misdemeanor DUI. The student had never been in trouble before. He searched the internet for an attorney and paid one several thousand dollars to advise and represent him. When the student asked his attorney if pleading guilty to the DUI would affect his DACA status, the attorney wrongly told him that it would not.

After filing for DACA renewal a year later, the student learned he would lose his DACA status and faced deportation because of the DUI conviction.

The student was referred to the Criminal Justice Clinic, where clinic students determined the best course of legal action was to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and see if the prosecution would offer a plea to a misdemeanor that would not automatically revoke their client’s DACA status.

The Student researched, wrote and filed a motion to withdraw the plea, and created a packet of letters, photos, and other evidence that supported the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The prosecutor ultimately agreed to let our client withdraw his plea, and to plead instead to the misdemeanor of reckless driving. Our client now has the opportunity to continue his college education and remain in the U.S. with his family. 

Highlighted Project: Compassionate Release and Excessive Sentences Project

The Criminal Justice Clinic fights for the release of prisoners who are serving lengthy prison offenses, often due to outdated and unjust sentencing laws. Since beginning this project in 2019, CJC has successfully won the release of 19 individuals, eight of whom were over the age of 65, ten of whom were serving life or effective life sentences, and ten of whom had each served more than 30 years in prison. 

CJC compassionate release client Derrell Gaulden with his wife, Audrey.

CJC files these motions on behalf of clients throughout the south, including in federal courts in Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida.

In February 2023, former CJC client and release-grantee, Derrell Gaulden, was invited by the United States Sentencing Commission to give public hearing testimony in support of proposed amendments to federal policy governing the reduction of sentences based on outdated sentencing laws. On November 1, 2023, the proposed amendments went into effect. CJC will continue to be at the front-lines of excessive sentences and second chance litigation in federal courts nationwide.

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