Students represent indigent defendants in misdemeanor and felony criminal matters through the Tuscaloosa County Public Defender’s Office in the county courthouse in downtown Tuscaloosa. Students handle preliminary hearings, motions, and bench and jury trials.
CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW CLINIC
Open only to 3rd year students – students MUST be registered with the Alabama State Bar to receive a student practice card for the Clinic.
The clinic is offered for 4 credits and is a one-semester clinic.
Seminar: 2-4 hours TBA
The Criminal Defense Law Clinic has been in existence since 1985 and is conducted in association with the Public Defender’s Office in the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse. The Clinic provides third-year law students with an opportunity to learn how to represent clients by trying cases from start to finish in all phases of the criminal process. While the emphasis in the clinic is on courtroom skills, students will practice a range of lawyering skills, including client interviewing and counseling, case investigation, witnesses interviewing, trial preparation, and legal research and writing.
The primary goals of the Clinic are to provide students with an opportunity to learn the practice of criminal defense and to serve the community by providing quality pro bono legal services to indigent criminal defendants. Students assist the Tuscaloosa County Public Defender’s Office in serving the community by trying misdemeanor and felony cases in the District and Circuit Courts, conducting suppression hearings in more serious felony cases, and working with attorneys on a wide variety of individual criminal cases.
Highlights of Criminal Defense Clinic Activities
Since its inception, the Criminal Clinic has conducted many jury and bench trials, both felonies and misdemeanors. The law students enrolled in the program have been extremely successful. In over twenty years, students have only lost one case that has been tried to a jury verdict. In addition, through preparation and zealous advocacy, students have often secured better case outcomes on behalf of their clients by eliciting more favorable plea agreements from the District Attorney. The Clinic offers unparalleled criminal defense practice experience — many of the attorneys who work in the Tuscaloosa Public Defender’s Office are former Clinic students.
Who Does the Criminal Defense Clinic Represent?
Clinic students represent defendants through all stages of the criminal process. Cases are assigned to the Public Defender’s Office based on an initial determination by a judge that the defendant is indigent. Students are then assigned cases and begin the work necessary to zealously defend their clients. Students must work to build trust from the clients by ascertaining the clients’ needs and goals and by thoroughly investigating the facts and law of the cases. Students will counsel clients extensively, explain the clients’ options, advise clients on the chances at trial and of other options that may exist (e.g., reduction in charge, probation, court-ordered programs), and examine frequent client concerns about operating within a legal system the client may not understand.
What Types of Work Will I Do in the Criminal Clinic?
The emphasis in the Clinic is on quality, client-centered representation and zealous advocacy. This work includes thoughtful client interviewing and counseling, extensive trial preparation (e.g., interviewing, investigation, developing a case theory, and research and writing of legal memoranda to present to the court) and utilization of trial skills in court (e.g., direct and cross examination, legal objections, legal arguments). Students may be assigned to conduct bench or jury trials from start to finish in either misdemeanor or felony cases. The Clinic director assists students by reviewing their work at every stage of preparation. Students will videotape client interviews and review them with their peers in class. Before trial, students will engage in simulated exercises in class of every aspect of the upcoming trial. At trial, the director will accompany and assist the students as needed, and afterward lead a constructive critique with the class of the students’ performance.
Students are also assigned to other attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office to assist them with their felony caseloads. The collaborative relationship between the students, the professor, and the public defender attorneys is designed to facilitate student understanding of the entire criminal justice system.
What are the Criminal Defense Clinic Credits, Workload and Other Requirements?
The Criminal Defense Clinic is a one-semester, 4-credit course. The Clinic is open ONLY to 3rd year law students who must be registered as a law student with the Alabama State Bar WELL IN ADVANCE OF THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER in order to receive the necessary student practice card. Students are expected to spend an average of 14 hours per week on their Clinic casework and in a weekly seminar. In the seminar, students learn about the criminal justice system and review appropriate client counseling and trial advocacy skills. Throughout the semester, the Clinic will meet frequently (early in the semester, twice a week for two hours per session) to review casework and practice skills.
About John Gross
Professor Gross joined the University of Alabama School of Law faculty in 2014. He received a J.D. from Hofstra University College of Law. Prior to joining the Alabama faculty, Professor Gross was Indigent Defense Counsel for The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and a visiting assistant professor of law and acting director of the Syracuse University College of Law’s Criminal Defense Clinic. Before embarking on his teaching and clinical career, he was a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York City in the Criminal Defense Division. Professor Gross directs the Criminal Defense Clinic.