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Criminal Defense Clinic

Criminal Defense Clinic students and staff on the courthouse steps after getting a case dismissed the day of trial.

Criminal Defense Clinic students and staff on the courthouse steps after getting a case dismissed the day of trial.

Tobie SmithProf. Tobie Smith directs the Criminal Defense Clinic. Before joining the faculty at University of Alabama School of Law, Prof. Smith worked as an appellate attorney from with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Alabama, and as a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Birmingham defending children in juvenile-delinquency proceedings. He enjoys training attorneys and believes the clinic will prepare students to enter practice with a foundation of experience and skills to help them better handle their own cases and work for a more just criminal legal system.

Brenita SoftleI learned that being aggressive does not mean channeling your inner Annalise Keating…it means fighting zealously for your client while staying true to yourself. When I watched my classmates I learned that we each had our own unique style. There is no “right” way to be an effective advocate. I don’t have to be dramatic or loud to get my point across. I can still be kind and reasonable and rip opposing counsel to shreds. – Brenita Softley ‘22

Reave ShewmakeA clinic, and the Criminal Defense Clinic specifically, teaches you how to think strategically about cases. It is basically just game theory in real life scenarios. Honestly, it’s thrilling. – Reave Shewmake ‘21

Tamara ImamI came away from every case I handled, from the simplest to the most complex, with insights that have shaped my understanding of what it means to be an effective and compassionate advocate, both for representing individual clients and for reforming the criminal legal system as a whole. – Tamara Imam ‘20

Information for Students

How many credits is the Clinic?
6 credits (2 for seminar and 4 for case work) there is also the option to take a second semester of case work for 4 credits.

Which students can participate in the Clinic?
The Clinic is open to 3L students, with a preference given to those who have taken Evidence and Criminal Procedure and who have a student practice card. Students are selected by lottery.

What are the goals of the Clinic experience?
The goals of the Criminal Defense Clinic are for students to be able to:
zealously, competently, and ethically represent clients in criminal cases; and think critically about the criminal legal system and their own practice.

What is the Clinic seminar like?
The seminar focuses on trial advocacy skills as well as client interviewing and counseling skills, with significant time devoted to simulation exercises.

What does the Clinic casework consist of?
Criminal Defense Clinic casework consists primarily of trial-level misdemeanor cases in Tuscaloosa County and nearby rural counties. The Clinic also handles a limited post-conviction caseload in both state and federal courts in Alabama. Students handle all aspects of case representation including client interviewing and counseling, plea negotiations, motion hearings, and trials.

What jobs have Clinic students obtained after graduation?
Alumni have obtained post-graduate employment at:

  • Alabama Attorney General’s Office
  • Mobile County, AL Public Defender
  • Mobile County, AL District Attorney
  • Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office
  • Louisville – Jefferson County, KY Public Defender
  • Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, LA
  • Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid
  • Colorado 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office
  • Alabama Disability Advocacy Program
  • Legal Services Alabama
  • Clerkships with Federal Magistrate, District, and Appeals Courts and the Alabama Supreme Court

Information for Clients

The Criminal Defense Clinic provides free legal assistance to people charged with low-level offenses in Tuscaloosa and neighboring counties.

Why might you want to work with the Clinic?

  • You want information about your legal options in the case and you cannot afford to pay an attorney yourself.
  • You are considering taking your case to trial because you didn’t do what you are accused of.
  • You think the police violated your rights and wonder if that gives you a way to fight your criminal case.
  • You are not a U.S. citizen, and you are worried about how your case could affect your immigration status.

Types of cases we’ve handled in the past:

  • Resisting Arrest
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Possession of Marijuana
  • Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
  • Public Intoxication
  • Menacing
  • Assault, harassment
  • Domestic violence
  • Soliciting Prostitution
  • Trespassing
  • Theft
  • Receipt of stolen property
  • Possession of a firearm without a permit
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
  • Minor in Possession of Alcohol (MIP)
  • Traffic Offenses
  • Expungements

How do I contact the Clinic?

To schedule an intake, call (205) 348-4960. After the intake, the Clinic will decide whether to take your case. Remember, there is no guarantee the Clinic will be able to take your case.

We can’t take your case if:

  • You are charged with a felony.
  • You are in jail and can’t make bail.
  • You have already been convicted and want to appeal or file a Rule 32.
  • You just want help suing the police, jail, or prison.
  • Your case is in a courthouse more than 1 hour away from University of Alabama School of Law.
  • You already have a public defender assigned to your case.

Criminal Defense Clinic in the news:

Here’s coverage of Criminal Defense Clinic client Justin Faircloth’s release from prison after the Clinic assisted him in securing medical parole:

Here’s coverage of a mock trial the Criminal Defense Clinic did at Northport Municipal Court:

The Capstone Lawyer, University of Alabama School of Law’s alumni publication also covered the Criminal Defense Clinic and how its operations were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:

Clinic Director, Prof. Amy Kimpel is quoted in an article about Alabama’s expungement scheme: