Criminal Defense


In the Criminal Defense Clinic (DEF), student interns provide direct, one-on-one representation in a variety of contexts within the criminal justice system.

Student interns perform the full range of lawyering tasks associated with criminal defense, including interviewing, negotiating, counseling and the oral and written advocacy required for effective representation. Student interns represent people facing myriad charges in the New York City Criminal Court, including drug possession, assault, petty larceny, obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. In keeping with the Clinic's goal of providing holistic and thorough representation, student interns assist their clients as necessary in related matters involving, for example, family court, immigration, parole, school suspension, sealing of prior convictions, and civil forfeiture of property.

One particular case captures the type of work student interns take on. At arraignments, a student intern was assigned to represent a 16-year-old charged with an assault inside her high school. The student intern carefully reviewed the court documents with his colleagues and supervisors, and then interviewed his client in the holding cell behind the courtroom. The student intern then prepared an argument to have the charges dismissed based on defects in the pleadings and also prepared an argument to persuade the judge to release his client on her own recognizance. Although the motion to dismiss was denied, the client was released from custody.

The student intern spent the next several days researching the law pertaining to the charges, including the law of self-defense, and interviewing the client and numerous witnesses. During that time, the student intern learned that his client was now also facing a school suspension hearing at the Department of Education. The student intern met with experts in the field, including lawyers, social workers and guidance counselors, and defended his client at the hearing. The hearing officer found that the charges were not sustained and the client was able to stay in school. The student intern continued to meet with his client and her family and, together, they amassed a number of reference letters, report cards, and various certificates that compelled the prosecutor eventually to dismiss the charges.

In addition to misdemeanor trial defense, student interns handle a number of cases involving the rights of incarcerated persons. In the recent past, the Criminal Defense Clinic, working with Prisoners' Legal Services of New York, achieved dismissal of disciplinary charges that had placed our client in solitary confinement, and successfully appealed a denial of parole that led to our client's release after having served forty-four years in prison. Student interns also joined in the Governor's recent clemency project and filed clemency applications on behalf of clients serving life sentences in New York State prison.

Criminal Defense Clinic Highlights

  • Felony Fieldwork
  • Trial Advocacy

Felony Fieldwork

Student interns are also placed in a variety criminal defense trial level and appellate organizations and with solo practitioners representing clients charged with serious felonies, including capital offenses. This past year, student interns prepared legal memoranda, investigated, interviewed, and observed court proceedings for partner organizations including the Bronx Defenders (criminal and family defense practice), Brooklyn Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society (trial and appellate practice), Queens Law Associates, and Mental Hygiene Legal Services. Students have also been placed with policy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Vera Institute of Justice.

Trial Advocacy

Student interns work in teams to prepare and conduct a simulated pretrial suppression hearing based on a real "stop-and-frisk" case handled by a Clinic alumnus. The suppression hearing simulation exposes student interns to the nuances of direct and cross-examination, and the challenges of applying the facts to the law in context. As part of their work for the simulation, student interns prepare a pre-hearing strategy memo and a post-hearing memorandum of law.


Classroom Component

The Clinic teaching methodology revolves around a pattern of reading, observing, simulating, critiquing and reflecting. The Clinic goal is to fully familiarize student interns with each lawyering task before they actually perform them on behalf of their clients.


Clinic Graduates

Clinic graduates are substantially represented at state and federal trial and appellate defender offices across the country. Recent Criminal Defense Clinic alumni are working as Public Defenders in California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Many Clinic graduates also are part of small criminal defense and civil rights firms or have their own private practice, while others can be found at not-for-profit or governmental criminal justice agencies. While many have gone on to criminal defense careers, it is important to note that the lawyering skills emphasized in the Criminal Defense Clinic are indeed transferable to other contexts.