Corridor in a prison showing multiple cells with doors open and wooden chairs placed next to the doors.
Criminal Defense Clinic

Students in the Criminal Defense Clinic represent individuals facing criminal charges in Connecticut Superior Court. Students appear as certified legal interns under Connecticut’s liberal student practice rule and assume responsibility as the primary advocates on the clinic’s cases. Students interview and counsel clients, design legal strategy and draft motions, create and carry out investigation plans, conduct negotiations with prosecutors, and handle court hearings from arraignments to trials and sentencing hearings. Students learn the fundamental principles of zealous, client-centered representation and explore the role of criminal defense lawyers in the broader criminal legal system. Cases handled by the clinic involve a broad range of charges (such as robbery, assault, sexual assault, stalking, burglary, criminal trespass, larceny, arson, drug possession and sale, and others). Many of the clinic’s cases present issues of considerable factual and legal complexity. Coursework, class discussions, and simulation exercises focus on building the skills inherent in effective lawyering, developing a deep understanding of the constitutional frameworks and foundational legal principles in criminal practice, and exploring the role of race and poverty in the carceral system.

The Criminal Defense Clinic is a full-year, ten-credit course. Evidence and Criminal Procedure are pre- or co-requisites.

The UConn Law School criminal clinic has been representing indigent criminal defendants in Connecticut state and federal courts for over 50 years. It’s storied origins are the subject of a published monograph, Born Fighting: Clinical Education at the University of Connecticut School of Law. Many of the clinic’s over 400 alumni have gone on to become leading criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors, judges, and other prominent members of the Connecticut bar. In 2003, the clinic was recognized with the Champion of Liberty Award from the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in recognition of training criminal defense lawyers for more than 30 years. In 1999, the clinic was recognized with the Pro Bono Award from the Hartford County Bar Association for "outstanding community service in the provision of free legal service to needy citizens of Hartford County."

Significant appeals and other post-conviction matters handled by the clinic include:

State v. Sam, 98 Conn. App. 13 (2006)

On October 10, 2006 the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld a right to counsel claim made by the criminal clinic in a case on which students co-wrote the defendant's briefs and which a student, Emily Dean '06, argued in late May. The Appellate Court reversed the defendant's six felony convictions and ordered a new trial.

Johnson v. Commissioner, 258 Conn. 804 (2002)

Appellate Clinic student co-wrote Connecticut Supreme Court brief and then presented oral argument in support of lower court's judgment in our client's favor (won by two other Clinic students the previous year). Client was a prisoner who challenged a new parole eligibility law. Under new parole law, petitioner (and over 800 other Connecticut inmates) were required to serve an extra 35% of their sentences before being parole eligible. At the habeas corpus trial the Trial Clinic prevailed on constitutional grounds (violation of ex post facto prohibition). On appeal the Supreme Court affirmed on statutory grounds.

Beasley (& Narducci) v. Commissioner, 50 Conn. App. 421 (1998), aff'd, 249 Conn. 499 (1999)

Appeal from denial of habeas corpus actions brought by two inmates deprived of opportunity to earn statutory good time reductions in their sentences because they were transferred to Connecticut's super-maximum security prison, Northern Correctional, and placed in administrative segregation for a minimum of one year. Case was tried by clinic students at trial level. Appellate Court and Supreme Court both rejected constitutional and statutory challenges to administrative policy excluding inmates at Northern from earning good time.

State v. Wilkins, 240 Conn. 489 (1997)

Search and Seizure case argued before Connecticut Supreme Court by student attorney. Raised state constitutional issue: whether police may search a car for weapons when its driver and passenger have been removed, personally frisked, and the police intend to give them a traffic summons and release them if no weapons are found.

State v. Linares, 232 Conn. 345 (1995)

Client prosecuted under never-before-used statute, interfering with the legislative process, for chanting "Gay rights, lesbian rights," during Governor O'Neill's last state of the state address. Client challenged statute's constitutionality facially and as it applied to her. Client pled nolo contendere conditional on right to pursue appeal of free speech issues. Supreme Court held that Connecticut Constitution is more speech protective than first amendment but upheld constitutionality of statute.

State v. Hammond, 221 Conn. 264 (1992)

Won remand to the trial court for reconsideration of defendant's motion for new trial/post-trial discovery based on DNA profiling and blood testing in sexual assault/kidnapping case. Argued by student attorney. (On remand the trial court vacated the convictions and ordered new trial.)

Phillips v. Warden, 220 Conn. 112 (1991)

Writ of habeas corpus claiming ineffective assistance of counsel: trial counsel had conflict of interest where counsel, himself convicted of murder in a notorious court case, continued to practice law while taking appeal and represented petitioner at trial without taking any precautions to ensure that jurors did not hold lawyer's conviction against his client. Habeas case originally tried in Superior Court by student attorneys; students co-wrote appellate briefs and participated in oral argument before Connecticut Appellate and Supreme Courts. Connecticut Supreme Court ultimately ruled for petitioner and ordered new trial.

A small sample of the kinds of cases handled by the Trial Division:


State v. S.L.

Our client was a 21 year old mother with a two year old baby. The father of the baby was an underage school mate of the client at the time of conception. Three years after alleged criminal act, State charged client with sexual assault in the second degree (statutory rape), which carries mandatory 9 month prison sentence and which would also have required that client register and appear on an Internet web-site for ten years as a Sex Offender under Connecticut's "Megan's Law". Clinic negotiated with prosecutor for reduction of charge to misdemeanor to avoid mandatory jail time, then filed numerous pleadings, including a motion challenging Megan's law's constitutionality as applied to client and a motion for the court to recognize the child as a "victim" under state law and to appoint a lawyer to represent child's interests (in having mother not subject to Sex Offender registration). Court recognized child as "victim" and permitted a guardian ad litem to appear to represent child's interests. The Court later issued an order that the state may not require the client to comply with either the community notification or the registration requirements of Megan's Law. On the misdemeanor charge, client received suspended sentence and a short period of "conditional discharge" (similar to unsupervised probation).

State v. C.L.

Our client was an 18 year old high school student charged with a felony for stabbing another teenager in the back during a street brawl. Although the victim's injuries were not life-threatening, both the prosecutor and judge expressed views at the outset that the crime was too serious for resolution through a form of pretrial probation, called accelerated rehabilitation, that, once completed, results in the defendant having a clean record. After extensive investigation of the numerous eyewitnesses in the case and protracted and intense negotiations with the prosecutor, the charges were reduced and client was ultimately given accelerated rehabilitation.

State v. John Doe

In the middle of a first degree sexual assault trial, the defendant's attorney contacted the Criminal Clinic and we agreed to file a "motion in limine" and supporting memorandum of law on the defendant's behalf asking that the trial judge bar the state from using the defendant's arson conviction last year for impeachment purposes when the defendant testified in his defense. Connecticut evidence law makes such a felony conviction presumptively admissible for impeachment purposes. Working on extremely short notice, three student attorneys researched and drafted a lengthy memorandum setting forth multiple grounds for barring impeachment and one of the students presented oral argument to the court–which granted the motion in limine for the defense. The defendant testified and was later acquitted by the jury.

Johnson v. Commissioner of Correction, New London Superior Court

Criminal Clinic prevailed in habeas corpus action on behalf of prisoner by showing that a 1996 parole eligibility law violates the ex post facto prohibition in the federal constitution. Testimony established that the petitioner and over 800 other Connecticut inmates in like circumstances (in prison for offense committed before effective date of new parole law) must under the law serve an extra 35% of their sentences before becoming parole eligible. The Attorney General appealed. Two Trial Division students represented petitioner at his habeas trial. After an appellate clinic student argued the case on appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in our client's favor. Johnson v. Commissioner, 258 Conn. 804 (2002).

Beasley and Narducci v. Commissioner of Correction

Seven day trial in 1997. Two inmates at Connecticut's "supermax" facility, Northern Correctional Institution, made multiple statutory and constitutional challenges to an administrative directive that denies inmates confined in that institution the opportunity to earn statutory "good time" reductions in their actual term of incarceration. Student co-tried case and two students appeared in the cases on appeal. Beasley v. Commissioner, 50 Conn. App. 421 (1998), aff'd, 249 Conn. 499 (1999).

State v. Copas

Four month murder trial in Rockville Superior Court. Four legal interns acted as co-counsel with a Clinic attorney and the Public Defender. Students had active involvement in pretrial motions practice and hearings, jury selection, developing trial strategies, performing investigations, client counseling, etc.

State v. S & C

Clients ran underground needle exchange program in Willimantic to combat spread of AIDS through sharing of needles by IV drug users. Common law necessity defense raised; efforts included joining in successful lobbying effort to have legislature de-criminalize possession of hypodermic needles.

State v. R.G., Hartford Superior Court

Client charged with first degree larceny for AFDC, TFA, and Food Stamp Fraud of over $10,000 in benefits. After investigation, the Clinic prevailed on prosecutor to reduce charge to third degree larceny, making client eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitation ("AR"). Negotiated terms of AR to reduce restitution sum to $4,000, with further reduction of that figure by set-off for sums that the Department of Social Services was already administratively recouping by reducing client's current benefits. Client in the end paid less than $2,000 in out-of-pocket restitution. The prosecution was dismissed in September, 2000.

In re T.G.

The Clinic successfully procured a pardon for a woman originally from Eritrea who had three convictions for shoplifting stemming from the period ten years ago when she was still making the radical shift from life in that impoverished, war-ravaged country to life in the U.S.A. An unexpected opportunity to meet an individual who could educate her attorneys on the Ethiopia/Eritrean struggles of the last two decades. As a rule, we take pardons cases very infrequently. In this instance the client found us and hearing her story was enough to overcome our policy.