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Juvenile Justice Clinic

The Juvenile Justice Clinic's clients are some of the most vulnerable people in the criminal justice system — juveniles sentenced to life without parole and other draconian punishments. The clinic works closely with Justice 360-SC, a nonprofit that represents death-sentenced inmates and juveniles in South Carolina. The work is very demanding, sometimes heartbreaking, but also very rewarding.

About the Clinic

The Juvenile Justice Clinic represents — and provides support to attorneys who represent — juveniles sentenced to life without parole and other draconian punishments. Many, but not all, of the clinics’ clients are incarcerated in South Carolina due to the Juvenile Justice Clinic’s close ties to Justice 360-SC, a non-profit that represents death-sentenced inmates and juveniles sentenced to life without parole or functionally equivalent sentences.  Students who participate in this clinic will work closely with the clinic supervisor, Professor John Blume; Adjunct Professor and Clinical Psychologist Susan Knight; and staff attorneys at Justice 360-SC.

Participating in the Clinic

Students in the clinic will be part of a larger effort to provide high-quality legal services to juveniles in a variety of settings including pretrial motions, trials and sentencing hearings, direct appeals, state post-conviction review, and federal habeas corpus proceedings. The student experience will vary from semester to semester but common experiences include client and witness interviews, preparing appellate and amicus curiae briefs, preparing submissions and witnesses for parole hearings, challenging conditions of confinement for pretrial and imprisoned juveniles. Case selection and student assignments depend on both pedagogical factors and the litigation needs of clinic clients. All students are included in discussions regarding the necessary investigation, research, and strategy for the clinic’s cases. We effectively work as a law firm dedicated to juvenile justice.

The clinic always begins with a “boot camp” the weekend following the first week of classes, sometimes held in conjunction with students enrolled in the Capital Punishment Clinic. The purpose of the boot camp is to provide immersed instruction in substantive law and relevant skills to give students a basis to begin making an immediate contribution to their assigned cases. Students can expect to be exposed to the following topics and skills during the course of the semester:

  • The development of case strategy and litigation and investigation plans
  • Federal and state law governing the sentencing of juvenile offenders
  • Understanding the effects of race, ethnicity, and class as barriers to providing culturally competent representation
  • Recognizing symptoms of intellectual disability mental illness and trauma and their effect on the attorney-client relationship as well as their implications for clinic client’s legal and moral culpability
  • Transcript review and issue identification
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Witness preparation
  • Understanding the role of narrative in persuasive legal writing
  • Advanced legal writing and research
  • Preparation for and participation in a variety of types of administrative agency and court proceedings

The other component of student involvement in the clinic is supervised course work. Students will be assigned to a team and will work closely with clinic faculty and attorneys at Justice 360-SC. Student teams will meet with clinic faculty on (at least) a weekly basis. There will also be clinic “rounds” where students will hear about the work of the other clinic teams.

To apply for either course, interested students should submit a current CV, current law school transcript, and a brief statement of interest through the online application portal on the current student community site.

Clinic Cases

The Juvenile Justice Clinic was the driving force behind the litigation that culminated in Aiken v. Byars, 765 S.E. 2d 572 (S.C. 2014), a class action state habeas corpus petition proceeding that challenged the life without parole (LWOP) sentences of all juveniles sentenced to life without parole in South Carolina.

Relying on United States Supreme Court cases recognizing that children are constitutionally different for sentencing purposes, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that those sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and that all juveniles sentenced to LWOP were entitled to new sentencing hearings. Since the state court’s decision, the clinic has represented some of the class members in their resentencing hearings and provided training programs and resource materials to other attorneys appointed to represent juveniles facing LWOP. The clinic also continues to work on other issues that have emerged in Aiken v. Byars’ aftermath including but not limited to:

  • Developing legislation eliminating LWOP and other sentences which guarantee death by incarceration;
  • Litigation challenging term of years sentences that exceed a juvenile offender’s reasonable life expectancy;
  • Litigation challenging repeated denials of parole based on the nature and circumstances of the offense as effectively converting the juvenile’s sentence from life with parole to LWOP;
  • Litigation requiring the Parole Board to give constitutionally adequate weight to an incarcerated person’s juvenility in assessing suitability for parole;
  • Litigation challenging mandatory-minimum sentences that apply to both adult and juvenile defendants;
  • Modernizing criteria governing transfer of juvenile offenders from family to “adult” court
Contact Clinic Faculty
John Blume
Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques and Director, Cornell Death Penalty Project
Phone:
(607) 255-1030
Type:
Permanent
Address:
Cornell Law School
159 Hughes Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
Susan Knight
Adjunct Professor of Law
Type:
Adjunct and Associated - Clinical
Address:
Cornell Law School
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

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