Criminal Trial Division
Students and Clinic staff handle criminal and related cases for indigent criminal defendants at the trial level in state courts and, on occasion, in federal courts. Students have primary responsibility for conducting an appropriate investigation, doing legal research, preparing pleadings, and setting an agenda for each court appearance at every stage of the case, including bond argument, arraignment, pretrial discussions, coordinating diversionary programs, arguing pretrial motions, trial, and sentencing. Students represent clients in felony and misdemeanor cases. We have also represented victims and witnesses involved in the criminal justice process. Prerequisites: Criminal Procedure and Evidence.
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 protacted 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.