What do students do in this clinic?
The Wrongful Conviction and Sentencing Clinic will work on wrongful conviction investigations and projects referred from Attorney General Keith Ellison’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU). The CRU was chartered in 2021 as an independent unit within the Attorney General’s office to “conduct extrajudicial review of juvenile adjudications, criminal convictions, and sentences in cases with plausible allegations of actual innocence or manifest injustice.” Students in the Wrongful Conviction and Sentencing Clinic will be assigned to teams to collaborate on investigations of wrongful conviction cases and other projects referred by the CRU.
What happens in the classroom component?
The classroom component will explore the causes of wrongful convictions and postconviction remedies. There will be a special emphasis on the role of prosecutors in addressing these issues. The classroom component will meet weekly in a remote and synchronous format and be devoted largely to case rounds, in which a particular case or project is put on the agenda for presentation by a student team and discussion by the class as a whole.
In addition, there will be a two-day orientation at the beginning of the fall semester, which will cover causes of wrongful conviction and protocols for investigation. The clinic will meet during capstone week for in-person work on case investigations.
What do students learn in this clinic?
Students enrolled in the clinic will be able to:
- Explain and critically discuss systemic factors that lead to wrongful conviction and unjust sentencing in the criminal justice system
- Articulate the professional responsibilities of a prosecutor to serve the interests of justice and explain how they apply in real life situations
- Create and implement a plan for factual investigation of a claim of wrongful conviction through gathering necessary documents and identifying and interviewing potential witnesses
- Organize, synthesize, and analyze complex case file materials
- Evaluate the soundness of competing narrative theories on which criminal convictions, criminal sentences, and exonerations are based
- Utilize critical reflection and self-assessment as a tool for continuing learning and professional development
When is this clinic offered?
The clinic is offered in the fall and spring semesters as a two-semester clinic. Students begin the clinic in the fall and continue it in the spring.
How many credits?
Students can enroll in the clinic for 3–5 credits per semester.
Are students permitted or encouraged to take this clinic for additional semesters?
To maximize the student’s ability to complete meaningful work on the cases and other matters referred by the CRU, students must enroll for two consecutive semesters, beginning in the fall and continuing in the spring.
Are there any required or recommended pre-requisites?
Professional Responsibility is required as a pre-requisite or co-requisite.
Criminal Procedure: Investigation and Interrogation and Criminal Procedure: Adjudication are also helpful courses to take in conjunction with this clinic, but they are not required.
Can students with full-time jobs take this clinic?
Yes, the classroom component meets in the evening, and much of the casework involves gathering and analyzing records from court cases, which can be done during non-work hours. Student teams should also expect to do some groundwork in the Twin Cities or in other parts of Minnesota as a case may require. Because student teams will create and execute the investigation plan, the timing of this investigative work is flexible. Students should expect to spend 10–15 hours per week on case work.
Can students who live outside the Twin Cities take this clinic?
Yes, the clinic is open to students in either the in-residence or blended learning enrollment options. The classroom component will meet remotely and synchronously in the evening, and to avoid conflicts with other upper-level blended courses, it will not meet during the Semester 5-8 capstone week.
Much of the work in case investigations can be done remotely, though it may be necessary for student teams to travel in Minnesota to do on-site investigation in the Twin Cities area or in other parts of Minnesota. Investigative travel is generally flexible as to timing and can be planned with sufficient advance notice to permit students with jobs or other responsibilities to make appropriate arrangements.
Who should take this clinic?
Students who are interested in the criminal justice system, whether they are interested in being prosecutors or defense attorneys.