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Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

Post-Conviction Justice Seminar (Fall 2019)

  • Course Number: LAW-891
  • Class Number: 03668
  • Instructor: Heidi Rummel

Course Description

Post-Conviction Justice Seminar

Course Number: LAW-891
Class Number: 03667
Instructor: Michael Brennan and Heidi Rummel

Course Description

The Post-Conviction Justice Project is a year-long, in-house clinical program where second and third year students provide legal representation to California inmates under the supervision of Professors Brennan and Rummel. The majority of the Project’s cases involve preparing and representing clients who are eligible for parole hearings – hearings at which the client, in order to be released from prison, must demonstrate that he or she is not a danger to society. Most of the Project’s parole clients are serving indeterminate life sentences for first- or second-degree murder, and they are either female clients located at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona (many of whom experienced intimate partner battering related to their crime), or male clients incarcerated throughout the state who were young at the time of their crime and qualify for California’s Youth Offender Parole Process. The Project also handles cases seeking clemency from the California Governor, and cases seeking resentencing or other relief for juveniles tried as adults and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and for individuals who were convicted of first-degree felony murder even though they did not kill and had no intent to kill. 

Students in the Project will represent clients before state and federal courts and the California Board of Parole Hearings. In recent years, the Project has focused on three areas of representation. First, students represent clients serving indeterminate life sentences at parole hearings before the California Board of Parole Hearings, which occur at the prison where the client is incarcerated. Second, students represent clients on habeas petitions in state courts challenging the constitutionality of the denial of parole. Third, students file petitions (some involving mitigation investigations) seeking resentencing or other relief from extreme sentences. Students may also have the opportunity to handle an appellate argument or be involved in legislative advocacy on juvenile justice or prison reform.

Students must be able to travel to prisons on a regular basis to visit their clients and conduct parole hearings. Although some prisons are located within 75 miles of USC, others are located throughout the state, and many require multi-hour drives or plane travel. Although there is some flexibility to limit extensive travel in individual students’ cases, at a minimum, students must be able to travel to prisons within 60-90 minutes of USC on a regular basis.

Class seminar sessions meet weekly during the fall semester, and every few weeks during the lunch session in the spring semester. Class seminar sessions focus on state and federal constitutional due process rights; the law related to assigned cases; the legal, social, and political problems that concern clients; and lawyering skills. Students will develop oral advocacy, writing, case management, legal strategy, and client interaction skills through a combination of classroom exercises and live-client representation. Students enrolled in the course must have completed Evidence or be enrolled in Evidence during the fall semester.

In the fall semester, the course is graded CR/D/F, and in the spring semester, numerical grades are assigned. There is no final examination. Attendance and participation are included in the grade determination. During the fall semester, the weekly seminar session will take place on Wednesdays from 3:30-6:00 p.m.

Principal Competencies Developed in Course

Students learn firsthand about the lawyer-client relationship – the formation of the relationship, the responsibilities owed to a client, the lawyer’s ethical obligations, and professionalism. Students have many opportunities to develop and practice both oral and written legal advocacy skills. They first learn how to determine whether there is a legal problem that they are able to solve. They develop interview, negotiation, and litigation skills. They write briefs, pleadings, and letters on behalf of their clients and argue in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies. In doing so, students learn how deal with courts, institutions, agencies, and opposing counsel, and cultivate an ability to take ownership over a case and legal strategy. Students learn the law surrounding clients’ legal issues, including state and federal criminal law, constitutional law, and post-conviction remedies, and become familiar with recent developments in California prison reform. They learn through "hands-on" casework and a seminar where both theory and practice are emphasized.

Instruction Methods

(a) Seminar sessions dealing with practical and theoretical aspects of client representation, professional responsibility, advocacy, substantive law, and case review;

(b) Weekly meetings between the student and the student’s primary supervising attorney, either Professor Brennan or Professor Rummel. Students sometimes work in teams on complex matters.

(c) Actual representation, under close faculty supervision, of clients before courts and administrative agencies. Students appear before California Superior Courts and Courts of Appeal, U.S. District Courts and Courts of Appeals, and the California Board of Parole Hearings.

(d) Individual feedback and evaluation on all aspects of lawyering. Enrollment is limited to16 students. Students may be admitted from the waitlist during the first two weeks of the fall semester.

Course Details

  • Unit Value: 5
  • Grading Options: CR/D/F Only
  • Exam: None
  • Writing Requirement: Yes with submission of the Upper Division Writing Requirement Form.
  • Skills/Experiential Unit Requirement: yes
  • Participation: Required
  • Enrollment Limitation: 16