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Criminal Defense Clinic 2020 Highlights

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Sturm College of Law

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CDC students

Criminal Defense Clinic student attorneys smile under their masks after representing clients in Denver metro area criminal courts.

Criminal Defense Clinic 2020 Highlights

Student attorneys in Denver Law’s Criminal Defense Clinic (CDC) have not let the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of their learning or zealous advocacy on behalf of clients. Since an intensive, three-week-long orientation on a virtual platform, our first-semester CDC student attorneys have been hard at work. They practice this semester under the supervision of Associate Professor Lindsey Webb and Clinical Teaching Fellow Sara Hildebrand.

Student attorneys in the CDC represent low-income juveniles and adults in the Denver metropolitan area and surrounding communities who are accused of misdemeanors and municipal code violations. Since March 2020, CDC clients and student attorneys alike have demonstrated remarkable patience, flexibility, and equanimity in the face of unprecedented circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hewing closely to the CDC’s ethos of client-centered lawyering, student attorneys have conducted evidence and scene views, met with clients and conducted witness interviews, virtually and in-person, all while adhering to social distancing requirements and safety precautions. During this unique time, student attorneys work to hone their legal research and writing skills and learn to advocate virtually and in-person. Some student defenders have advocated in simulated courtrooms they fashioned in their homes, and some have advocated for clients through masks and plexiglass barriers in courtrooms. No matter the platform, these defenders have resisted the ever-present dehumanizing forces in the criminal system through their use of fact-rich narrative.

CDC students meet with clients
Professor Lindsey Webb (c) and student attorneys engage in simulated motions hearing during CDC orientation.

Due to circumstances presented by the pandemic and other gaps in social support structures, CDC clients often have needs that fall outside the scope of their criminal cases. Kelly Nix, a graduate student in the University of Denver School of Social Work, offers her expertise and, in partnership with student attorney teams has helped clients find needed community resources such as convenient low-income housing and mental health treatment.

CDC student attorneys enjoy the support of their student attorney colleagues in the law school’s recently established Immigration Law and Policy Clinic (ILPC), now in its third year at the Sturm College of Law. If a CDC client has immigration concerns, their student attorneys can consult with their colleagues in the ILPC to be sure they thoroughly advise the client about potential immigration consequences related to their criminal case.

This semester we are excited to have one experienced criminal defender who re-enrolled in the CDC for a second semester. This semester, she sought out opportunities to represent clients in cases involving complex issues like competency and was eager to support clients seeking to seal criminal justice records in order to avoid adverse collateral consequences of years old misdemeanor convictions.

In this extraordinary time, thousands of Americans are reeling from illness, loss of employment and related issues such as homelessness and a dearth of resources needed to attend to basic human needs. On top of these day-to-day challenges, being accused of a criminal offense can feel like an unmanageable weight to bear. This semester’s CDC students have responded to these times, their work and their clients with grace and determination, and have shown tremendous promise for their future work as social-justice minded defenders.


CDC Faculty Highlights

Associate Professor Lindsey Webb


True Crime and Danger Narratives: Reflections on Stories of Violence, Race, and (In)Justice, ___ J. Gender, Race & Just___ (forthcoming 2021).

Yes, You Can Learn Movement Lawyering in Law School: Highlights from the Movement Lawyering Lab at Denver Law (co-authored with Lexi Freeman), ___How. Hum. & C.R. L. Rev.___ (forthcoming 2021).


Clinical Fellow Sara Hildebrand


Reviving the Presumption of Youth Innocence Through a Presumption of Release: A Legislative Framework for Abolition of Juvenile Pretrial Detention, 126 Penn. St. L. Rev. (2021).