It appeared at the last AALS Criminal Justice Section Annual Meeting workshops and at the Justice Mission Conference in Cleveland that there was general consensus on several matters. First, there seemed to be considerable support for "bringing more doses of reality into the classroom." Second, many faculty wished to encourage a greater sense of professional service among their students. Third, a good number of criminal justice section members observed that capital case decisions of the United States Supreme Court were fine vehicles for class discussion of essential issues.
In keeping with these views, I have concluded that I will once again include in my upcoming seminar course an opportunity for students to assist a death row inmate petitioning for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, under my supervision as counsel of record. I am writing to encourage other faculty teaching seminar or clinical courses to consider incorporating into their classes such an opportunity.
From a pedagogical standpoint, giving students the opportunity to research cutting-edge legal issues, to assist in preparing a petition seeking review in the nation's highest court on behalf of a death-sentenced client, and to participate in a pro bono legal experience, would appear to satisfy many of the goals which we, as professors, espoused in our sessions. From a professional and individual standpoint, taking on the responsibility to serve as counsel for an unrepresented death row inmate, even if only at one stage of review, allows us the opportunity to serve our profession and community, and to personally participate in the justice mission.
Some of us currently teach, or will be teaching, Capital Punishment Seminars. This opportunity is clearly well-suited to such a course. Those of us teaching criminal process seminars, or clinical courses with an in-house criminal courts bent, would also find these cases useful, interesting, and fitting to the pro bono program. Even if no specific course of this type is included in the curriculum, capital cases appear to generate very helpful discussions in more generalized criminal procedure course offerings, and this experience could thus fit within a generalized course as well. Finally, even if no course offering could accommodate such an experience, it is quite possible that law student organizations or informal groups would wish to consider such a project to fulfill a public interest or substantive criminal justice interest, and that a group of students would welcome the opportunity to work with one or more faculty members on such a non-credit project. Giving law students the opportunity to work on a petition for certiorari under the supervision of a law professor who would serve as counsel of record, would satisfy many of our pedagogical goals and provide a desperately needed legal service. The certiorari process is well-suited to such a project. There is a rather short-time period for preparation and filing. The petition itself is rather short in length and generally limited to but a few issues. From the inmate's standpoint, the highlighting and selection of a few issues is advantageous and will not foreclose or jeopardize litigation of these or other issues in post-conviction proceedings if certiorari is denied. More importantly from an instructional standpoint, selection allows greater flexibility in fitting the exercise into a course offering. Finally, if certiorari is granted, law students would have the opportunity to observe and participate in litigation at the highest level of our appellate system.