The Federal Clemency Mini-Clinic, a short-term, reduced-credit clinical program, was designed to engage a broader range of students in clinical work and respond to emergent needs. The mini-clinic was created in fall 2014 to represent individuals sentenced by federal courts in the Eastern District of Tennessee for crimes that now carry lighter sentences. Working in coalition with the federal defenders and the Clemency 2014 initiative, clinic students investigate, gather documentation, research federal sentencing law, and draft petitions in order to make the strongest case possible for clemency. Completed petitions are submitted to Clemency Project 2014 and then to the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney.
Casey Elliott is a 3L who was introduced to the clinic through Professor Joy Radice’s experientially based Criminal Law course. “Working on an actual case has shaped my law school experience,” she says. “Having a client provides an avenue to put into practice what I have learned in law school, and makes the practice of law seem more real. More importantly, this clinic afforded me an opportunity to experience criminal defense work, a field I otherwise might not have considered but that now has become my passion.”
Jane, a forty-year-old woman living in a homeless shelter, was looking to clean up her criminal record and get a second chance, and the Expungement Mini-Clinic was there to help. Jane became homeless in 2011 when a hail storm destroyed her home. Without proper mental health care, she struggled with an alcohol addiction. After hitting rock bottom about six months ago, Jane completed an intensive substance abuse treatment program and has been clean for two months. Working with caseworkers at her shelter, she is receiving health care treatment and is looking for a job and a small apartment. Yet, her criminal record stood in her way. Under Tennessee’s expungement statute, Jane can remove her two dismissed charges and one minor misdemeanor conviction so she can start fresh. The students in the Expungement Mini-Clinic work hard to help clients like Jane rebuild their lives.
This semester the mini-clinic has significantly expanded the scope of its services. In addition to annual events partnering with Project Stand Down to help veterans and offering a legal clinic with the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, the clinic is also assisting pro se clients twice each week at the newly-launched expungement screening by the prosecutor’s and clerk’s offices. These events have given students the opportunity to assist more than 100 community members in navigating Tennessee’s expungement process.