In a project-based practicum course, students participate in a weekly seminar and work on a project under the supervision of their professors. This practicum will combine policy and litigation, focusing on the doctrinal law and lawyering skills necessary to effectively litigate writ of habeas corpus cases. Students will participate in a two hour/week seminar and carry out 15 hours/week of project work under the direction of the course professors.
Habeas corpus gives those detained in the United States an opportunity to challenge their confinement through a unique mechanism: the imprisoned person sues the warden overseeing his or her confinement. A writ of habeas corpus claims that the government (state or federal) has improperly confined a person against his or her will. “Habeas” refers to the procedural mechanisms that state and federal governments have put into place to enable prisoners or immigrant detainees to challenge their confinement. Habeas is the method by which a convicted prisoner, including a prisoner facing a death sentence, can challenge their conviction and alert a judge to an unconstitutional sentence.
But habeas is a last resort and confusing. Habeas is a tool of civil procedure that alleges that a person has been wrongfully confined against their will. Both immigration detainees and convicted prisoners may utilize a writ of habeas corpus, but habeas is only available to prisoners after they complete their criminal appeals. Thus, a prisoner may only access the power of a writ of habeas corpus in the late stages of their case. Because habeas is a late-stage tool, is a civil law solution to redress problems in the criminal sector, and is relatively unknown in the popular conception of the justice system, the field of habeas law is both complex and under-utilized.
SEMINAR: In the seminar, students will be introduced to basic aspects of habeas law, a unique field that uses civil law to challenge wrongs in the criminal and immigration sectors of the American legal system. All students will be expected to attend a weekly 2-hour seminar that will introduce basic habeas concepts. The seminar will incorporate hands-on learning to teach the theories of habeas law to prepare students for their work in the practical component of the course. Habeas litigation relies heavily on the reinvestigation of a case, which may entail meeting with witnesses, jurors, and clients and determining case strategy as well as legal research.
PROJECT WORK: Each student will be assigned to a team supervised by an attorney engaged in high-stakes litigation in the areas of capital defense, criminal defense, or immigration. In addition, students will help gather information to establish the national standards for habeas practice and monitor national patterns for systemic reform. Depending on the posture of the team’s case, students will be expected to provide substantive legal writing. For example, in a capital habeas case in state court, students will likely be heavily involved in the investigation, which will entail reading trial and hearing transcripts, interviewing or reviewing notes from interviews with witnesses, reviewing expert reports, and culling evidence to support legal claims. A student with a case in this posture might be expected to conduct legal research regarding the relevant potential issues to litigate and to prepare a legal memo outlining the anticipated issues, the necessary facts to develop the issues thoroughly, and any anticipated pitfalls. On the other hand, if a habeas case is in federal court, the students will probably be involved in more traditional legal research and assist in drafting briefs before the federal district courts or appellate courts.