Law school starts clinic for death row

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs

17 January 2001 | California death row inmates will soon receive legal representation from Berkeley's law school.

Boalt Hall officials announced Jan. 4 the establishment of the Death Penalty Clinic, where faculty members will supervise law students in investigating cases, interviewing witnesses and launching death row appeals in state and federal court.

The Death Penalty Clinic, scheduled to open July 2001, will be the first such clinic in the state to be run by a law school.

"This is an important opportunity for our students to gain first-rate, hands-on criminal law experience and provide a service that is central to our most cherished principles in criminal justice the right to a fair trial and equal protection under the law," said John Dwyer, dean of the law school.

Dwyer, who has had experience working on death penalty appeal cases, said the clinic will open after the law school hires a death penalty specialist. A national search is under way.

Professor Charles Weisselberg, who directs the law school's clinical center, also will join the new clinic's staff and help lead the program. Weisselberg has more than 15 years of experience representing criminal defendants in trial and post-conviction cases.

"There is a growing awareness that the death penalty and, indeed, our criminal justice system in general is not always fairly administered," said Weisselberg, "and so this seems to be a very good time to start a program that will look closely at the death penalty in California."

While much has been written about death row cases in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere, Weisselberg said capital punishment in California also merits attention for several reasons. Among them:

With 585 inmates, California has the nation's largest number of inmates on death row.

More than 160 of California's death row inmates have no attorney to represent them in their appeals.

Sarah Ray, a first-year law student, said she is looking forward to the prospect of hands-on experience with a death penalty case.

"It's a great learning experience for us," said Ray, "but, more importantly, it affords some legal representation and a voice to people who don't have the resources or the ability to speak for themselves.


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