Miami Law Death Penalty Clinic

Death Penalty Clinic

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The Death Penalty Clinic allows reliable law students to litigate capital cases while providing the students an academic experience of a lifetime. Our program is the first such program in Florida and the first program in the nation to allow certified students to speak on the record on death cases. This clinic provides students with first class skills training, exposure to criminal courts and practice, opportunities to provide community service, and exposure to the realities of the death penalty. Invariably students come to see our clients as real human beings apart from their alleged crimes and successfully reconcile the two.

The Death Penalty Clinic further may provide capital attorneys and students the opportunity to litigate death cases with Professor Mourer, either as co-counsel or consultant. Currently, several other South Florida law schools are consulting with the University of Miami's Death Penalty Clinic in hopes of creating similar programs of their own. Together we can raise the bar on death penalty litigation and save lives.

Some Specifics

  • Interns must be highly committed and motivated to work on death penalty cases.
  • Students are placed with a mentor in the community currently litigating a capital case.
  • Students are primarily assigned to one case so that the student may become completely familiar with the case.
  • Once placed, students will have the opportunity to participate in the capital case through (but not limited to) client and witness interviews, plea negotiations, legal research, motion writing, motion hearings, fact finding, pre-trial investigation, mitigation reports, pre-trial negotiations, mental health evaluations, social services workups, watching jury trial, motions for new trial, sentencing preparation, and sentencing hearings.

Criteria for Clinic

The number of students will be limited carefully depending on the number of capital defense supervisors and the time availability of Professor Mourer to fully supervise each student and be involved in each case. Students must demonstrate the emotional maturity to cope with exposure to possibly disturbing or gruesome factual situations and depictions. Students will have client contact with clients accused of particularly serious and violent crimes, some of which may involve death or violence to young children. We further require that the student have ample client contact and communication. Students are required to have demonstrated writing and research ability, solid work ethic, flexible time schedule, enthusiasm to work in the area of criminal law and death penalty work, and genuine interest in defending the rights of the accused. Students may not work, volunteer or intern at any prosecuting agency while they are participating in the clinic. Additionally, students may not be a part of any credit bearing externship.

Time Commitment/Credits

  • Students are required to work approximately 140 hours per semester and obtain 4 credits.
  • Students are required to attend a weekly seminar class that involves substantive reading and writing assignments on death penalty topics.
  • Students must keep a journal or notebook of weekly hours so a supervisor can confirm students do their hours. (Tasks do not need to be itemized unless required by a mentor.)
  • Students who show exemplary performance may be permitted to continue in the clinic in subsequent semesters.
  • Participation in a summer semester is by invitation only.

Grading

The clinic is graded and meets the writing or skills requirement. Students will be evaluated by their supervising attorneys and Professor Mourer. Factors for evaluation include the quality of students' work product, commitment, timeliness, and completion of all assignments. Completed time sheets and TWEN assignments will also be used in evaluation.

Class Requirements

Class time will include case staffings and discussion, reflection and substantive death penalty topics. The class will focus on the nuts and bolts of how to litigate a death penalty case from start to finish, thoroughly and ethically. Discussion topics will include: mitigators, aggravators, client and witness interviewing, jury selection and instructions, mental health mediation, coping with the stress of capital representation, volunteers, and brain injury or trauma. The class will be 50 minutes per week. Students must sign up for the clinic TWEN page and submit assignments via TWEN.

Prerequisites

Litigation skills and CLI status is preferable but not required. Students without CLI status will not be permitted to appear in court on behalf of clients. Non-CLI may participate in all other aspects of the clinic. Criminal Law is also preferred.

Supervising Attorneys

Sarah Mourer
Terence Lenamon, Lenamon Law
David Markus, Markus & Markus, PLLC
Eric Cohen, Eric M. Cohen, P.A.
Edith Georgi-Houlihan, Dade County Public Defender's Office
Neil Dupree, Capital Collateral Resource Center
Jack Blumenfeld, Capital Collateral Resource Center
Scott Sakin, Scott W, Sakin, P.A.
Louis Jepeway, Jepeway & Jepeway, P.A.
Kellie Peterson, Capital Collateral Resource Center
Jeff Weinkle, Jepeway & Jepeway, P.A.
Stuart Adelstein, Adelstein & Matters, P.A.
Richard Della Fera, Entin & Della Fera, P.A.
Abe Bailey, Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Third Region
Gene Zenobi, Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Third Region
Phil Reizenstein, Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Third Region
Steve Yermish, Dade County Public Defender's Office
Paul Petruzzi, Law Offices of Paul D. Petruzzi P.A.
Alan Greenstein, Capital Collateral Resource Center

For Information

Clinic Director: Sarah A. Mourer smourer@law.miami.edu

Paralegal: Sarah Cardone, scardone@law.miami.edu

OUR DIRECTOR

Sarah MourerAssociate Professor, Sarah Mourer directs the clinic. She was a past training attorney with the Dade County Public Defender's Office where she tried over 75 jury trials as lead counsel including capital sexual battery, sanity, juvenile, and all levels of homicide.

E-mail: smourer@law.miami.edu


STRAIGHT FROM A STUDENT



3L Jennifer Lefebvre talks about her experience in this unique clinic.


FLORIDA CAPITAL RESOURCE CENTER

Florida Capital Resource Center

The Florida Capital Resource Center is founded on the premise that more effective capital representation can be provided at decreased taxpayer cost by coordination, standardization, collaboration, and sharing of resources needed by defense attorneys. Capital trials are complex and costly, and additional taxpayer funding in the current economic climate is highly unlikely. Florida Capital Resource Center directly addresses the problem of providing effective and constitutionally required indigent capital defense in a beleaguered state economy. Visit the Florida Capital Resource Center's website.


NOTEWORTHY

In its first semester, two Miami Law students participating in the Death Penalty Clinic assisted Professor Mourer and capital attorneys in avoiding a death sentence for a client convicted of a particularly shocking and brutal murder. The client was convicted of raping and stabbing his wife 61 times. However, his brutal upbringing in connection with his chronic traumatic brain injury portrayed to the jury through state of the art technology compelled the jury. After a month long sentencing trial and only an hour of deliberation the jury recommended a life sentence. Students can save lives. Read more.


COMMUNITY CONNECTION

University of Miami Office of Civic and Community Engagement

This clinic has been chosen by The University of Miami's Office of Civic and Community Engagement as Academic Service Learning Courses as it:

  • Promotes the interrelationship of teaching, research, and service through theory, action and reflection in response to community needs.
  • Develops and translates academic knowledge, critical thinking, and community engagement into civic responsibility.
  • Fosters mutually beneficial collaborations between the university and the community to promote positive social change.

DID YOU KNOW?
  • Florida has the second largest death row in the nation with 402 inmates.
  • Florida is the only state that allows the jury to decide the aggravating factors.
  • Florida is the only state that allows the jury to recommend death by a simple majority vote.