All-Out Criminal Lawyer Mike Klinkosum, JD ’95 - Misdemeanors to Capital Crimes to Wrongful Convictions

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Mike Klinkosum, JD '95

Greg Taylor spent 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He missed his daughter’s birthday 16 times, her graduations, her wedding, and the birth of his grandson. He will never be able to recapture those lost moments.

Floyd Brown, a man who has the I.Q. of a seven-year-old, was held without a trial in a state mental hospital for 14 years after being wrongfully charged with murder. As a judge ruled he was incompetent to stand trial, he was still waiting for his day in court. A judge finally dismissed the charges against him and released him.

What do these men have in common? Mike Klinkosum, JD ’95, was on the team that provided them with crucial representation to secure their freedom.

Klinkosum knew he wanted to be an attorney from a young age. Growing up watching L.A. Law and Matlock, it is no surprise that he has become a distinguished defense attorney. Originally from North Carolina, Klinkosum is now in his home state fighting for the rights of defendants as a partner at the Raleigh office of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

His current work focuses on high level felony cases in both State and Federal courts, such as white collar criminal defense, homicides, mail fraud, embezzlement, and sex crimes. Since graduating from Miami Law a little over 20 years ago, Klinkosum has defended thousands of individuals in cases ranging from misdemeanors to capital crimes and wrongful convictions.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina with a political science and history double major, Klinkosum decided to attend Miami Law for its Litigation Skills Program. Not only did the Litigation Skills Program live up to his high expectations, but it also set him on his career trajectory. Klinkosum initially thought he wanted to pursue a career in civil litigation. However, in order to explore a new area, he decided to sign-up for the criminal law track of the Litigation Skills Program. He was captivated. He then clerked at the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office the summer after his 2L year, confirming that criminal defense was the path for him. He continued to intern with the office his 3L year.

While at Miami Law, Klinkosum was also on the National Mock Trial team, competing at the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys trial competition in Houston, Texas in ’94. The team came in second place. Klinkosum recalls a number of courses he took at Miami Law as being exceptional, including Professor Michael Graham’s Evidence course and Professor Bruce Winick’s Advanced Criminal Procedure course.  

Klinkosum started his career after graduation as an Assistant Public Defender at the Office of the Public Defender in Chicago. He had a great experience, but after three years, decided to move back to his home state. Since returning to North Carolina, he has held a number of positions including Assistant Capital Defender with the North Carolina Office of the Capital Defender where he represented indigent clients facing the death penalty, and Assistant Public Defender, where he defended felony cases.

He found that he was easily able to transition between the different positions and he carried the common thread of criminal defense work throughout his practice. “I find helping people who are in trouble to be incredibly rewarding,” said Klinkosum.

The wrongful conviction work that Klinkosum conducted has not only secured the freedom of individuals wrongfully detained but has also led to systemic changes in North Carolina. For example, mistakes discovered by Klinkosum and his team while representing Greg Taylor led to an overhaul of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab procedures. A local news station in North Carolina, WRAL, produced a documentary on Greg Taylor’s case.

Klinkosum’s work on wrongful conviction cases continues to inform his private practice. “If you see what wrong has been done to people in the past, you make an even greater concerted effort to look under every stone in a case,” said Klinkosum. Even though one might think that the work would become easier over the years, Klinkosum finds that it continues to challenge him. “This career requires you to be versatile and learn other disciplines outside of criminal law. For example, you must continually learn about new advances in science and technology, such as the process of digital storing and downloading of evidence. You have to continually work to stay current,” said Klinkosum.

In addition to his private practice, Klinkosum makes time to teach law students as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law where he teaches Criminal Procedure Litigation Skills. He has developed a program designed to teach constitutional criminal procedure to law students by drafting and litigating motions to suppress. Law students alternate between acting as prosecutors and defense attorneys in mock hearings.

Klinkosum would give the same advice to law students interested in pursuing criminal defense that his Professor at Miami Law, Roy Black, gave to him: “Start your career as an assistant public defender or assistant state attorney. When you are immersed in the work on a daily basis in a fast-paced setting, you learn things you don’t realize you are learning. You will have a depth of knowledge that will be invaluable for whatever you do next. If you want to do wrongful conviction work, first do traditional criminal defense. You need to spend time in court and see how trials works before you can represent a client through the appeals process.”