Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic

Loyola Launches Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing Clinic

The inaugural class of students in Loyola's Juvenile Innocence and Fair Sentencing (JIFS) Clinic see a lot of California in their roles as advocates on behalf of inmates convicted as juveniles for crimes they did not commit or those serving excessive sentences for their juvenile convictions. JIFS students have spent part of the 2012-2013 academic year traversing the state's prisons -- from Chowchilla to Ironwood to Lancaster and beyond -- to visit their clients. Along the way, they have racked up mileage and a wealth of practical experience on conducting client interviews, writing claims, conducting research and more.

The clinic’s mission is twofold: pursue claims of actual innocence and seek to reduce the prison terms of clients convicted of non-homicide crimes and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life terms. To be eligible for the clinic’s assistance, a defendant must have been convicted in Los Angeles County, but may be serving time anywhere.

In its inaugural semester in fall 2012, seven students enrolled in the new clinic, which is part of Loyola’s Center for Juvenile Law and Policy. They are working with clients while studying the relevant case law on everything from homicide sentencing to prosecutorial misconduct to ineffective assistance of counsel. And, in the process, they are learning first-hand about the high stakes of criminal defense representation.

“Sloppy lawyering can lead to innocent people being convicted,” said Clinical Professor Maureen Pacheco, co-director of the clinic. “This clinic will be a success if our students learn about the heavy weight of responsibility they bear.”

In the sentencing realm, the group has been focusing on cases where there is no meaningful opportunity for the client’s release, where the judge failed to take into account the defendant’s youth, and where the court failed to exercise discretion in giving life without the possibility of parole. They are relying heavily on recent Supreme Court jurisprudence in the area of juvenile sentencing.

For Pacheco, the focus is all on the clients. To that end, clinic students participated in a three-day orientation before the start of the fall 2012 semester that included a trip to Lancaster State Prison and sessions on interacting with clients. The students also received insights on police procedure and DNA analysis. All of this is designed to “give hope to people who have no hope,” said Pacheco, who runs the clinic along with Clinical Professor Christopher Hawthorne ’00.