The USC Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP) opened it doors in 1981. Since then, more than 600 law students have assisted nearly 4,300 clients on matters ranging from consultation on civil issues related to incarceration to representation at parole hearings and in state and federal lawsuits challenging denials of constitutional rights. Although the faces of the Project change from year to year, the mission remains the same — to provide deserving clients with zealous representation and to develop law students’ potential to be skilled and ethical advocates. In addition to developing critical lawyering skills, students examine and discuss broader criminal justice issues in the context of their clients’ cases.
WATCH HOW PCJP HELPS DESERVING CLIENTS
The Post-Conviction Justice Project currently represents state prisoners incarcerated at the California Institution for Women serving life-term sentences for murder. Under the supervision of co-directors Michael J. Brennan and Heidi L. Rummel, students assume primary responsibility for every aspect of the representation. For parole-eligible clients, they visit the client in prison to prepare her to testify at her parole hearing; they collect information favoring a grant of parole and file a written submission; and they conduct the hearing – including questioning, objections, and a closing argument. PCJP students file state and federal habeas petitions challenging denials of parole by the parole board and reversals of parole grants by the Governor where the denial/reversal is arbitrary and capricious in violation of due process. The Project also represents survivors of domestic abuse whose crimes stemmed from the abuse prior to the time when courts allowed expert testimony on intimate partner battering (formerly Battered Women’s Syndrome).
Since 1994, PCJP has secured the release of forty deserving California inmates. In 2008, PCJP prevailed in a defining case for the California parole system for long-time client Sandra Davis-Lawrence. The Project argued – and the California Supreme Court agreed – that a life-term prisoner is entitled to meaningful judicial review of parole decisions to protect her right to be paroled once she no longer poses a danger to the community.
Upon Governor Brown recently signing into law the landmark SB-9, PCJP has announced that it is expanding its client base to include representation of juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. For more information, click here.