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Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP)
- + AREAS OF CONCENTRATION
- ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION
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- COURSE DESCRIPTIONS
Help provide a second chance at justice for life term inmates, primarily women and youth offenders serving adult sentences. Through the Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP) clinical program, you will gain invaluable experience representing clients at parole hearings, conducting resentencing hearings for juveniles sentenced to life without parole, and litigating petitions for writs of habeas corpus in state and federal courts.
Since our inception in 1981 as the law school's first clinical program, more than 600 law students have assisted nearly 4,300 clients. Students in the clinic have helped win the release of more than 100 California life term inmates through the parole process and on habeas corpus.
Why Choose PCJP?
While providing deserving clients with zealous representation, you will develop your potential as a skilled and ethical legal advocate.
In 2008, the clinic prevailed in a defining case for the California parole system on behalf of longtime client Sandra Davis-Lawrence. The clinic argued - and the California Supreme Court agreed - that a life-term prisoner is entitled to meaningful judicial review to protect her right to be paroled once she no longer poses a danger to the community.
The clinic also has successfully advocated for legislative reform of the parole system and changes to California sentencing laws, leading to new state legislation benefiting many thousands of California prisoners.
Types of Cases
You may have the opportunity to work on cases that involve mitigation investigations, representation of clients in administrative and court hearings, presentation of testimony, appellate arguments, policy advocacy and the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to extreme adult sentences - a rapidly evolving area of law.
In the spring, first-year JD students apply for six full-time summer positions. Additional students enroll on a first-come first-served basis. Some students are invited to return to participate in the Advanced Clinic during their third year. Because of the hands-on nature of this clinic, enrollment is limited to up to 16 JD students per year.
The clinic is offered as a course within the JD curriculum for academic credit. Students enroll in the clinical course for one year. In addition to developing vital skills in criminal and constitutional law, you will examine and discuss broader issues of criminal justice in the context of your clients' cases.
Crucial advocacy skills developed through firsthand experience representing clients include:
- counseling clients
- effective fact-gathering, interviewing and presentation of evidence
- proficient and persuasive legal writing and oral advocacy
- strategic planning and proactive problem-solving
- professionalism, judgment and ethical decision-making
Michael Brennan co-directs the Post-Conviction Justice Project and is an authority on the three-strikes law and the death penalty. He has served as directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance and as a deputy federal public defender. He is a former partner with Balaban, Stern and Brennan and previously taught at Emory University. He chaired the Federal Indigent Defense Panel Selection Committee for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, served on the Los Angeles County Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee, consulted for the National Legal Services Training Program and was a member of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. Prof. Brennan received his LLB from the University of California, Berkeley.
Heidi Rummel co-directs the Post-Conviction Justice Project. A former federal prosecutor, she specializes in criminal law and procedure, and state and federal habeas law. She also is an expert in the California parole system, evidence, criminal civil rights and human trafficking. She previously worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, prosecuting federal criminal civil rights offenses, including human trafficking, police misconduct and hate crimes. She also prosecuted gang crimes, arson cases and child pornography offenses, and served as deputy chief in the General Crimes Section. Before that, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Prof. Rummel earned her JD from the University of Chicago.
Student & Alumni Testimonials
"We're treated like attorneys and work with clients just as an attorney would do in the real world. It's an incredible responsibility but convinced me that I made the right decision to go to law school."
Alexander Hurd, JD '16
"I know I will carry the lessons I learned in the clinic throughout my career. I learned how to interview clients, develop persuasive legal arguments and advocate for clients in written briefs and oral argument. It's an incredible feeling to represent a client who is released but, at the same time, there are so many more women to be helped."
Julia Deixler, JD '14, Associate, Litigation Department, O'Melveny
"Our clients are so hopeful and doing the best they can to make their lives worthwhile. Being a part of the Post-Conviction Justice Project really allowed me to make a difference in people's lives. The clinic truly [effected] policy and [created] new precedents to give individuals a second chance at life."
Michael Hart, JD '14, Associate, Fox Rothschild LLP
"I am so grateful to USC Gould's Post-Conviction Justice Project. The students never gave up on me. I know I would have never been released without their help."
Glenda Virgil, convicted of killing her abuser more than 25 years ago
Clinical Professor Testimonials
"I am forever grateful to the students at the Post-Conviction Justice Project. The Lord brought me these angels, these amazing students, to help me."
Mary Virginia Jones, freed from a life sentence after 32 years
Post-Conviction Justice Project in the News
PCJP Victory: Juvenile Offender Serving Life Released from Prison
March 24, 2015
Free After 24 Years...more
Video: Changing Laws, Changing Lives
September 4, 2015
Post-Conviction Justice Program (PCJP) clients, as well as USC Gould students and faculty share the powerful impact of the clinic's work on juveniles and victims of abuse. The clinic represents California federal and state inmates in post-conviction issues ranging from parole board hearings to petitions for ...more
USC Gould Graduates Celebrate Passing the Bar
December 8, 2017
New lawyers take their oath after passing the nation’s most difficult bar exam
Start with “Yes”
November 27, 2017
During “Conversation with the Dean,” alumnus Paul Richardson (JD1990) shares career insights
Saks Institute Holds Discussion on Involuntary Commitment
November 20, 2017
Judge Jim Bianco ’87 discusses mental health court