Most students have heard about the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. It is an office comprised of attorneys who represent indigent defendants. It is also now the home of the Post Conviction and Innocence Claims Clinic. The Clinic is one part of the Externship program at John Marshall in which students gain experience with the post conviction and innocence claims process filed by defendants who have been convicted of offenses in Illinois. After being convicted, these defendants raise issues challenging the reliability of their convictions and/or sentences.
The externship is at the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender. There, students work under the direction of the Public Defender, investigating the claims of innocence as well as new evidence filed by indigent defendants. Students communicate with clients, work out in the field investigating witnesses, examine files, past transcripts and records, conduct legal research, attend court, and may visit defendants in Illinois prisons.
There is also a classroom component which involves the discussion of the various cases being investigated. During class time, the students learn about the Post Convictions Act and the ethical obligations that attorneys have to their clients. The classroom component also provides the opportunity for students to discuss their personal working experiences and possibly brainstorm and solve case problems. This provides students with the understanding of post conviction and collateral claims of innocence and unfair convictions in terms of arrest, trial, and the appeal process.
The Public Defender currently represents about 450 clients who have filed post conviction petitions alleging innocence or that their trials were constitutionally deficient. The cases are processed through the Legal Resources Division. The division is staffed with 35 attorneys. Students may enroll in the clinic in the fall, spring, or summer semesters. There are also additional opportunities to participate in court for student’s possessing a Rule 711 license.
To apply for a position in the Post Conviction and Innocence Claims Externship, email the following to Mr. Lester Finkle, firstname.lastname@example.org: a resume, two letters of recommendation (one of which is from someone who is not a lawyer), a transcript, and a letter of interest.