The Center for Appellate Litigation (CAL) is a non-profit organization that represents indigent defendants convicted of crimes in New York and the Bronx on direct appeal and in other postconviction matters. We are spearheading a pilot project that would partner law students with 18B trial practitioners (solo practitioners assigned to represent indigent criminal defendants at trial) to investigate instances of prior police misconduct on the part of testifying police officers. The allegations the students uncover in their investigations could furnish valuable impeachment material for use in cross-examining police witnesses at trial. The project would assist practitioners and protect the fair trial rights of accused individuals. It would provide students with exposure to the pretrial and investigatory phases of criminal practice in real time and in concrete ways, provide networking opportunities, and would train students in conducting factual investigations and how to use facts effectively in representing clients, skills vital in whatever field of law a student goes on to pursue.
In 2016, the New York Court of Appeals held in People v. Smith, 27 N.Y.3d 652 (2016), that defense counsel has the right, upon a proper showing, to use evidence of prior bad acts to impeach a police officer’s credibility on cross-examination. Significantly, the “bad acts” can include allegations contained in federal lawsuits against the officer alleging tortious conduct (such as police brutality, false arrest, or excessive force) in an otherwise unrelated case. However, the Court was equally clear that defense counsel must identify “specific allegations that are relevant to the credibility of the law enforcement witness.” A lawyer cannot merely ask whether the officer had been sued.
In September 2018, CAL distributed a practice advisory to defenders statewide providing a comprehensive guide outlining and describing the resources available for conducting a factual investigation to uncover instances of police misconduct (e.g., database use, FOIL procedure, court file access, etc). We quickly realized that for a busy solo practitioner, the legwork plus the computer skills necessary to conducting thorough investigations may be challenging. Partnering practitioners with committed, tech-skilled law students seemed a great solution. The 18B administrator for Manhattan and the Bronx is enthusiastic about this partnership.
CAL will train Interested students in the available resources and how to use them. After training, their names will be placed on the roster for partnering. Students will have a chance to indicate their availability to avoid undue time pressure and conflicting obligations to the extent possible. As we anticipate getting the project off the ground in March, we propose a training (at NYU) on February 15, 2019, to last approximately one hour. 18B attorneys will complete a brief referral form outlining what they need and by when. The 18B administrator will then pair the students with the attorneys. Attorneys will be encouraged to meet personally with students at least once. CAL will provide ongoing troubleshooting support on research and investigation-related issues.
Date: Friday, February 15th
Room: FH 330
Please RSVP here.