Students Testify On Behalf Of Juvenile “Lifers”

By Sara Fairchild and Sarah West

Sarah West (L) and Sara Fairchild (R) are 3Ls in the AUWCL Criminal Justice Clinic (Defense)

This year, students in the Criminal Justice Clinic had the opportunity to represent individuals serving life sentences in Maryland for crimes committed as juveniles. Maryland is one of only three states in the U.S. that give their governors final authority to deny parole to people serving life-with-parole sentences. Even if the Maryland Parole Commission recommends a “lifer” for parole, the Governor may reject the Commission’s recommendation and deny release for any reason. In 1995, Maryland’s then-Governor, Parris Glendening, announced a policy of refusing to grant parole regardless of a candidate’s growth or rehabilitation. Every Governor since has followed suit. Of the more than 200 individuals serving juvenile life sentences, none has been paroled in over two decades.

Our client was only fourteen years old at the time of the crime underlying his life sentence. When we met him, we learned about all of the things he has done to become a better person during his time in prison, and we saw that he is a different man from the child who committed a terrible crime decades ago. Despite this growth and progress, he may never see life outside of prison due to the state’s unforgiving parole system.

In a series of decisions issued over the last decade, including Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama, and Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that sentencing a juvenile to a lifetime in prison without a “meaningful opportunity for release” violates the Eighth Amendment in all but the rarest of cases.

This spring, we voiced our concerns before the Maryland House of Delegates, which was considering House Bill 723. The proposed legislation, supported by the Maryland ACLU and the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, seeks to repeal the provisions in Maryland’s parole statute that give the Governor final say in parole decisions for individuals serving life sentences.

On February 14, we testified before the House Judiciary Committee, urging the Delegates to support HB 723. We talked about our client, a man who is the epitome of someone who deserves parole because of the steps he has taken to change. We argued that the purpose of the parole system is to encourage inmates to rehabilitate and prove themselves to be worthy of release. We pointed out the cognitive and emotional differences between adults and juveniles, which have caused the Supreme Court to distinguish the two when looking at the constitutionality of a life sentence without parole. Finally, we asked the delegates to recognize the reality of the situation and acknowledge that even though Maryland law theoretically provides the possibility of parole to juvenile lifers, under current law, none have a “meaningful opportunity for release.”

HB 723 passed in the House of Delegates in March 2017. It is currently pending before the Maryland Senate. You can check the status of the legislation here.

With Help from IP Clinic Students, “Yasuni Man” Premiering at DC Environmental Film Festival March 19

WCL Glushko-Samuelson IP Clinic

For seven years, United States biologist Ryan Killackey researched and filmed the 1,500 kilometer Yasuni biosphere reserve in Ecuador, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.  The resulting documentary explores “the impact of oil development on the biodiversity of the forest and its people,” and effectively “tells the story of the conflict in Yasuni that has pitted biodiversity and human rights against extractive industries and human consumption.”

This 90-minute film has already won 3 awards and several official selections so far on the film festival circuit. The Glushko-Samuelson Clinic, along with its student attorneys Aaron Wicker, Aurelie Mathieu, David Najera, and Joanna Scleidorovich, are credited at the end of the film.

Tickets are now on sale for the Yasuni Man DC Premiere at the D.C. Environmental Film Festival on Sunday, March 19th from 7-9pm at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

Please follow this link to purchase tickets:

For further reading:

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Why Do We Have a Tax Clinic?

Jacob Peeples is a 2L Student Attorney in the Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic at American University, Washington College of Law.

A letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a scary thing for anyone to receive, especially someone who is not familiar with tax law and procedure. Contrary to what one might assume, the IRS audits thousands of low-income individuals each year. Most clients of AUWCL’s Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic earn less than $30,000 per year, and they face potentially ruinous amounts of tax liability relative to their means.

I enjoy being a student attorney with the Tax Clinic because I have the privilege and opportunity to work face-to-face with clients and represent them before the IRS in appeals conferences and in the U.S. Tax Court. It is enormously rewarding to be able to help someone through this seemingly daunting process and to help him or her understand how our revenue system works. To me, the hands-on experience that the Clinic provides is an essential learning experience for all law students.

While it may not always seem like the most exciting legal field to many law students, tax law is cerebral, pervasive, and provides enormous opportunities for social justice and public interest work. Taxation is not only necessary for any government spending, but the tax code has enormous potential in affecting economic behavior through credits and penalties and is an enormous tool for assisting low and middle income taxpayers through programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Child Dependent Care Credit.

In addition to representing our clients as student attorneys, every student who participated in the Tax Clinic this year will be volunteering at VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) sites throughout the DC metro area. Each year, volunteers help prepare state and federal taxes for thousands of taxpayers and help put millions of dollars of refunds in their bank accounts without charging enormous prices and fees. Being a VITA volunteer is a tremendously rewarding experience and great way to for law students to familiarize themselves with the tax system.


IP Clinic Alums Return to Toast Professor Jaszi!!!

WCL Glushko-Samuelson IP Clinic

On November 17th over 50 IP Clinic alums and former faculty returned to campus to hear founding faculty member Professor Peter Jaszi deliver the annual Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Property.  Peter’s lecture was “Cultural practice and copyright justice: Confessions of a semi-reconstructed auteurist”   

At the celebratory reception clinic alums, faculty and current students had the chance to mingle and toast the man who started it all!

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Students Testify About Notario Fraud

On October 17, Immigrant Justice Clinic student attorneys Rafael Hernandez and Jeannesis Rodriguez testified before the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in support of the Immigration Services Protection Act of 2016 (ISPA), which aims to prevent notario fraud in the District. Notario fraud occurs when incompetent individuals offer to assist immigrants in their immigration proceedings for a fee, but then fail to provide adequate representation, sometimes leading to loss of immigration status and deportation.  In their testimony, Hernandez and Rodriguez explained the pressing need for legislation to protect the immigrant population from fraud, and also offered several suggestions for improvement based on research into similar bills in other jurisdictions.

You can see the status of the ISPA here.

The Difference a Lawyer Makes

Clinic alumna Makia Weaver (Criminal Justice Clinic, Fall 2015) has had an amazing journey that demonstrates the difference a dedicated lawyer can make. With help from The Children’s Law Center, she went from the D.C. foster care system to the University of Virginia to AUWCL, and from here to a clerkship with D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby. We are proud to be part of Makia’s story, and we know she will continue to do great things.