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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Law students to defend felony suspects who can’t afford counsel

    Beginning in January, UA law students will be able to represent felony suspects as part of an experimental project to aid defendants unable to afford legal counsel in Pima County, a university official said.

    The Pima County Pilot Project allows third-year law students to handle initial felony appearances without a supervising attorney, said Andrew Silverman, a clinical law professor at the James E. Rogers College of Law.

    The project was initiated by the Pima County Public Defender’s Office, which requested a temporary amendment to Supreme Court Rule 38(d) to relieve a shortage of public defenders in initial appearances, according to court documents.

    The project will begin Jan. 1, 2007, and end June 30, 2008, when a report on the project will be submitted to the Arizona Supreme Court by the Pima County Defender’s Office and the College of Law, according to court documents.

    Also according to court documents, the defender’s office was concerned that people charged with felonies could be stuck in jail with unnecessarily high bail when unrepresented in court.

    “”The placement of eligible law students will provide a voice for indigent defendants in these proceedings,”” according to the order.

    Students have represented clients without supervision for many years, but only for misdemeanor cases, Silverman said.

    The College of Law has had four clinical programs that partner law students with local attorneys and agencies for about 36 years, Silverman said.

    Under the rule, the client has to agree to be represented by a law student, according to the order.

    If the client declines, then he or she may have to self-represent, which happens a lot in initial felony appearances, Silverman said.

    Brian Welker, a first-year law student, said he is a little skeptical of the new provision for felony initial appearances. There’s the concern that clients’ counsel might be sacrificed in favor of practical experience for law students, he said.

    Anna Wright, a second-year law student, said she isn’t sure what she thinks of the change.

    “”It would depend on how much experience I had beforehand,”” Wright said.

    If she were presenting an actual defense, then she’d be uncomfortable. In initial appearances, though, “”there’s only so much you can do wrong,”” she said.

    Stephanie Kerby, a nutritional sciences senior, said that practical experience is necessary, but it would make her nervous from the defendant’s point of view to be represented by a law student without supervision.

    Neema Mehramiz, a chemical engineering junior, disagreed. “”I think it’s fine. It’s valuable experience,”” he said.

    Law students need to practice the work they will be doing in the future, Mehramiz added.

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