507 Federal Indigent Defense in Practice

The Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right of the accused to require the prosecution’s case to survive the crucible of meaningful adversarial testing.”  United States v. Cronic (1984).  Federal defenders, along with the more than 12,000 private ‘panel attorneys’ appointed under the Criminal Justice Act, represent the vast majority of individuals who are prosecuted in federal court. 

Representing indigent defendants as appointed counsel involves handling some of the most difficult cases in federal court. Being a skillful advocate in the role of a true underdog facing the power and limitless resources of the United States of America demands an approach to law practice that is relentless, a commitment to thinking outside the box, extensive knowledge of complex federal criminal laws and procedure, sharp research skills, and deep empathy for individuals who would not have a voice in the system without their counsel. 

This skills-based simulation course focuses on writing as an advocate for the accused and developing foundational practical skills and substantive legal knowledge needed to prepare a strong defense. The course focuses on the real cases of several indigent defendants convicted of federal crimes and is structured around preparing a direct appeal from the viewpoint of a solo practicing attorney appointed at the direct appeal stage. Each student will work on preparing one defendant’s case throughout the semester. By looking at cases of several defendants, we will be able to recognize common themes that play out over and over again in the lives of many indigent defendants, caused by poverty and systemic discrimination. Substantive areas of focus will include challenging the guilty plea and sentence, overcoming waivers and unpreserved errors, common Fourth Amendment concerns arising from police searches and seizures, the government’s bread and butter charges in indigent cases: guns and drugs, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual. The course will also necessarily consider the intersection of race, poverty, and systemic discrimination in our system of justice.

This course involves working with advanced federal criminal law topics.  It is strongly recommended that students have taken at least one upper-year course in federal criminal law, procedure, or practice.

Course Areas of Practice
Evaluation Methods
  • Simulated Writing, Litigation
  • Reflective Writing
  • Practical exercises
  • Class participation
Degree Requirements
Course Type
  • Simulation
Learning Outcomes
  • Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law
  • Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context
  • Exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system

Sample Syllabi

Fall 2022

2022
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Days/Times Room

507.01 2
  • Simulated Writing, Litigation
  • Reflective Writing
  • Practical exercises
  • Class participation
Sarah Powell W 4:00 PM-5:50 PM 4046

The Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right of the accused to require the prosecution’s case to survive the crucible of meaningful adversarial testing.”  United States v. Cronic (1984).  Federal defenders, along with the more than 12,000 private ‘panel attorneys’ appointed under the Criminal Justice Act, represent the vast majority of individuals who are prosecuted in federal court. 

Representing indigent defendants as appointed counsel involves handling some of the most difficult cases in federal court. Being a skillful advocate in the role of a true underdog facing the power and limitless resources of the United States of America demands an approach to law practice that is relentless, a commitment to thinking outside the box, extensive knowledge of complex federal criminal laws and procedure, sharp research skills, and deep empathy for individuals who would not have a voice in the system without their counsel. 

This skills-based simulation course focuses on writing as an advocate for the accused and developing foundational practical skills and substantive legal knowledge needed to prepare a strong defense. The course focuses on the real cases of several indigent defendants convicted of federal crimes and is structured around preparing a direct appeal from the viewpoint of a solo practicing attorney appointed at the direct appeal stage. Each student will work on preparing one defendant’s case throughout the semester. By looking at cases of several defendants, we will be able to recognize common themes that play out over and over again in the lives of many indigent defendants, caused by poverty and systemic discrimination. Substantive areas of focus will include challenging the guilty plea and sentence, overcoming waivers and unpreserved errors, common Fourth Amendment concerns arising from police searches and seizures, the government’s bread and butter charges in indigent cases: guns and drugs, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual. The course will also necessarily consider the intersection of race, poverty, and systemic discrimination in our system of justice.

This course involves working with advanced federal criminal law topics.  It is strongly recommended that students have taken at least one upper-year course in federal criminal law, procedure, or practice.

Grading Basis: Graded

Syllabus: 507-01-Fall2022-syllabus.pdf168.23 KB

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Fall 2021

2021
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor Meeting Days/Times Room

507.01 2
  • Simulated Writing, Litigation
  • Research and/or analytical paper(s), 5-10 pages
  • Group project(s)
  • Practical exercises
  • Class participation
Sarah Powell W 2:00 PM-3:50 PM 4044

The Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right of the accused to require the prosecution’s case to survive the crucible of meaningful adversarial testing.”  United States v. Cronic (1984).  Federal defenders, with the more than 12,000 private ‘panel attorneys’ appointed under the Criminal Justice Act, represent the vast majority of individuals who are prosecuted in federal court. 

Representing indigent defendants as appointed counsel involves handling some of the most difficult cases in federal court. Being a skillful advocate in the role of a true underdog facing the power and limitless resources of the United States of America demands an approach to law practice that is relentless, a commitment to thinking outside the box, extensive knowledge of complex federal criminal laws and procedure, sharp research skills, and deep empathy for individuals who would not have a voice in the system without their counsel. 

This skills-based simulation course focuses on writing as an advocate for the accused and developing foundational practical skills and substantive legal knowledge needed to prepare a strong defense, with specific attention to direct criminal appeals from guilty pleas.  Substantive areas of focus will include challenging the validity of a guilty plea, overcoming waivers and unpreserved errors, common Fourth Amendment concerns arising from police searches and seizures, the government’s bread and butter charges in indigent cases: guns and drugs, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The course will also necessarily consider the intersection of race, poverty, and systemic discrimination in our system of justice.

Grading Basis: Graded

Pre/Co-requisites
None

*Please note that this information is for planning purposes only, and should not be relied upon for the schedule for a given semester. Faculty leaves and sabbaticals, as well as other curriculum considerations, will sometimes affect when a course may be offered.