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Freeing Nonviolent Lifers Drives Stanford Group

Publication Date: 
May 26, 2010
Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
Author: 
Peter Mandel

The Criminal Defense Clinic is profiled in this opinion piece by second-year Stanford Law School student, Peter Mandel. In the story, Mandel discusses his experience working with the clinic, which is the only legal organization in the country devoted to representing individuals facing life imprisonment under California's Three Strikes law:

The work of the Criminal Defense Clinic is profiled in this opinion piece by second-year Stanford Law School student, Peter Mandel. The story was published in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The first time I met Mark, I did not know what to expect. In 1997, a judge decided Mark would never change and sentenced him to life in prison. My partner, Josh Weddle, and I, students in Stanford Law School's Criminal Defense Clinic, are appealing his sentence. As we walked through the prison's sterile walls to meet Mark for the first time in March, I feared a hardened criminal suspicious of a couple of "suits" in their 20s.

Mark has been in prison for 14 years for shoplifting a tool and costume jewelry. Had this been his first crime, his maximum penalty would have been $1,000 and six months in jail. Instead, because he had committed two burglaries a dozen years earlier, when he was 19 years old, he may be in prison for life.

...

Stanford Law's clinic is devoted full time to representing individuals serving life sentences for petty crimes under the repeat-offender law. Students who had never litigated a case or filed a brief in court have helped free almost a dozen people who would have spent most of their lives in prison. The clinic's clients who have been freed have treated their mental illnesses, participated in drug rehabilitation, found employment, reunited with their families and stayed crime free.

The clinic has been my most rewarding - and most draining - law school experience. I thought it would be a good opportunity to gain practical legal skills, but the best part has been the passion from doing what is just and working to change someone's fate. I spend hours on the phone or traveling to meet Mark, his family, prison officials, attorneys, courts, psychiatrists and others, leaving countless messages to get information. My partner and I pore over documents so that we can look a judge in the eye one day and say that sentencing our client to life in prison was a mistake, that, as we sadly discovered, he has been mentally ill and untreated for years, that he suffered awful abuse and trauma and deserves a chance at treatment, rehabilitation and freedom.

...

Peter Mandel is a second-year student at Stanford Law School. The Criminal Defense Clinic, the only legal organization in the country devoted to representing individuals serving life imprisonment under California's "three strikes" law, represents defendants charged under that law with minor, nonviolent felonies. To learn more, go to http://sfg.ly/aBEiQv.