The Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic provides students with an opportunity to advocate for criminal system reform on behalf of incarcerated individuals and those facing criminal charges in Western New York.
Alexandra Harrington, Director
University at Buffalo
School of Law
507 O’Brian Hall, North Campus
Buffalo, NY 14260
Clinic students are currently working on resentencing cases under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA). This 2019 law allows survivors of domestic violence to apply for resentencing if the abuse they suffered was a significant contributing factor to the crime. Student attorneys develop evidence and prepare resentencing applications for clients who are eligible under the DVSJA. Returning students will have the option to continue on their cases and to prepare their clients for a hearing.
With aid from a two-year grant from the American College of Trial Lawyers Foundation, the clinic has seen early successes in its DVSJA cases. The clinic has helped a DVSJA client who was serving an indeterminate life sentence for second-degree murder successfully obtain parole at her first discretionary parole hearing. The clinic also represented one of the few incarcerated people to successfully achieve a sentencing reduction under the DVSJA. The case is reported at People v. S.M., N.Y. Slip Op. 21180. The decision recognizes the importance to domestic violence survivors not just in being free from unduly harsh periods of incarceration, but also in obtaining relief from lengthy—and sometimes lifetime—periods of supervision, with all of the attendant challenges and risks for incarceration.
In addition, with the benefit of assistance from the Tow Foundation, the clinic is embarking on a parole advocacy and reform project. Students will work with clients who are appearing before the Board of Parole, as well as with clients who are appealing a denial of parole. Students will also have opportunities to advocate for changes in the law to make the process more meaningful and just.
Clinic students have also provided support on a federal lawsuit involving the Bureau of Prison’s response to COVID-19 and its treatment of prisoners who are medically vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. Working with students from legal clinics at Quinnipiac University School of Law and Yale Law School, CJAC students are monitoring conditions at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. You can read more about the case here.
In addition, CJAC student attorneys have worked with the Rochester Police Accountability Board on research and policy projects. Past project work has also included collaboration with the Buffalo Police Advisory Board.