Criminal justice courtroom advocacy, both oral and written, is the central theme of the Pretrial Justice Clinic. The aim of this Clinic was not just to provide our students with meaningful legal experience in the courtroom, but to specifically contribute our efforts toward a significant and growing need in the criminal justice system – the need for effective legal representation for indigent defendants at this early but pivotal stage in the criminal justice process. Working with the office of the Cuyahoga County Public Defender, clinic students actively participate in the representation of indigent defendants in an effort to secure pretrial release during the critical period as their cases move from the municipal court system to the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas.
Addressing the impact of poverty on the ability to navigate the criminal justice system is at the root of many criminal justice reforms under consideration. The disparities in the system start at the onset – the first hearing before the Court to determine whether the defendant who under our system of justice is presumed to be innocent, may be released from jail in order to more effectively participate in his/her own defense. Studies clearly demonstrate that the longer an individual spends in pretrial detention, there is a greater likelihood of conviction and a greater likelihood of future recidivism. The goal of the Clinic is to assist in the representation of indigent defendants to afford them the same level of representation and opportunity for pretrial release as those who simply have the financial means to pay their way out of pretrial detention.
Clinic students each appear in Court one day weekly. They participate in the client interview process and evaluate the information stemming from the risk assessments provided to the Court. Students assist the Assistant Ptublic Defender during the bail hearing in Cleveland Municipal Court. Students further provide written memoranda to the next Public Defender who will take up the advocacy of each defendant after the case is bound over to the Court of Common Pleas detailing an advocacy strategy at First Appearance Docket in the County system. Further, students evaluate and timely refer cases to the Bail Project which may facilitate the posting of bond for edibility defendants. Students also participate in written motion practice for defendants ultimately assigned to the Public Defender and still have not made bail as the cases progresses into the pretrial process.
In addition to the courtroom work, the Clinic includes a weekly seminar where students have the opportunity to discuss the bail system with the judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and pretrial services officers who join the classroom to discuss their experiences and the decision-making roles in the process. The seminar further provides the opportunity to discuss individual experiences and address system deficiencies and opportunities for bail system reform.
The Pretrial Justice Clinic is taught by Professor Robert J. Triozzi, a former Cleveland Municipal Court Judge, with an experiential background in both prosecution and criminal defense.