The Indigent Criminal Justice Trial Clinic allows students to represent indigent criminal defendants accused of misdemeanor offenses in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas under the supervision of Professor Richard Settgast. Students learn litigation, negotiation and advocacy skills as they represent defendants through all stages of a criminal case before any appeals. This hands-on experience is accompanied by a classroom component designed to give students guidance, feedback and an open forum to discuss their cases and the various facets of defense work.
The Indigent Criminal Justice Trial Clinic has two primary objectives: (1) provide criminal defendants who cannot afford private counsel with highly effective representation that is client-centered, professional and ethical, and (2) create a structured and supervised environment which enables each student to (a) gain a detailed, working knowledge of how to represent a defendant; (b) apply that knowledge to actual criminal cases; and (c) gain feedback and reflection after each important stage of the case. Students earn 3 clinic credits per semester for the criminal trial clinic course and 2 credits per semester for a companion criminal trial simulation course. Students must commit to enroll in both the clinic course and the simulation course each semester. Students must also commit to participate in the clinic for two semesters (Fall and Spring).
The companion simulation course provides students the opportunity to practice and develop fundamental lawyering skills and professional responsibilities in a controlled, safe, supportive, and instructive environment prior to performing adversarial hearings before a Court in the Indigent Criminal Justice Trial Clinic. Specifically, students will learn client management skills, litigation, negotiation, ethics, criminal law and procedure, and advocacy skills as they simulate representation of defendants in both semesters, through all stages of a criminal case, including pre-trial conferences, jury selection, and a full trial. These simulations are designed to provide students with enhanced expertise in all fields of advocacy. The simulations also provide students with the opportunity to play different roles and gain perspectives they would not otherwise have, advocating solely for the defense. The use of simulations dramatically increases the experience and preparedness of the clinic students who are expected to successfully argue and maneuver against prosecutors with years of courtroom experience. The simulations also vary in terms of preparation afforded to each student. Certain simulations permit students hours of preparation time to perfect cross-examination and argument. Other simulations happen with little or no preparation time to give students experience thinking quickly and actively listening in stressful adversarial situations.
The four credits for the companion two-semester criminal trial simulation course do not count against the clinic and externship cap at Penn State Law because no client representation is involved in the simulation course. Only students accepted for enrollment in the Indigent Criminal Justice Trial Clinic may enroll in the companion criminal trial simulation course. Both courses satisfy the experiential learning requirement.