UDC Law has relaunched the Criminal Law Clinic and announced Professor Ieshaah Murphy as its Director. Professor Murphy’s redesign recognizes the complexities and challenges of our criminal legal system and provides multiple entry points for students to advance justice.
The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world. According to a report by The Sentencing Project, Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of white Americans. Although Black people make up less than half of the District of Columbia population, over 90% of people incarcerated in D.C. jails are Black. Under Professor Murphy’s leadership, the UDC Law Criminal Law Clinic works to address that discrepancy.
The newly developed clinic experience provides students the opportunity to combat mass incarceration and racial injustice in the criminal legal system through direct representation, community engagement and strategic action. Students represent indigent clients charged with misdemeanors during all stages of their criminal case, including arraignment, pretrial litigation, trial and sentencing in D.C. Superior Court. They also represent individuals in prison – overwhelmingly Black individuals – seeking release through parole.
“Creating a pathway of change-making attorneys starts with having a professor like Professor Murphy who inspires her students to zealously advocate, provides career advice and support and demonstrates effective lawyering with speakers from her past who are dedicated to defending our nation’s most vulnerable populations,” said Clinic student Songo Wawa.
Clinic students learn how to use a range of advocacy tools to provide zealous, compassionate and client-centered representation to those harshly impacted by the criminal legal system. Working in the clinic allows students to develop skills in interviewing clients, conducting fact investigation, preparing mitigation, drafting advocacy memoranda and conducting oral arguments.
In their third week of clinic this fall, the student attorneys attended arraignment hearings in the D.C. Superior Court to be assigned clients facing misdemeanor charges. “I have loved the experience and training I’ve received in the Criminal Law Clinic,” said Clinic student Alexus McNeal. “The clinic has made me a better, stronger, more competent advocate. I have confidence I am providing my clients with the best legal advocacy any law student could hope to give.”
In partnership with local social justice organizations, clinic students also engage with the District of Columbia community to implement initiatives and projects that attack racial injustice, evoke change and help community members better understand and navigate the criminal legal system.
Professor Murphy has a longstanding commitment to advocating for those impacted by the criminal legal system and comes to UDC Law following a decade of practice as a civil rights attorney and public defender. Previously, Murphy was a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, focusing on racial justice and criminal legal system transformation, and she worked for over eight years as a trial attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS). There, she supervised attorneys, represented hundreds of indigent children and adults charged with serious offenses and co-founded the agency’s annual week-long defender training program for law students from historically excluded communities.
Professor Murphy’s teaching and scholarly interests focus on criminal law and procedure, racial disparities in the criminal legal system and indigent defense reform. She also frequently trains lawyers and law students on various topics related to criminal defense, racial equity and trial advocacy.
As Clinic Director, Murphy is drawing on her experience to teach her students to think creatively and broadly about how to attack racial and economic injustice in the criminal legal system and spark criminal system transformation.