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St. Thomas law school program aims to give juveniles legal representation

June 24, 2019 05:36 AM

Some young people accused of crimes are finding themselves in a tight spot when it comes to finding legal defense. A new push to make sure they're getting representation in court is emerging from the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

University of St. Thomas law professor Rachel Moran and her students are part of a burgeoning effort to not only find juveniles accused of crimes—many of whom have never received a even a cursory civics lesson—legal representation, but also give law students crucial real-world experience in a court setting. 

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Moran's students, in exchange for an internship-like experience, provide juveniles, who are ineligible for a public defender and whose families cannot afford to hire an attorney, legal representation at no cost to the juveniles.

"We had a wide range of cases our student-attorneys handled this semester," Moran said.


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"You have someone representing your interests and solely your interests.  It's critically important. It's really one of the bedrock principals of our criminal justice system."

The UST law students are reporting handling cases ranging from e-cigarette possessions, to fights in school, to more serious offenses.

Judge Mark Kappelhoff, who regularly presides over juvenile cases in his colorful-picture-lined courtroom in Minneapolis, couldn't be more welcoming of the student-attorneys due to the fact that he believes it benefits all parties involved - the juveniles, the students and the juvenile justice system.

"I see this whole program as I describe it as a win, win, win," Kappelhoff said.

Both Kappelhoff and Moran stated they hope the program can be expanded so more young people can get legal representation.

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