The Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Services Clinic (CAPS) (formerly known as the Federal, Criminal, and Appellate Clinic (FAC)) focuses on written and oral advocacy on behalf of clients convicted of criminal offenses. Under faculty supervision, third-year students litigate appellate cases, primarily direct appeals from criminal convictions. Students handle their cases from intake through oral argument and sometimes beyond, maintaining client contact and filing petitions for certiorari in higher courts where needed. Students meet with incarcerated clients, analyze appellate records, identify and research potential issues, file motions, write opening and reply briefs, and present oral arguments to appellate courts. Through the clinic, students develop a wide array of skills including interviewing and counseling clients, identifying relevant facts and issues in lengthy records, selecting and framing legal issues, integrating facts and law, advocating in difficult cases, writing and speaking persuasively, managing cases, and collaborating with others. The classroom component focuses on skills development, appellate case theory and practice, criminal procedure and ethics, roles of criminal justice actors, professional identity, and structural issues related to the criminal justice system.
Third-year students eligible for court certification take responsibility for real clients, in serious cases. Participants develop written and oral advocacy skills, as well as counseling and investigation experience and tactical judgment. Students interested in trial work have an opportunity to study, in depth, the trial of a serious case and post-conviction issues at the trial level. They establish relationships with clients, who are usually incarcerated, and view and participate in court proceedings. In almost all cases, students argue before a three-judge panel of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals during the course of the Clinic year. The Clinic is a highly collaborative experience from beginning to end.
Students will be selected based on their potential to provide high-quality, client-centered representation to our clients and to contribute to the Clinic as a whole. Faculty will consider a student’s interest in, and commitment to, criminal law and public interest work, but such interest is not required. Faculty members aim to select a class that is made up of students with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests, but who have a common desire to serve clients and gain invaluable experience.
- The Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Services Clinic is taken for both fall and spring semesters.
- Students who are in the second semester of their second year of law school are eligible to apply.
- Students are generally required to complete both the criminal procedure and evidence courses before taking the Clinic. Occasional exceptions have been made for students to take one of these courses as a co-requisite during the Fall semester of the Clinic.
For more information, please login to the Portal. Complete application instructions are available on the Clinics Portal page approximately one month prior to the registration period.
Unfortunately, the Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Services Clinic cannot take cases from the public. The Clinic currently receives all cases from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.
- During 2014, CAPS won dismissal of a juvenile case where the defendant had been convicted of burglary based solely on fingerprint evidence found on a video game case that had been moved during the burglary. The appellate court found that the State had failed to eliminate the reasonable hypothesis that the defendant touched the video game – a highly portable object - at a time other than that of the crime.
- In another case from 2014, the Maryland Court of Appeals has granted certiorari to consider the cutting edge issue of admissibility of social media evidence. In this case, where the defendant had claimed self-defense in connection with an assault charge, the trial court refused to admit evidence of a Facebook conversation that would have seriously impeached the State's key witness. The Court of Appeals took the case after the intermediate court upheld the trial court’s decision.
- In 2013, CAPS represented a client serving a ten-year sentence for charges related to fleeing the scene of a fatal accident. Students successfully argued that the sentence in the case was impermissible because special factors were required to exceed the standard five-year sentence for this offense, and no special factors were asserted at trial.
- Also in 2013, CAPS won reversal in a gun possession case where the appellate court found the trial judge had given a misleading instruction in response to a jury question.
- In a third CAPS victory during 2013, the appellate court reversed a defendant’s manslaughter conviction based on “mutual affray” after ruling that the defendant was wrongfully denied a self-defense instruction at trial.
- During 2012, CAPS won dismissal of a criminal fraud case based on a violation of Maryland's speedy trial act.
- Also during 2012, CAPS obtained a reversal in a resisting arrest cases where an Agreed Upon Statement of Facts failed to state facts sufficient to support the conviction.
- That same year, CAPS litigated a complex and novel issue concerning the admissibility of a complaining witnesses' prior consistent statements, which resulted in reversal of a sex offense conviction.
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