MACON – About 250 criminal defense lawyers from across the nation will participate in the 26th Annual Trial Practice Institute of the National Criminal Defense College at Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law.
The institute, which starts today and runs through June 27, is designed to enhance the trial-advocacy skills of criminal defense attorneys who largely represent the poor. Participants are divided into small groups according to trial experience, and topics such as client interviews, cross examination and closing arguments are covered in group exercises. Participants perform daily assignments under the supervision of members of NCDC’s nationally recognized faculty who donate their time and skills to the program. The institute’s second two-week session runs July 12 – 25.
The NCDC’s Trial Practice Institute is a pioneer of its kind in the United States, addressing the criminal representation of largely indigent clients who often cannot afford private counsel. Most of the institute’s participants are either employed by public defender offices or accept some indigent appointments from the courts.
According to the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, indigent criminal defense programs in the largest 100 U.S. counties received an estimated 4.2 million cases in 1999. Of those cases, 80 percent were criminal cases, and public defenders handled 82 percent of them.
Though the conviction rates for indigent defendants and those with their own lawyers were about the same in federal and state courts, Justice Department data suggest that those with publicly financed attorneys were incarcerated at a higher rate than those who paid for legal counsel.
“Representing indigent defendants is the soul of criminal defense,” said Deryl Dantzler, professor of law at Mercer Law School and dean of the NCDC. “Someone has to care about the client and the humanity of the case.”
Adrienne Bershinsky, 24, a second-year Mercer law student from Colorado, said her father attended the institute at Mercer Law School in the early 1990s. This summer, Bershinsky and three other law students are among those helping prepare for the arrival of the participants and will help make their stay in Macon a productive learning experience.
“My father loved the experience of attending the institute,” said Bershinsky, who received her undergraduate degree from Colorado State University.
“He found it to be extraordinarily helpful, and I’m excited to be working with the institute this summer.”
About two dozen volunteers are needed this Tuesday and during the July session to sit in as citizen jurors during the simulated court cases. For those who are interested, call the institute at 478.746.4151.
About Mercer Law School
Founded in 1873, the Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law is one of the oldest law schools in the United States and the first one in the state of Georgia accredited by the American Bar Association. Mercer Law School’s educational philosophy is based on a broadly shared commitment to prepare students for the high-quality, general practice of law in a day-to-day learning environment that is both strongly supportive and consistently professional. Its innovative Woodruff Curriculum – which focuses on ethics and practical skills amid small class sizes – earned the Gambrell Professionalism Award from the ABA for its “depth of excellence.” With an enrollment of about 400 students, taught by some of the sharpest legal minds in the country, Mercer Law School has been listed among the nation’s top law schools and is nationally recognized for its exceptional programs in legal writing, moot court, public interest, and professionalism and ethics. For more information about Mercer Law School, visit www.law.mercer.edu or call 478.301.5000.