Dynamic Summer for the UM Clinical Programs

Photo credit: Beverly Pettgrew Kraft, public information officer for the Mississippi Supreme Court

Photo credit: Beverly Pettgrew Kraft, public information officer for the Mississippi Supreme Court

By: Prof. Phil Broadhead

“We do not learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” ― John Dewey, American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer.

The UM Clinical Programs have flourished in the 21st Century so much that every law student has the opportunity to participate in representing clients across diverse fields of practice. The school’s twelve clinical offerings include eight in-house clinics, two practicums, the Clinical Externship Program, and the Pro Bono Initiative. During the summer of 2015, the clinical faculty of University of Mississippi School of Law continued the work of graduated law students in clinic cases of significance by appearing before the Supreme Court of Mississippi.

Professor Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project (MIP), whose mission is to provide representation to prisoners with cognizable claims of wrongful conviction, appeared before the Supreme Court in oral argument on June 23rd in the case of Eddie Lee Howard v. State of Mississippi. This case is a death penalty conviction based primarily on forensic “bite mark” identification evidence. Students participating in the MIP worked on the case for literally years, gathering information and filing petitions with the Court to review the validity of the conviction.  The admissibility of “bite-mark” expert testimony has been renounced in recent years by the American Board of Forensic Odontology.  The dentist who testified for the prosecution in the Howard case recently stated, “I can no longer rely on bite marks as a truth.”  Bite mark identification has been under heavy scrutiny in the legal community since the 2008 report to Congress by the National Academy of Science, which found no basis for its reliability as a true science.  The Court took the case under advisement and will probably decide what relief will be granted by September.

Professor David Calder, associate clinical professor, was a member of the litigation team who freed Michelle Byrom, a death-row prisoner almost executed for the shooting death of her husband. After finding Byrom’s son, in letters written immediately after the homicide, confessed to killing his father, the defense team presented the case to the Supreme Court.   Justice Jess Dickinson wrote in the Court’s decision, “I have attempted to conjure up in my imagination a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case. I cannot.” Michelle Byrom was released from prison by court order on June 26, 2015. “We are very grateful that the Mississippi Supreme Court has granted Michelle Byrom’s request for relief from her death sentence,” Professor Calder said. “This was a team effort on the part of the attorneys currently representing Michelle, and we believe that the court reached a just and fair result under the facts presented in this case.”

Also, on May 29, 2015, Professor Phil Broadhead, Director of the Criminal Appeals Clinic, appeared before the Mississippi Supreme Court in oral argument in a clinic case from the Fall 2014 semester, Thomas Flynt v. State of Mississippi. The case was appealed from a conviction in Forrest County Circuit Court, with third-year law students raising issues of necessary self-defense under the Castle Doctrine statutes. Thomas Flynt was convicted in 2013 of manslaughter in a shooting death that occurred in his place of business in Hattiesburg. The Court heard arguments about the circumstances of the shooting which encompassed the “No Duty to Retreat” clause of the Castle Doctrine, as well as other self-defense issues in the case. Presiding Justice Michael Randolph allowed brief-writers Sullivan Banks and David Fletcher, who graduated in the class of 2015, the honor of sitting at counsel table during the arguments.

The UM Clinical Programs seek to provide law students with the opportunity to be admitted to the limited practice of law under the supervision of a clinical professor/supervising attorney, and to gain hands-on, real life experiences in both civil and criminal areas of practice. The goal of the clinical programs is to merge theory and practice and their experience of being a “real lawyer” for the first time, providing a capstone to their law school experience. The more practice-ready graduated law students are, the more they will be able to make the difficult transition from law student to lawyer.