For the past year, the Texas A&M Law Criminal Defense Clinic has represented a woman in her 60s, sentenced to life in prison in her 50s for a first-time drug offense. Students, under the guidance of clinic director and professor Amber Baylor, successfully petitioned for compassionate release on her behalf. The court granted a reduction in sentence this May, and the client was released to her family in Dallas.
Texas A&M Law students collaboratively worked in support of the client's application for a reduction of her sentence, to allow her to return home to her children and grandchildren rather than die in prison. A few students visited and interviewed the client at the federal prison where she was incarcerated. The client's cause became urgent once coronavirus began to spread rapidly within US prisons. She had health conditions that made her vulnerable to the virus.
Students adjusted their strategy and motions to request immediate compassionate release. The federal district court judge granted release to the client.Hear from the students who successfully petitioned for her release.
Monica Lopez, Class of 2021
"Helping those in situations like [our client] reunite with their families is the reason why I went to law school. I am so thankful to have worked on her case, and I have learned a lot from this experience. The knowledge I gained about clemency and compassionate release options will be a benefit to my future clients. I would also like to thank Professor Baylor and my fellow clinic students for all their hard work and dedication."
Samantha Jackson, Class of 2021
"My time working with the Criminal Defense Clinic on the case of [our client] was truly invaluable. The experience highlighted the duty that all attorneys have to ensure that they view each and every client, holistically. The moments shared with [our client] were brief but monumental. I understood very clearly what it meant to be far more than your conviction. [our client] is a daughter, a mother and a grandmother. Her release is something that I will hold very near to me for the rest of my life."
Ian T. Perez-Routledge, Class of 2021
"I am honored to have had the privilege to represent [our client]. She suffered after receiving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug-conspiracy. [Our client]'s case provided me the opportunity to learn about clemency and compassionate relief, the failures of the federal sentencing guidelines and the federal system in general. I am glad I could help secure [our client]'s freedom and reunite her with her family."
Ashleigh Williams, Class of 2020
"Working on [our client]'s case has taught me several lessons that I will take with me as I begin my legal career. First, it's taught me the importance of trying to affect change. Though it's always possible to fail, to do nothing is much worse. Second, it's taught me the importance of working with others toward a common goal. United by our passion to implement real change in someone's life, we were able to challenge one another on different aspects of our argument to create something powerful. Lastly, it's taught me that incremental change is necessary to address the systemic issues that plague our justice system. I hope that our victory on [our client]'s case is a part of a larger conversation about much needed reform."
Jordan Alvarez, Class of 2021
"[Our client]'s case has demonstrated to me how difficult it is to break free of the criminal justice system. I am so thankful we were able to get her released and give her the opportunity at a second chance and more time with her family. I believe that rehabilitation is a pillar of success in the criminal justice system and [our client]'s subsequent release has given me hope for other prisoners to break free of the system as well. I want to congratulate Professor Baylor and my fellow Criminal Defense Clinic students for their tireless efforts in this case. I am proud to be a part of something truly life-changing."
Rory Smith, Class of 2021
"Working on [our client]'s case enlightened me to the harshness and detrimental inequity caused to defendants convicted on drug-conspiracy charges and punished according to Federal Sentencing Guidelines. There should be no place in our criminal justice system where first-time nonviolent drug offenders can be caged for life. I was overjoyed upon learning of [our client]'s release. I am thankful to Professor Baylor and my fellow classmates in the Criminal Defense Clinic for the opportunity to contribute in procuring her freedom."
Summer Smith, Class of 2021
"Working on [our client]’s case allowed me feel like I was really making a difference. When I came to law school, this was the type of work I was most excited for, and I am delighted that our hard work resulted in such a happy ending for [our client] and her family."
About the Texas A&M School of Law Criminal Defense Clinic
In the Criminal Defense Clinic, students learn a model of criminal defense based on collaborative advocacy. Students work with individuals, community organizations and experts in various disciplines to address overcriminalization and the consequences of criminal legal interventions.
Clinic students provide defense representation to individuals facing misdemeanor charges, fees and fines based on past convictions, or seeking expungements in Tarrant and Dallas counties. Students will appear in court at pretrial appearances and hearings, potentially representing clients at trial. Students will learn how to provide legal counsel in a moment of crisis and the foundational principles of dedicated defense representation.
The Criminal Defense Clinic student teams have advocated successfully on behalf of people seeking post-conviction relief. The teams also work collaboratively with local organizations and advocates improving systemic issues within criminal legal systems.
The clinic is exposing students to real-life scenarios. Learn more here.