November 26, 2018

CJRC Wins Clemency for Incarcerated Juvenile

Governor Kate Brown granted clemency to a young woman on the basis of a petition prepared by law students in the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic.

Governor Kate Brown granted clemency to a client of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) of Lewis & Clark Law School in November 2018. This marks the second time a clemency petition prepared by CJRC has been granted this year.

The client, a young woman, aged 23 (name withheld), was incarcerated in the Oregon Youth Authority and has been in the juvenile justice system since she was 15 years old. Her childhood was extraordinarily traumatic. During her teenage years, she was placed in multiple foster homes and youth facilities, “where each of her teenage outbursts earned her an emotion-dulling prescription or a criminal charge.”

The 25-page petition details the CJRC’s client’s life as well as each incident. “Her upbringing does not excuse her criminal behavior, instead it explains her choices and exemplifies why she has paid a heavy price for every bad decision she has made.”

CJRC wrote the petition on her behalf because “every brush with the criminal justice system was marked by prosecutors seeking the harshest penalties possible. In her last conviction, the DDA stated that she was ‘incapable of rehabilitation’.”

However, in her past few years at the Oregon Youth Authority, the Client has grown and transformed herself and her life. “She mentors younger youths in the facility and has shared her story at two large speaking events in Oregon, “ CJRC wrote. “She is characterized by a remarkable, against-all-odds metamorphosis noted by correctional staff members, her mentors and even her victim.”

She says of herself, “I have a deep desire to change my life and inspire others with my story to change their life the way I did.”

Two students worked with CJRC director Professor Aliza Kaplan and CJRC Staff Attorney Venetia Mayhew. Now in their third-year, students Mieke de Vrind ’19 and Danielle DeCant ’19, were both clinic students during their second year (2017-2018) when they conducted their research and co-wrote the clemency petition to the Governor.

Mieke de Vrind explains, “We went through her records, created a timeline of events in her life, evaluated charging and sentencing documents, conducted extensive interviewing, and met with her supporters. We were impressed by her resiliency and commitment to her community.”

Danielle DeCant added, “We met and communicated with our client and her supporters regularly, and learned how to manage client expectations over a 14-month period when the prospects for success were statistically against us. I feel like I really came into myself as a lawyer through this experience.”

“It was amazing as a second-year law student to have a client say that we captured her story perfectly,” DeCant noted. “After a lifetime of feeling silenced, she finally felt heard.”

De Vrind agreed, describing the insight they gained of the criminal justice system. “By learning the story of our client’s life, we gained insight into the impact of the criminal justice system and mandatory minimum sentences. By stripping crimes of their context, the criminal justice system de-humanizes people and turns them into a series of bad acts.”

The Criminal Justice Reform Clinic was founded in 2015 by Professor Kaplan. CJRC students work on a variety of case work and issues including clemency and commutation, prison litigation, immigration and refugee status, mental illness and incarceration, non-unanimous juries and removing the criminal-related barriers that keep individuals in poverty.

Clinic students conduct investigations; conduct legal/fact research and analysis; write motions, briefs and reports; interview and advise clients; attend legal and legislative meetings and hearings; and meet and participate in strategy sessions with members of the bar, the judiciary and community leaders.