Criminal Defense Clinic students protect the rights of the accused

When one of his classmates fell ill the morning of her client’s preliminary hearing, Evan Frohman was handed the client’s file and was told to be ready to face the prosecutor in court in under an hour.

Liberty and Justice for All Sign above the entrance to a Public Defender Office.

“It was chaotic, it was stressful,” Frohman recalls, “but it was what being a real public defender must be like. I steeled myself, learned the case, and gave it my best shot.”

A student in Penn Law’s Criminal Defense Clinic, Frohman found that this introduction to the rough-and-tumble world of public defense left him with an enhanced sense of confidence.

“If I could handle that,” he says, “I know I can handle any judge.”

Taught by experienced practicing attorneys at the Defender Association of Philadelphia (DAP), the clinic gives students the opportunity to represent clients accused of crimes including drug possession, possession with intent to deliver, robbery, retail theft, and assault.

Christine Lora, who will lead the clinic beginning in Fall 2020, said that it is her hope “that each student leaves with a true understanding of what it means to be a public defender today, 57 years after the due process revolution precipitated by Gideon v. Wainwright,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the right to counsel for all people accused of crimes, regardless of their ability to pay.

Being a public defender today often means having too many cases and too little time—the walls of the DAP offices are decorated with posters featuring cartoon “defenders” in superhero garb, a nod to the superhuman efforts often required of those who work there. These caped crusaders have something else in common with their real-life counterparts: an unshakeable faith in the righteousness of their mission.

“The DAP takes on a tremendous number of cases and ensures that the sword of the state is justly used,” says Frohman. “Even a minor criminal prosecution can derail someone’s life with its collateral consequences. By fighting to protect these people’s lives, the DAP allows for a fairer society.”

Read more at Penn Law News.