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Tulane Student Lawyer to Argue Case Before Louisiana Supreme Court

October 19, 2004

On Wednesday, October 20, 2004 at 2:00 p.m.,  a third-year Tulane student lawyer will argue a Tulane Criminal Law Clinic case before the Louisiana Supreme Court.  Candis Mitchell, a 3L, and Brandy Sheely, an ’04 graduate who worked on the case while a student last year, will argue the case of State v. Denson.

At issue  is the constitutionality of La.C.Cr.P. 648(B)(2).  That statute applies to criminal defendants who (a) are permanently incompetent to stand trial; and, (b) do not pose a danger to themselves or others.  The law places those defendants on probation for a period of a time that may extend up to the maximum punishment that could have been imposed on a competent defendant who was found guilty of the underlying crime.

In the trial court, the Tulane Criminal Clinic filed a habeas petition, arguing
principally that probation under the statute is an unconstitutional imposition of punishment upon a person who has not been convicted (and will never be convicted) of any crime.  Ms. Denson, a Criminal Clinic Client,  spent three years on probation and approximately two years in the general population of a women’s prison, because there was no room for her in  an appropriate psychiatric facility.  The trial court agreed with the Tulane students and found the statute facially unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court will review that decision. 

The case is an example of the intradisciplinary nature of the work performed in Tulane's legal clinics.  Students in the Legislation Clinic are drafting a proposal for legislation that would meet the needs of people like Ms. Denson.  And, the Civil Clinic is evaluating the viability of a lawsuit challenging the State’s practice of using jails to house mentally ill people when the State Forensic Hospital is full.


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