Student Law Office

Criminal Defense Clinic

Robin Walker Sterling Criminal Defense Clinic Video Link

Course Description

Students enrolled in the Criminal Defense Clinic of the Student Law Office (SLO) represent low-income clients charged with misdemeanors and municipal ordinance violations including assault, disturbing the peace, and shoplifting. Students appear in court at arraignments, pretrial conferences, motions hearings, trials, and sentencing hearings. Students learn and apply lawyering skills such as interviewing and counseling, fact investigation, legal research and writing, oral advocacy, negotiation, as well as courtroom skills. Extensive preparation and close supervision means these lawyering skills will be learned and applied in a framework of professional ethics and values.

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I had no courtroom experience and was still deciding if criminal defense work was right for me. The work load was tremendous, the learning curve was steep (I had no clue how to even serve a subpoena), and the emotional investment I made in each of my clients kept me awake many nights as I worried about their future. However, knowing my professors worked just as hard as I was working, and gave me all of the support I could want, got me through that first semester (which included a bench trial and a suppression hearing).

Amelia Power, JD’15

The Criminal Defense Clinic offers you the opportunity to integrate professional ethics and values, legal theory, and practice by representing indigent clients charged with crimes. You will learn the lawyering skills necessary to defend a criminal case, including client interviewing, client counseling, negotiation, development of a case theory and discovery plan, issue spotting, researching and drafting various motions, fact investigation, and trial skills. The laboratory for learning will be the classroom, supervision sessions with faculty, and Colorado’s jails and courtrooms. You will learn how to work with clients who face a variety of legal, social and economic problems and you will learn the resources that are (or are not) available. Because rules of criminal procedure are closely linked to constitutional rights, many students will be presented with the opportunity to litigate constitutional issues and questions of the remedies available for constitutional violations.


The SLO offers students more than just exposure to a branch of law in preparation for a legal career; it is an opportunity to be a lawyer and work within a law firm under the guidance of experienced attorneys.


Course Requirements

Criminal Defense students meet twice weekly in 100-minute seminar classes . In addition, students will be required to attend a two-to-three-week orientation. The orientation will consist of at least two full days of classes, followed by simulations and classes that will be arranged around clinic participants’ schedules. Students should expect to meet at least once daily as a class, and to engage in significant out-of-class work as well during this orientation period. The purpose of the orientation is to introduce students to the substantive, procedural, and ethical aspects of the criminal clinic curriculum, and to familiarize students with SLO procedures and the PracticeMaster case management system. Because ethical considerations require that all supervisors must have assurance of your competence and familiarity with the office before assigning any cases to you, attendance at orientation is mandatory.

As student attorneys, you will be required to abide by the professional responsibility rules that govern all practicing lawyers. Given the intensive time commitment of the clinic and the potential for ethical conflicts of interest, CDO students may not take on an internship, externship or any other experiential advantage course, including practicums, labs, unless given explicit authorization to do so. If you are employed (particularly in a legal environment) while enrolled in the clinic, you will be required to disclose the name of your employer and will need to take appropriate steps to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest between your employer and the clinic.


In the Spring 2015 semester, the Criminal Defense Clinic was offered as an “immersion” semester, in which students received 15 credits and devoted their attention entirely to the CDC. Afterward, the students reflected:

The CDC Immersion Semester has been the ideal experience for students who wish to work in criminal law. It has empowered us to take control of our legal education and use it to help those in need. Through it, we have learned many skills of the legal profession and gained the confidence to effectively apply them. We were given practical experience that allowed us to be student attorneys, as opposed to being law students and student attorneys. Absent distractions of other academics and finals, we were better able to work with co-counsel(s) and investigator(s) to focus on our clients needs.

Time & Credits

The Criminal Defense Clinic requires a substantial time commitment. The clinic is very intensive and you should expect to spend at least 25 hours per week working on client-related matters. This time commitment will vary somewhat with the ebb and flow of litigation, and you may be required to devote considerable additional time. In addition to the time spent serving your clients, you should expect to spend 2 1/2 hours each week in class and at least 2 1/2 hours each week performing class related work, preparation, supervision meetings with faculty, and other clinic assignments.

Cases may carry over to the following semesters and students will still be responsible for them; however, no additional credit hours will be given. Also, students do not receive their final grade until all of their cases are properly transferred or closed.

Students will earn 9 credits; three are in-class credits; six are out-of-class credits.


Apply for Representation

The Criminal Defense Clinic accepts misdemeanor and municipal ordinance violation cases from around the Denver metropolitan area. If you are facing a current charge that is a misdemeanor or municipal ordinance violation, a student attorney from the Criminal Defense Clinic may be able to represent you. Please complete a Criminal Screening Form and submit here. NOTE: The completion of a Criminal Screening Form does not guarantee representation by the Student Law Office. Your personal information will not be shared or distributed without your explicit permission. Thank you for your interest in the Student Law Office and the Criminal Defense Clinic. We look forward to speaking to you.

Sturm College of Law
University of Denver
2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208