MSU College of Law

Plea & Sentencing Clinic

Plea cases comprise the vast majority of convictions and sentences in the criminal system. Integrity in this process is critical to a criminal justice system that operates fairly.

The Plea & Sentencing Clinic collaborates with the plea unit of the State Appellate Defender Office, which represents indigent criminal defendants on appeal.

Students provide legal assistance to inmates within county jails or the Michigan Department of Corrections. We work with inmates to provide information about their appellate risks and options. Our students investigate case facts and draft motions, briefs, and legal memoranda for court filing. Students are often included in court hearings.

Our students’ work ranges from preparing a plea unit pleading to presenting a formal oral argument. Students work independently on their own cases under the close supervision of clinic faculty. They receive feedback and develop practical lawyering skills in problem solving, law office management, and client representation.

Nearly all students are able to argue in court at least once during the clinic experience and participate in significant interaction with clients.

Plea & Sentencing Clinic students can:

  • Provide legal assistance to indigent inmates
  • Investigate case facts
  • Draft motions, briefs, and legal memoranda for court filing
  • Represent a client in court

During my time in the Plea & Sentencing Clinic, I presented an oral argument on behalf of an indigent criminal client in circuit court. A brief that I wrote on behalf of a client in the Plea & Sentencing Clinic was granted leave by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Jeanette Lugo, ’15

A big part of what the students do is to educate the client on how the system works. Sometimes when cases come up on appeal, the client does not understand what happened on the trial court level.

Christopher Smith, director

Our clients are inmates within county jails or the Michigan Department of Corrections. Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to legal counsel, and we represent criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. The clinic accepts only those appeals which have been assigned to the State Appellate Defender Office by a Michigan circuit court.