Duquesne Law Clinic Wins Case in U.S. Court of Appeals

Duquesne University's Clinical Legal Education Program celebrated an important victory Aug. 9 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a precedential opinion affirming the grant of habeas relief to a client of the program, James Washington. A fourth-year evening student, Charles P. Sapienza, III, argued the case in the Pittsburgh federal courthouse on May 15.

"We were fortunate that the case had substantial constitutional issues and that the law was on our side," said Sapienza of the win.

Sapienza is part of the School of Law's Federal Practice Clinic, in which students work with supervising attorneys to provide legal representation to inmates and the underserved with appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and civil cases pending in the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania.

As a footnote to its opinion, the Third Circuit thanked the Duquesne University Federal Practice Clinic for "ably" representing Washington in the appeal.

In the case, Washington v. Secretary, PA Department of Corrections; District Attorney of the County of Philadelphia; Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania, Appeal No. 12-2883, Washington filed a petition for habeas corpus challenging his state murder conviction on the ground that the trial court had violated his constitutional rights. Specifically, Washington argued that the trial court had violated his right to cross-examine a co-defendant with respect to a redacted (partially erased) version of the co-defendant's prior statement to police. The Court of Appeals held that the statement so obviously referred to defendant Washington that the use of the redacted statement violated Washington's Confrontation Clause rights under the Supreme Court's prior decision in Bruton v. U.S. 391 U.S. 123 (1968).

Associate Law Professor Laurie B. Serafino directs the Clinical Legal Education Program, and Assistant Professor Tracey McCants Lewis serves as assistant director.

"Programs such as our Federal Practice Clinic provide students with training to prepare them to be practice-ready the day they pass the bar examination," said Serafino. "In fact, the American Bar Association is currently debating whether to require law students across the country to complete six-credit clinical or externship programs before they graduate. The proof is right here at Duquesne. I am extremely proud of Mr. Sapienza for his tremendous accomplishment."

Sapienza, who is completing his law studies in Duquesne School of Law's evening program, works for Woomer & Hall LLP, a law firm in Pittsburgh's South Hills. This fall, he will serve as the Federal Practice Clinic's student manager. Sapienza is a resident of Shenango Township in New Castle, Pa.

Duquesne Adjunct Law Professors Adrian N. Roe and Samuel H. Simon supervise the Federal Practice Clinic.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.