Though it’s a small organization run by only four law students, the Criminal Justice Education Project hosts events for anyone looking to learn the ins and outs of criminal justice.
Wendy Hess, advisor to group, said the organization began as a part of the Innocence Project, an organization which works to acquit individuals wrongly convicted of crimes.
Eventually, the innocence work had to stop because the university didn’t have the staffing to sustain it, Hess said, so the group switched to providing education about the criminal justice system and its processes.
The group has held events concerning a range of topics over the years, Hess said. She said the project is interesting because as the leaders of the group change, the particular aspects of criminal justice the group chooses to focus on change as well.
“We’ve had presentations on charging juveniles as adults, on forensic evidence, on eyewitness testimony and psychology in the law,” Hess said. “My favorite presentation (was when) they brought in a drug-sniffing dog, and it was fun to watch and talk to them about both how they train them and a little bit about the law.”
Tierney Scoblic, president of the organization, said the project is a good way to expose students to criminal law and help them decide if it’s a career they would like to pursue. In addition, the project provides networking opportunities for law students, both to meet other students and potential employers.
“You can connect with other individuals who will probably be your colleagues later down the road, and it also can expose you to other professionals in the system,” Scoblic said. “It’s really important for young lawyers to have mentors, and so it’s a good way to find an older attorney who can help you once you’re getting into the system for the first time.”
Many of the law students involved in the project are going to practice criminal law, Hess said, so it’s important for the project to bring awareness to certain criminal justice issues. She said even outside the law school, however, it’s important for people to understand these issues, especially with an increase in protests over the last several months.
Scoblic said people find criminal law very interesting, so the organization’s events tend to attract lots of students from outside the law school, and even some law students who aren’t studying criminal justice.
Typically, the organization only does one major event per semester, Scoblic said, because the students in charge are busy with their law studies. This semester, the organization is hosting a Q&A session with Sioux Falls attorney Jeff Larson on the death penalty.
“The death penalty is a really good topic to educate people on who maybe don’t know about the pros and cons or how much it costs,” Scoblic said. “I have a lot of questions lined up for him about the death penalty in general, but then also what it’s like in our state specifically.”
Scoblic said another focus of the event will be on attorney-client relationships and how attorneys are expected to build relationships with clients who are potentially looking at receiving death sentences.
So far, the group hasn’t made definite plans for the spring semester, but Scoblic said some members of the law school have begun collaborating with the Innocence Project of Minnesota, so the group might look into getting involved with that organization.
Hess said the organization may also hold events concerning the Black Lives Matter movement and police shootings, though nothing has been planned as of yet.
The group’s Q&A session with Jeff Larson will take place Thursday, Oct. 15 from 5-7 p.m. on Zoom. Those interested in attending may email Scoblic at Tierney.Scoblic@coyotes.usd.edu for the link.