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Criminal Law

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Advising Contacts

Career Development Office Faculty


Discover

Lawyers who practice criminal law work in both government and the private sector. Prosecutors, who are government attorneys, bring criminal actions against persons accused of crime. They are found at every level of government—city, county, state, and federal—and are known by varying titles depending on the jurisdiction (e.g., “Assistant District Attorneys,” “Assistant State’s Attorneys,” “Assistant U.S. Attorneys,” “Assistant Attorneys General”). Prosecutors often serve at the pleasure of an elected official. Most prosecutors begin at the county level; only a few attorneys each year are accepted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Honors Program, which is generally the only way that new attorneys can work as a federal prosecutor. Prosecutors generally begin their careers handling misdemeanors and then work their way up to felonies. An average day for a prosecutor might involve courtroom litigation, deciding on charges to bring in a case, interviewing police officers, preparing witnesses for trial, negotiating plea agreements with defense attorneys, or covering a criminal court part. Some prosecutors only handle appeals and represent the state before appellate courts; these attorneys spend much of their time researching and writing briefs.

The vast majority of criminal defendants in the United States are unable to afford to hire an attorney to defend them.. The United States Constitution, however, guarantees indigent criminal defendants the right to appointed counsel in all felony and the vast majority of misdemeanor criminal prosecutions, both state and federal. Many State Constitutions contain a similar guarantee. Consequently, most criminal defense work in the United States is done by court-appointed counsel. Many defense attorneys work for a public defender organization that is created by state or local government to provide the indigent defense services required by the Constitution. Others work for non-profit organizations, such as the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York, or the various NYC County Defenders Offices, that have government contracts to represent indigents in criminal cases. In many jurisdictions, criminal defense lawyers who work in small private law firms or as solo practitioners are members of a panel of qualified lawyers who are appointed by the court to represent indigents on a rotating basis. Criminal defense lawyers are also found in large law firms that have white-collar criminal defense practice groups, representing corporations and businesspeople who are charged with economic crimes, usually in federal court. Many such lawyers are former federal prosecutors.

The average criminal defense attorney spends most of his or her day in court litigating clients’ cases and negotiating possible please agreements with prosecutors, or out of court, interviewing clients either in the lawyer’s office or at local jails where clients are held, investigating his clients’ cases, researching applicable law, and writing motions on behalf of clients. Some criminal defense attorneys also specialize in appellate litigation, either working for an organization that provides appellate representation for indigents or in private practice, as a member of a panel of lawyers who do criminal appeals.


Learn

Foundation Courses
All are strongly recommended and should be taken early in the upper-level years.
Advanced Courses
Advanced coursework that will build your substantive knowledge in this pathway.
Writing Courses
Coursework to hone your writing skills and develop a portfolio of practicing writing in your field.
Skills Courses
Courses that will develop your oral advocacy, ADR, and other skills necessary for practice.
  • Criminal Procedure: Adjudication
  • Criminal Procedure: Investigation
  • Evidence
  • Trial Advocacy
  • Comparative Criminal Procedure
  • Counterterrorism Law
  • Family Violence and Sexual Assault
  • Federal Criminal Law
  • Juvenile Justice
  • New York Criminal Practice
  • White Collar Crime
  • Advanced Advocacy
  • Appellate Advocacy
  • Appellate Advocacy Moot Court
  • Drafting: Federal Criminal Practice
  • Fact Writing and Persuasive Legal Documents
  • New York Criminal Practice
  • Advanced Trial Advocacy
  • Legal Research – Advanced
  • Legal Writing – Advanced
  • Negotiation (Intensive)
  • New York Legal Research

Course Descriptions


Experience

Clinics
Students who participate in a clinic are exposed to a practice area through the representation of actual clients under faculty supervision. The following clinics are relevant to this pathway:
Externships
Externships place students in a wide variety of not-for-profit, government, public interest, and private organizations and firms, where they work directly under the supervision of a practicing attorney. The external placements are bolstered by an in-school seminar in which students analyze their practical experiences and gain skills necessary for the profession. Sample placements in this pathway include:
  • Bronx County District Attorney’s Office
  • The Bronx Defenders
  • Brooklyn Defender Services
  • Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney’s Office
  • Nassau County District Attorney’s Office
  • New York City Law Department (Office of the Corporation Counsel) – Family Court Juvenile Prosecution Unit
  • New York City Police Department
  • New York County Defenders Services
  • New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney’s Office
  • New York State Attorney General’s Office (Criminal Justice Division)
  • New York State Attorney General’s Office (Medicaid Fraud Control Unit)
  • Office of Nassau County Attorney – Family Court
  • Queens County District Attorney’s Office
  • Queens Law Associates
  • Richmond County (Staten Island) District Attorney’s Office
  • Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office
  • United States Attorney’s Office – EDNY
  • United States Attorney’s Office – SDNY
Co-Curricular Activities
St. John’s boasts numerous scholarly journals and award-winning competition teams in ADR, trial advocacy, and appellate practice. The following organizations allow students to compete in these disciplines, while conferring academic credit for students who rise to leadership positions:


Network

Students should seek out connections with practitioners, alumni, and other students, both at St. John’s and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. Professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make efforts to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interests through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.

Professional Organizations

Student Organizations

  • Criminal Law Society

Suggested Path

Part-time students should spread out the suggested path below to account for their expected date of graduation.

Year Fall Spring Summer
1L
  • Required courses
  • Pro bono
  • Required courses
  • Pro bono
  • Internship at a district attorney’s office, public defender, or judge’s chambers
2L
  • Evidence
  • Electives
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic or externship in criminal law
  • Join PTAI or Moot Court
  • Join Criminal Law Society
  • Trial Advocacy
  • New York Criminal Practice
  • Electives
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic or externship in criminal law
  • Continue PTAI or Moot Court
  • Continue Criminal Law Society
  • Internship at a district attorney’s office, public defender, or judge’s chambers
3L
  • Electives
  • Complete SWR paper on a criminal law topic
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic or externship in criminal law
  • Leadership position in PTAI, Moot Court, or Criminal Law Society
  • Electives
  • Continue pro bono work
  • Clinic or externship in criminal law
  • Continue leadership position
  • Graduation
  • Bar exam

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