I didn’t think my first cross examination would happen before my 1L Fall exams.
On a brisk December morning, I and my 3L supervisor drove the almost 40 miles to the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center to defend our client, an inmate, at his disciplinary hearing on behalf of Harvard’s Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP). We practiced for much of the car ride, going over the Department of Correction’s evidence and our possible lines of argument. We edited and tinkered with my closing argument so much that by the time we arrived, the paper it was written on was a maze of cross-outs, scribbles, and underlines.
And then, six weeks before I first stepped foot in Criminal Law class, I walked into prison.
There are few things as humbling as having your client sit in shackles beside you even as you argue his case. At Souza-Baranowski, prisoners have even their hands shackled, loosened just enough so that they can sign documents. In a small visiting room, I, my supervisor, our client, the prison’s disciplinary officer (who can function as a prosecutor), and the judge-like hearing officer sat closely together. The hearing officer, himself an employee and former guard with the Department of Correction, started his tape recorder and we were off.
A hearing is a very fast, somewhat intense procedure. The hearing officer ran down the list of charges and asked our client for a plea to each of them: not guilty was his to response to all charges. Then the disciplinary officer summoned in a guard as a witness, asked him a few basic questions and turned him over to me.
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