The Federal Criminal Sentencing Advocacy Clinic teaches students advocacy skills focused on the sentencing phase of an indigent federal defendant’s case and gives students a unique opportunity to practice in federal court.

In federal criminal defense practice, one of the most significant opportunities for advocacy is at the sentencing phase of the case. The clinic seminar will teach students about federal sentencing law, procedure, and sentencing guidelines, as well as advocacy strategies and client-centered counseling.  Clinic students will work directly with clients to advocate on their behalf throughout the sentencing phase of felony cases. Students may draft and file objections to presentence reports and sentencing guideline calculations and will draft sentencing motions in advance of sentencing hearings in federal court. As time and available cases allow, students will also learn about and engage in advocacy related to post-sentence probation/supervised release violation hearings.

Additionally, many federal inmates are serving sentences in excess of what they would receive for the same offense today, not because they are “innocent” of the offense of conviction, but due to guideline errors in the original case, changes in law that were not made retroactive, and/or evolving community standards. Others have significant health issues that make their continued incarceration unjust. And, even after serving their term of incarceration, many people face many more years of community supervision that severely and unnecessarily restrict their liberty.  Students will learn about available mechanisms to reduce these custodial and noncustodial sentences. As time and available cases allow, students may also work directly with clients to file post-sentencing motions in federal district courts to reduce both the custodial and noncustodial (community supervision) portions of a client’s sentence, including sentence reduction motions and motions for early termination of supervision.

Both second-year and third-year students are eligible to enroll, but students must be 3Ls in good standing, meet third-year practice guidelines and have a third year practice certificate in order to argue in court. The only prerequisite is Criminal Procedure, which may be taken at the same time. This clinic will likely require students travel to jails and/or federal courts within the Western District of Virginia with an attorney to meet with clients and attend court hearings. 

Students interested in this clinic must rank the clinic in the clinic lottery within the timeline set by the Student Records Office. Students selected for the clinic through the clinic lottery process will be automatically enrolled prior to the regular course lottery.

The positions that the clinic takes on behalf of its clients are independent of the views of the University of Virginia or the School of Law.

Skills Taught
Advocacy related to federal sentencing law, procedure and sentencing guidelines; client-centered interviewing; writing and filing persuasive sentencing memoranda in federal district courts
Course Credits