Stetson students see justice in action as innocent man is freed after 37 years in prison
“The work toward justice is many times a long road, but the rewards renew us all! This is why I love clinical education,” said Christine Cerniglia, professor and director of Director of Clinical and Experiential Education.
Cerniglia was celebrating a multi-pronged accomplishment – one that involved many years and many players but ultimately forever changed the life of one man, Robert Duboise. After being incarcerated for 37 years, he was exonerated when newly discovered DNA evidence thought to be lost revealed his innocence in a 1983 Tampa rape and murder.
Duboise’ release was accomplished through The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office’s (Hillsborough County, Fla.) Conviction Review Unit (CRU). Attorneys for the CRU worked with Stetson law externs to review the prior conviction and evidence, which helped secure Duboise’s release from prison on Aug. 27, 2020.
The Conviction Review Unit is one of Stetson Law’s externship placements where students have been contributing for almost two years, and 3L Wilma Metcalf had the opportunity to work on Duboise’s case. She was tasked with researching and summarizing the use of bite mark evidence (that’s what was primarily used to convict Duboise) and why it has ultimately been discredited as unreliable.
“It felt really, really good to be part of something that big,” Metcalf said.
Teresa Hall, the supervising attorney for the Conviction Review Unit, is the externship supervisor for students. Hall also serves as adjunct clinic professor for Stetson’s Tampa Prosecution Clinic. Cerniglia said she is the true force of energy in the partnership with Stetson.
“The students always speak so highly of Teresa and the incredible mentoring received in the field,” Cerniglia said. “She makes them see the law differently and how important lawyers are to protect justice in the criminal system.”
Hall insists the law students are an integral part of the work at the Conviction Review Unit.
“We are so proud of the work that we have done and the partnership with your clinics and having externs participate in the system,” Hall said.
It’s a win-win collaboration, Hall explained, because students bring fresh eyes to complex criminal prosecutions and provide a new and different perspective. Students, meanwhile, gain knowledge about criminal trial work from both the prosecution and defense perspective, as well as contacts with individuals throughout the area, including trial attorneys, community leaders and future employers.
“Twenty years ago, I began my work in prosecution by being a certified legal intern with the law school I attended in Indianapolis,” Hall said. “This is where my fulfilling career began, and it helped make me the trial attorney I am today. I urge all law students to participate in the clinical experience. It is invaluable.”
Of course, the individuals who benefit most from these partnerships are those, like Duboise, who regain their freedom after years of wrongful incarceration.
“I am grateful to be here, now with a chance to move forward, but I know there are more innocent people like me still behind bars,” DuBoise told members of The Innocence Project.
About Stetson Law
Stetson Law is known for its clinical and experiential education programs designed to enhance classroom-based learning and give students opportunities to gain valuable, real-world experience. These experiences allow students to observe and participate in the application of substantive law and find solutions to problems that confront attorneys daily. Learn more on our website: https://www.stetson.edu/law/academics/clinical-education/.
Post date: Aug. 28, 2020
Media contact: Kate Bradshaw
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