Memphis Law School’s Spring Break with Gideon

Posted on April 1, 2014


By Sarah Smith

Screen_Shot_2014-04-02_at_2_19_37_PMLast year, this country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, establishing the right to counsel in criminal cases for indigent clients. This March, over 70 students from law schools across the country participated in a week of pro bono legal services, hosted by the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law’s Alternative Spring Break. These students volunteered with an eye towards justice and equal representation promoting a “Civil Right to Counsel: Gideon’s New Trumpet,” a nationwide push for a right to counsel for indigent clients in civil cases.

Working under the Shelby County Public Defender, the Criminal Defense track worked to restore rights of citizenship to eight ex-offenders in Shelby County. Navigating the bureaucracy can be difficult for a citizen wishing to reinstate their right to vote, one of many civil rights taken away from a citizen when convicted of a felony in Tennessee. Working under attorney Chris Martin with the Public Defender’s Office, students from New York, South Dakota, Florida, and Tennessee worked through the process of Restoration of Citizenship for ex-offenders, one of many community outreach programs originating from the Public Defender’s office to ease the process of re-entry and restore rights post-incarceration. Ex-offenders in Memphis encounter a number of problems re-entering society, including limitations on securing jobs, housing, public assistance, and rights of citizenship that increase the cycle of recidivism as there are few methods for expunging a felony record.

The small steps taken with the Restoration of Citizenship project, as well as the other projects taken on by the six other tracks through Memphis Law’s Alternative Spring Break, highlight legal issues affecting Memphis currently. Among the pro bono projects were assisting in completing applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) through the Immigration Track, as well as the Elder Law track working with elderly individuals on Advance Directives on end-of-life decisions. Law students from across the country were able to assist dozens of clients in Memphis in various legal matters who would be unable to access counsel, promoting a “Civil Gideon,” the right to civil counsel in matters relating to individual rights.

For more information about the Shelby County Public Defender visit
For more information about Memphis Law’s Alternative Spring Break visit

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Sarah Smith is a first year law student at Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

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