When it comes to areas of the law, criminal law often takes a lot of the spotlight. What the public understands though, only scratches the surface of the depth of the subject. At Georgia State College of Law, dedicated faculty and a variety of both foundational and specialized courses encourage students to explore those depths further.
“Criminal justice is a fundamental issue of importance to our nation and our equality as citizens, and people need to be aware of the law, especially lawyers,” said Professor of Law Russell Covey. “Even lawyers who do not practice in the area need to be aware of what the law is so they can speak in an educated way about the issues that are central to our democracy.”
To ensure Georgia State Law students are prepared, 1L students are required to take Criminal Law. Many students, regardless of the area of law they’re interested in, will follow up with a Criminal Procedure course.
Along with Covey, full-time faculty members such as Bill Edmundson, Caren Morrison, Nirej Sekhon, and Jessica Cino teach a variety of upper-level criminal law electives. If students are passionate about criminal law, courses such as Wrongful Convictions, Sentencing Law, and Comparative Criminal Law are available to them.
“There are so many courses that cover all the niche areas that you can get into,” said Evan Hansinger, president of the Criminal Law Society student organization. “I think that really allows you to develop what your interests are and determine if you’re more prosecutor-minded or more defense-minded. There are options out there for you to reel in on those things.”
Beyond classes, the opportunity for practical training makes the largest impact on a student pursuing a career in criminal law. With the College of Law in downtown Atlanta, students have access to several counties’ district attorney and public defender offices where they can get hands-on experience through externships.
“It gives students the opportunity to sit second chair in serious felony cases and sometimes even murder trials,” said Covey. “They’re arguing bail motions in court, they’re putting together briefs, they’re very active in terms of what they do, and they get tremendous, real world experiences as a result.”
Being close to these resources also allows for interaction in other ways, such as getting involved in the Criminal Law Society. The organization has continued to be active through the pandemic, hosting virtual events and panels with prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. In the fall, the Criminal Law Society brought in an agent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a state legislator on the public safety commission for the State of Georgia to talk about use of force investigations.
“In light of the things that were going on in society over the summer and the Black Lives Matter movement, we felt that the Criminal Law Society is in great position to bring some education on what exactly a use of force investigation looks like and brought in people who had had a really active role in that,” Hansinger said.
While these programs help sharpen the legal skills of aspiring prosecutors and defense attorneys, non-criminal lawyers also benefit.
“Especially in the society that we live in, you hear about arrests and people getting their car searched, so having that knowledge is just really useful for every lawyer,” Hansinger said. “It’s something that you will likely come into contact with at some point in your career, regardless what area of law you specialize in.”
Written by Mara Thompson