Criminal Appeals Clinic Gets 11th Case Reversal, Students Benefit

For Ben Rowley, a 2012 graduate of the Ole Miss law school, the best way to learn the law is through practical experience.

“My first 4 months or so on the job have confirmed what I discovered about myself in the [criminal appeals] clinic: I learn by doing.”

Rowley is one of several students to have achieved a real case reversal while working in the Criminal Appeals Clinic, which offers third-year students practical experience in criminal law and procedure.

The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Donald Mitchell v. State case, marking the 11th for the clinic, a rate of 14% since taking on 78 cases since 2002.  The average reversal rate in Mississippi is around 4%.

“This reversal signifies the continued great work of our Criminal Appeals Clinic and the quality of students we have here at UM law,” said Matthew Hall, associate dean for academic affairs.  “The fact that they’ve achieved this many case reversals in a 10 year period is very impressive.”

Under the tutelage of Professor Phil Broadhead, director of the Criminal Appeals Clinic, Rowley worked with fellow UM law student Rebecca Wright to brief the Donald Mitchell v. State case.  It was reversed on grounds that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Mitchell’s prior convictions for possession of marijuana and cocaine in violation of Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b).

“We received the trial transcript at the beginning of the semester,” Rowley said. “We immediately began pouring over it and dissecting it to determine the issues that we would argue in our brief.  Rebecca, Professor Broadhead and I decided to brief 3 issues: a 404(b) evidence issue involving use of prior convictions, a Crawford issue regarding the failure to disclose the identity of a confidential informant and whether Donald Mitchell was properly sentenced as a habitual offender.”
Clinic students work hard during the regular semester, usually around 10-12 hours per week on top of class and schoolwork.

“We worked long hours to make sure that we had thoroughly and effectively argued each point,” Rowley said.

“I’m glad that our work paid off for Donald Mitchell.”

The clinic is one of seven at the School of Law.  In the Criminal Appeals Clinic, students are admitted to the limited practice of law under the supervision of a licensed, practicing attorney who is experienced in clinical instruction. They represent indigent persons as counsel of record in Mississippi appellate courts.

“We want to teach these students collaboration and interpersonal skills,” Broadhead said.  “They get to act as the client’s lawyer and learn how to take theory and doctrinal work and use real-world analysis to problem solve for clients.”

“Working in the Clinic, and specifically on this case, bolstered my confidence in my ability to effectively handle complicated criminal cases. It also better prepared me to handle these types of cases in my practice.”

Rowley is now working for the Honea Law Firm, PLLC, a general practice firm in McComb, Miss. He practices family law, bankruptcy, criminal defense and personal injury work.