Criminal Justice Fieldwork and Law Reform

This Course is Not Scheduled to be Taught During the Current Academic Year

Clark D. Cunningham
W. Lee Burge Professor of Law & Ethics
Office: Law School 442
Phone: (404) 413-9168
Fax: (404) 413-9225
Faculty Assistant: Karen P. Butler
    Room 402   (404) 413-9082 kpbutler@gsu.ed

Law 7170/85425
Fall Semester 2006

Web Site Address:

Tues, Thurs: 9:00 - 11:00 Room 653

Copyright 2006
Last updated: September 5, 2013

--web version
--download as Word document


-- Fieldwork Report

-- Final Report

Judicial Qualifications Commission

Public Defender Standards Council

Georgia Justice Project

Student Evaluations (Fall 2005)

Courtroom 302 and Steve Bogira

Colorado Interpreter Project

Indigent Defense Act (municipal court provisions)

Atlanta Municipal Court
- Judges' Schedule (pdf)

Articles about the course

Course Description

In this course students will learn about the criminal justice system as it actually operates in metropolitan Atlanta and develop a law reform proposal about a specific aspect of that system. The course will use a wide variety of teaching methods including assigned readings drawn from both legal scholarship and social science research, classroom lectures and discussions, and group fieldwork at locations such as police stations, jails and courthouses. Each student will select some aspect of the criminal justice system for independent research out of which will develop a written project proposing improvement or reform. The project must demonstrate mastery of applicable substantive criminal law and procedure and application of that knowledge to data gathered through the student’s own fieldwork. Examples of fieldwork would be carefully documented court-watching, analysis of data collected from public records, and interviews of relevant participants in the criminal justice system.

In Fall 2005, the first time this course was taught, students developed projects in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties and the City of Atlanta. Karen Hamilton studied the expanded use of a “fast track docket” for criminal cases in Gwinnett County and Jason Hammer worked on methods to evaluate whether procedures instituted by the new DeKalb County Solicitor in domestic violence cases were achieving the intended results. Hemanth Digumarthi monitored traffic and misdemeanor cases handled by the DeKalb County Recorder’s Court, with particular attention to the right to counsel. Andrew Lynch chose the Georgia Justice Project as his fieldwork site and worked with their staff to evaluate the benefits of their employment program for the criminal defendants they represent. All the other students — David Boy, Christopher Bracci, David Haskin, Giorgi Liluashvili, Juanita Twiggs, and Jeanette Wasdin – decided to work as a team to do courtroom monitoring and analyze case data at the Atlanta Municipal Court. David Boy focused on the right to an interpreter for defendants with limited or no English proficiency. Juanita Twiggs investigated whether the right to a probable cause hearing within 48 hours of a warrantless arrest was being honored. The rest of the team monitored the right to counsel; one team member, Jeanette Wasdin, discovered that hearings were being held in a jailhouse courtroom from which the public were excluded. Her successful efforts to open that courtroom to the public are reported in the “Articles about the course” section of this web site. At the end of the semester this team presented their findings at a special meeting with officials of the City of Atlanta including the City Attorney, the Solicitor General, the Chief Judge of Municipal Court, and the Court Administrator.

Professor Cunningham has extensive experience as both a practicing attorney and as an academic expert on the criminal justice system. He directs the GSU Criminal Justice Clinic (not offered in 2006-7) and previously directed the Criminal Justice Clinic at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. His analysis of ambiguity in the federal sentencing laws in the Yale Law Journal was cited and followed by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Granderson, 511 U.S. 39 (1994) and the analysis in his article Using Common Sense was adopted by the defendant in his successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Bailey v. U.S., 516 U.S. 137 (1995). He was honored by the City of St. Louis for his work as a special prosecutor in litigation to close down properties used for drug trafficking. He was appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court to serve as Co-Reporter for the Chief Justice's Commission on Indigent Defense and currently serves on the Fulton County Criminal Justice Blue Ribbon Commission.

Prerequisites. This course is open to all 2L and 3L students. No specific courses are required as prerequisites although preference may be given to students who have taken courses related to the criminal justice system or have relevant externship or clinic experience. Enrollment is limited and by permission of Professor Cunningham. Students must submit an application (click here to download application) and accepted students must sign a course contract. Applications are due Wednesday, April 19 (deadline extended from April 12).

Grading: The course grade will be based on class participation (20%), the fieldwork report (30%) and the final project (50%).

Required Materials :


1) Malcolm M. Feeley, THE PROCESS IS THE PUNISHMENT (Russell Sage Foundation 1992 paperback edition) ISBN 0-87154-255-2

2) Steve Bogira, COURTROOM 302 (Alfred A. Knopf 2005) ISBN 0-679-43252-3 (hardback)

Other: All other readings will be distributed in class or through the course web site.