Building confidence through the Criminal Prosecution Clinic: Thomas (T.C.) Penland, L’15

As an aspiring prosecutor, the Criminal Prosecution Clinic was one of the factors that drew T.C. Penland to KU Law.

Thomas Penland, L'15

Thomas Penland, L’15

“I knew about the clinic through the admissions process,” Penland said. “That was one of the things that pushed me toward KU. I went in with full expectation of participating in the clinic.”

The Criminal Prosecution Clinic has two components: a weekly class taught by clinic director Professor Suzanne Valdez, and an internship. Weekly sessions cover topics pertinent to criminal prosecution, from confidentiality to conflicts of interest.

Penland calls the internship the “heart of the clinic.” Valdez pairs each student with a city or county district attorney’s office. Students appear in court and handle proceedings. “I was doing everything in front of a judge short of an actual jury trial,” Penland said.

While many legal internships focus on developing research and writing skills, the Criminal Prosecution Clinic offers courtroom experience as well. “You’re writing responses to motions, researching the law, learning how to write in a persuasive, competent manner,” Penland said. “Criminal prosecution gives you the opportunity to get in front of a judge and develop your oral skills.”

Penland recalls one case involving three armed men who stormed a convenience store and brutally assaulted an off-duty law enforcement officer. Penland sifted through the defendants’ phone calls, searching for incriminating evidence to build a case against the men.

Another case involved a man who took explicit photos of his mentally handicapped 14-year-old stepdaughter. The defendant argued that the photos were obtained unlawfully and could not be used against him. Penland wrote a response to the defendant’s motion to suppress the photos, and the judge ruled in his favor. “Without the pictures, there was no case,” Penland said. “I felt a lot of satisfaction from prevailing.”

Penland looks forward to applying the skills he learned to his future career as a prosecutor. “The clinic has given me confidence in my legal research and writing and developed my oral argumentation skills,” he said. “I don’t have a fear of researching, writing or stepping into the courtroom and presenting a case to a judge. That’s a big advantage I’m glad I have.”

Learn more about KU Law clinics