In 2010, clinic client Steven Lazar of Philadelphia, PA, was sentenced to life in prison after having been convicted of second-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and a weapons offense.
Our Post-Conviction Relief Clinical Practicum agreed to take his case, alongside public interest law firm Philips Black. Clinic students Nico DeLong, JD ‘22, and Shelby Rees, JD ‘23, assisted with analyzing prosecutor and forensic files, conducting legal research into complex statutory and procedural issues, and cite-checking lengthy federal pleadings. Their diligent analysis revealed that the prosecution had hidden evidence about alternate suspects, overtly misleading the courts for over a decade.
In March of this year, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania overturned Mr. Lazar’s conviction, after finding that the Commonwealth of Philadelphia had hidden evidence and committed fraud upon the court. He was exonerated and released from prison on March 23, 2023 after spending 15 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
In the many years spent wrongfully behind bars, Mr. Lazar did not incur a single disciplinary infraction. His dedication to proving his innocence led him to the prison’s law library, where he was employed for over a decade.
He pursued college courses through Pittsburgh and West Virginia Universities while incarcerated and recently joined Philips Black as a legal apprentice, helping their team advocate for other wrongfully-convicted individuals.
The Post-Conviction Relief Clinical Practicum is just one of our 19 acclaimed legal clinics and externships. Through the program, we provide quality pro bono legal representation to clients who cannot otherwise afford it. Launched in 1973, we are proud to celebrate the program’s 50th anniversary this year.