Students in Columbia Law School’s Mass Incarceration Clinic recently gained a favorable ruling for Scott T. Lewis, who was convicted of a double murder in 1995 but has maintained his innocence. Under the guidance of Professor Brett Dignam, a team of eight students working on behalf of Lewis presented testimony and examined witnesses during a two-week federal hearing. As a result of their efforts, Judge Charles S. Haight of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York determined that Lewis had been denied his constitutional right to a fair trial.
When Lewis was convicted, he was sentenced to 120 years in prison. For 14 years, he represented himself in post-conviction proceedings in an effort to prove he was framed. Dignam began assisting Lewis in 2009, arguing that his rights were violated through the suppression of exculpatory evidence. That work led to Haight’s most recent ruling, which mandated Lewis be freed within 60 days unless the state of Connecticut decided to retry him. Lewis has since been released from prison pending the state’s appeal of that decision.
In recent years, more than 40 students in the Mass Incarceration Clinic have worked on the case and, through the experience, have learned the principles of client-centered lawyering. “Achieving an order that vindicated their client’s constitutional rights was the finest form of victory,” Dignam said.