Recently elected to The Fellows of the American Bar Association in recognition of his service to the profession, Laurence Benner has been an active participant, educator and consultant in the criminal justice arena for over four decades. His scholarship has been cited in the United States Supreme Court as well as leading criminal justice textbooks and treatises on criminal procedure. Excerpts from his critique of the law on confessions, entitled “Requiem for Miranda” and his empirical research on search warrants have been relied upon by both courts and scholars. The Other Face of Justice, which he co-authored, was nationally recognized as a basic resource for improving criminal defense representation for the indigent accused.
A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Professor Benner joined the law faculty of California Western School of Law following a distinguished career as a trial and appellate advocate. He was National Director of Defender services for the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, was Director & Chief Trial Counsel of the Office of the Defender in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and taught as a Clinician at the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic. He also served in the South Pacific as Chief Legal Counsel to the Ombudsman Commission of Papua New Guinea, a constitutional office established to protect human rights.
Professor Benner is a past member of the Board of Directors of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and currently serves on the President’s Council. As Co-Chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Defense Function Committee, he drafted several ABA Resolutions approved by the House of Delegates on Habeas Reform and Indigent Defense. He is also a member of the Criminal Justice Section’s Book Board, the ABA Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, Scribes, the Law & Society Program Advisory Committee of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Club.
He served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Justice Department’s National Study Commission on Criminal Defense Services, which promulgated national standards for the delivery of indigent defense services, was NLADA’s liaison to the ABA Special Committee on Criminal Justice Administration, and is a past member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of Law School’s (AALS) Litigation Section. He has been a consultant to the ACLU and numerous governmental agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, San Diego County and the Constitutional Review Commission of Papua New Guinea.
Professor Benner is Managing Director of Criminal Justice Programs at California Western School of Law, where he co-founded the Institute for Criminal Defense Advocacy, which developed the Janeen Kerper National Trial Skills Academy and the California Innocence Project. He has lectured regularly at NLADA’s Annual Conference, ‘Life in the Balance’ Death Penalty Training Conference and Advanced Appellate Defender Training Conference. He teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, and Advanced Criminal Justice, and directs the San Diego Search Warrant Project and CWSL’s Bail Project. He also has taught undergraduate courses in the Law & Society Program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and pioneered CWSL’s faculty exchange program with Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where he taught Comparative Criminal Law and Procedure
New Courses & Programs Created:
ADVANCED CRIMINAL LITIGATION: Designed this “Transition to Practice” course which bridges the gap between law school and the real world. Students are alternately assigned the role of either prosecutor or defense counsel in a series of performance exercises that involve factual investigation, bail representation, pre-trial motion practice, discovery, plea-bargaining and jury selection. Students have numerous opportunities to perfect courtroom advocacy skills in exercises that involve direct and cross-examination of actual San Diego police officers using real cases. For their final exercise student attorneys develop facts through interviews with live clients and witnesses (rather than being given a fact pattern) and investigate a real crime scene, brainstorm the theory of the case, file and litigate pre-trial motions and conduct a jury trial with actual jurors from the surrounding community. Special emphasis is given to eyewitness identification and ethical problems confronting both the prosecution and the defense.
ADVANCED PROSECUTION FUNCTION: This course, developed with Deputy District Attorney Lisa Weinreb, is the mirror image of Advanced Criminal Litigation course described above, except it focuses on the prosecution function. When both courses can be offered during the same term, the Advanced Criminal Litigation course focuses on defense practice and teams from both classes conduct their final jury trial against each other.
ADVANCED CRIMINAL JUSTICE/ BAIL PROJECT: Designed this hybrid course which combines a seminar on current cutting edge criminal justice topics with a student Bail Project. Created as a joint venture with the San Diego Public Defender Office, the Bail Project has successfully provided the indigent accused in San Diego with prompt access to legal services since 2000. Second and third-year law students are given specialized training in client interviewing, ethics, and bail representation. After obtaining security clearances and bar certification, the students go into the jail in three-hour shifts to interview recent arrestees who have not made bail, advise them of their rights, verify information essential for bail representation and problem solve concerns arising from their incarceration. Students also represent clients at arraignment and in appropriate cases seek a reduction in bail or release on the client’s own recognizance. Honored with the “Program of the Year” award by the California Public Defenders’ Association, the Bail Project not only gives students an understanding of how the criminal justice system works in practice, but also benefits both defendants and the community as bail decisions are made on the basis of reliable information.
FORENSIC EVIDENCE: Together with Gary Gibson, Training Director of the San Diego Public Defender, designed and developed this basic forensic evidence course which covers topics such as arson investigation, DNA evidence, firearms identification, gunshot residue, fingerprint identification, toxicology, serology, forensic pathology (including entomology & time of death), handwriting comparison, computer evidence, tool mark identification, voice identification, blood spatter, forensic neurology & psychiatry (including insanity and mitigation evidence relevant to sentencing) and other common types of forensic evidence such as microanalysis of hair, fiber, paint, glass and drugs. Course materials are drawn from textbooks and from material found in actual cases in which Innocence Projects have deconstructed in a clinical post mortem how counsel failed to properly challenge inaccurate or fraudulently manufactured forensic evidence. After giving students a basic grounding in the information necessary to understand the science, practical hands-on training exercises teach students how to effectively consult with experts, present their testimony on direct examination, and challenge an opponent’s expert testimony thru cross-examination. Guest appearances can include professors from UCSD’s medical school, prosecutors, defense practitioners, judges, police and sheriff’s department, Naval Investigative Service, and other forensic specialists. This class is also open to practitioners.
CYBERSPACE LAW: Designed and obtained faculty approval for CWSL’s first course to address the legal challenges presented by the internet.
INSTITUTE FOR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ADVOCACY: Designed and with former Dean Michael Dessent and Professor Janeen Kerper, obtained initial funding ($640, 000) for an institute to provide training for indigent defense providers and improve the fair administration of criminal justice. The Institute created the Janeen Kerper National Trial Skills Academy and under the leadership of Executive Director Justice Brooks subsequently developed training for Spanish speaking advocates and the California Innocent Project.
CENTER FOR THE ADVANCED STUDY OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Created a center dedicated to scholarship and empirical research concerning the criminal justice system. The center conducts the San Diego Search Warrant Project (which has resulted in two published law review articles) and is currently engaged in a third study -- a comparative analysis showing the evolution of search warrant practices in San Diego County over the past two and a half decades. The Center also publishes Occasional Papers on topics of current importance to criminal defense practitioners.
CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND DEFENSE PRACTICE CONCENTRATION: Designed and serve as managing director of CWSL’s area of concentration in criminal justice which awards a certificate of merit to those students who successfully complete the prescribed curriculum and demonstrate the requisite level of substantive knowledge and competence in the practical skills necessary to be an effective practitioner in the criminal justice arena. Students are also required to meet specific goals with respect to scholarly writing, practical writing, practical work experience and pro bono service.
PRO BONO TRAFFIC COURT CLINIC: The Traffic Court Clinic is a “live clinic” designed to give students real world courtroom and trial skills experience. Developed with Adjunct Professor Coleen Cusack, who directs the Clinic, students receive specialized training and state bar certification, and then under Professor Cusack’s direct supervision represent motorists before the San Diego County Superior Court at arraignment and trial on vehicle code violations and other infractions.