Clinic Students Win High-Stakes Jury Trial
Third-year students Gerard Tellier and Kristine Stoddard recently won a first-degree assault case before the Merrimack County Superior Court, freeing their client from a possible 15-year sentence.
The jury’s verdict in this case is the latest victory for UNH Law’s Criminal Practice Clinic, which allows students to represent clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies in the state’s district and superior courts.
Stoddard, a student in the advanced portion of the Criminal Practice Clinic, and Tellier, who is new to the clinic this semester, had just begun the semester when they were handed the case. It involved a man, Mark Gilchrist, accused of hitting another man with a metal police baton during an altercation. Gilchrist claimed he was simply defending himself after the other man began pushing and punching him.
“This is an amazing victory by our amazing students,” said Professor Charles Temple, director of the Criminal Practice Clinic. “I cannot begin to describe the importance of this experience for Kristine and Jerry. Our client is staying with his son and his pregnant wife and keeping his job because of the countless hours they devoted to his defense both outside and inside of the courtroom.”
Temple worked side-by-side with the students on the case, which was the highest level of felony crime ever tried by clinic students before a jury. Another student, 3L Ryan Conrad, had previously drafted an extensive notice of self-defense, and Temple, Stoddard and Tellier built upon his work.
During the three intense weeks before the trial, Stoddard and Tellier spent an estimated 100 hours working on the case.
“It seemed like every moment we weren’t in class, we were in the clinic, or at home going over everything,” Tellier said. The three took responsibility for different aspects of the case: Stoddard and Tellier selected the jury, Tellier argued the motion to dismiss the indictment, Stoddard gave the opening statement, the three each performed cross-examinations, and Temple executed the closing argument.
Temple, however, gives the lion’s share of credit to the students. “They did the guts of that trial,” he said. “That’s an experience most lawyers don’t think anyone gets in law school.” To that end, he notes, the Criminal Practice Clinic has participated in five jury trials in the past year.
For Stoddard and Tellier, participating in a jury trial allowed them to take their classroom knowledge and apply it in a real-world situation.
“It’s two different worlds, and it brought me back to how I felt about law school before I came here,” Tellier said. “Now this is on my resume: I did a felony jury trial. That’s real-world experience, that’s work experience. I have a lot of friends in law school, and they don’t have the same clinic experiences, externship opportunities that we have at UNH Law.”
Stoddard, who came into law school thinking she’d follow in her father’s footsteps and become a prosecutor, has had a change of heart since working with Temple: She now wants go into defense. As for the trial, she says, “I think this is my best experience in law school. It was great working as a team.”
Tellier knew when he came to law school that he wanted to practice criminal law. He spent last semester on an externship in Rhode Island, working for criminal firm. His employers there were happily surprised to learn he’d participated in a felony jury trial, he said.
“That’s the field I’ve always wanted to go into, and getting a win under my belt, getting the experience under my belt, definitely helps,” he said. “Without an experience like this, I don’t know if you can know that this is what you want to do.”
The trial featured another UNH Law connection: Alumnus Joseph Cherniske, assistant Merrimack County attorney, worked as a prosecutor on the case. While he was a law student, he participated in Temple’s Criminal Practice Clinic and completed multiple externships. Cherniske also tried a jury case against clinic students Joshua Denton and Jen Makahusz in November. The trial resulted in two guilty verdicts and one not-guilty verdict.