Because reform occurs outside the academy, the Center has its ‘boots on the ground’ in criminal practice. We represent poor people accused of crimes and run a rural externship program in Texas’ criminal law deserts. Our educational programming brings reform awareness and practical learning opportunities to classrooms, communities, and the nation.

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Rural Summer Externship Program

The Deason Center’s Summer Externship Program offers students a nine-week criminal law externship in a small or rural Texas practice. Working in lawyer deserts that struggle with attorney-scarcity, externs hone their legal skills and develop valuable mentors, while gaining first-hand experience in rural prosecution or public defense.

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Across the Finish Line

Created in partnership with The Decarceration Collective, Across the Finish Line (ATFL) provided SMU law students with an innovative service-learning opportunity. Students spent more than 1000 hours advocating for ATFL clients serving life-without-parole for nonviolent drug offenses, providing critical legal services and successfully achieving many clients’ release.

Learn more about The Decarceration Collective

Buried Alive

Co-founded by SMU Law and Deason Center alumna, Brittany Barnett, and incubated at the Deason Center, the Buried Alive Project challenges life-without-parole sentences for non-violent federal drug offenders. Though clemency petitions and post-conviction litigation, the Buried Alive Project has rescued dozens of people who might otherwise have died behind bars.

Visit the Buried Alive Project Website

Criminal Justice Policy Practicum

The Criminal Justice Policy Practicum (CJPP) offers students a unique learning opportunity in research and public policy. Under Professor Metzger’s supervision, students design, conduct, and report on data-driven studies about local criminal legal reform. CJPP work has been featured in local and national press, including the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News.

Letters for Lifers

In March 2018, SMU law students began to work on a Letters from Lifers video presentation. Created in partnership with the Buried Alive Project, Letters from Lifers seeks to amplify the voices of people serving life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and offers a poignant reminder of the human hearts that beat behind bars.

Watch Letters for Lifers on the Center's YouTube Channel

Troy's Story

The Center’s representation of Troy Rhodes vindicates the right to counsel. In 2003, a non-unanimous jury convicted Mr. Rhodes of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 149 years in jail. Sixteen year later, the Deason Center persuaded a federal court that Mr. Rhodes had been deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.

Learn about Mr. Rhodes’ Journey