Professor Kate Kruse is leading students who are investigating possible wrongful convictions in a new clinic this fall at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Students in the Wrongful Conviction and Sentencing Clinic examine previously screened cases involving claims of “plausible allegations of actual innocence or manifest injustice.” The clinic works in conjunction with the Conviction Review Unit that Attorney General Keith Ellison established in 2021.
The clinic doesn’t represent people claiming to have been wrongfully convicted. “We’re looking at it from the state’s perspective and doing objective analysis of their claim,” Kruse said.
Kruse, co-director of the school’s Clinical Education Program, has worked in clinical legal education throughout her career.
“[Students are] working with real clients, real cases, real facts, all of the uncertainty that comes with the practice of law, and all of the responsibility that comes with taking on the role of a lawyer in an actual case,” Kruse said of the benefits of clinic experience.
Name: Kate Kruse
Title: Professor of law; co-director, Clinical Education Program, Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Education: B.A., philosophy, Oberlin College; M.A., philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison; J.D., University of Wisconsin
Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?
A: Ask me about the theater productions I’ve seen lately. Or about the Timberwolves, because I’m a big Minnesota Timberwolves fan.
Q: Why did you go to law school?
A: I loved philosophy and planned to pursue a job as a professor in philosophy. But of the things that I was passionate about pursuing intellectually, it was a very small universe of people that I’d be sharing that passion with. I wanted to use the privileges and the talents and the background that I have to help people. Making the world a better place but also providing direct assistance to individuals was a really strong goal of mine. My older sister is developmentally disabled, and she can’t work her way through society the way I can. I don’t take for granted my intelligence and my education and my ability to position myself differently in the world.
Q: What books are you reading?
A: I have one on my coffee table waiting — Louise Erdrich, “The Sentence.”
Q: What’s your pet peeve?
A: People who don’t understand the zipper merge.
Q: Best part of your work?
A: The students. We have a blended program with students from around the country who come at the beginning of the semester and the end of the semester for blended classes and also do online classes. All eight students in my clinic are blended learning students. We have a virtual seminar each week. I’m amazed by how well they’re doing, collaborating with each other on these investigations.
Q: Least favorite?
A: Not having time for everything I want to do.
Q: Favorite activity away from work?
A: I like the Timberwolves and the theater. I also enjoy biking, exploring the bike trails in Minnesota.
Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?
A: My hometown is Madison, Wisconsin. I’d take them to Union Terrace on Lake Mendota. It’s at the beautiful student union and this beautiful outdoor space where people can sit along the lake.
Q: Legal figure you most admire?
A: Bryan Stevenson, for bringing to light the inequities and injustices in the criminal justice system.
Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?
A: It makes me sad that people don’t see how dedicated so many lawyers are to doing the right thing. But I know that lawyers have such a commitment to the underlying structures of our justice system and making sure that those frameworks are upheld.
Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?
A: A documentary that I show my students at the beginning of every year, “Crime After Crime.” It’s about a couple of lawyers who accepted a case pro bono for a woman in California. She survived a horrible domestic violence relationship but ended up being convicted as an accomplice in the death of her abuser. She was guilty but was being punished more severely than she should have been.