Mitchell Hamline School of Law is set to become the first American Bar Association-accredited law school with a J.D. student attending class from inside prison.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t always need to meet in person in order to conduct business or teach students. We can connect with others remotely via an internet and cell phone connection, so distance isn’t an issue. And soon, being behind bars may no longer be an issue for students who want to want to continue their quest to become a lawyer.
This fall, Maureen Onyelobi will become the school’s first incarcerated student after Mitchell Hamline received permission from the ABA to enroll up to two incarcerated students in each of the next five years. The program will allow the students to attend class fully online. The school is raising private money to help fund tuition and related costs for Onyelobi, who is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after being convicted of aiding and abetting a murder in 2014.
Prosecutors said that Onyelobi was an accomplice in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Anthony Fairbanks, and that she was part of a drug ring that supplied drugs to Fairbanks. The person who pulled the trigger pleaded guilty and received a shorter sentence, but Onyelobi went to trial and was convicted of first-degree murder.
New Program For Mitchell Hamline
Mitchell Hamline hopes to educate a number of future lawyers from behind bars, and officials administered a Law School Admission Test in prison to Onyelobi and other law-school hopefuls in the spring of 2021 before ultimately accepting Onyelobi. They believe these students will bring a unique perspective to the table.
“It’s really important for incarcerated individuals to be part of the legal system and the study of law,” said Mitchell Hamline law dean Anthony Niedwiecki. “The perspective of someone who’s currently in the system is helpful to students and anyone who is trying to do things to change the law.”
Onyelobi is currently working with Perry Moriearty, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, in hopes of getting her sentence reduced. Even if that proves unsuccessful, Onyelobi wants to use her law degree to work on issues related to incarceration and help other prisoners with post-conviction matters. Moriearty praised her as a “talented, disciplined and dedicated student.”
Attorneys are required to complete a character and fitness review in order to become a member of the bar, but convicted felons have been admitted in the past, so the pair are hopeful acceptance is an eventuality for Onyelobi. Hopefully she can make good use of this opportunity and use her perspective and education to help others who find themselves dealing with difficult legal matters from behind bars.
If you need legal help from a lawyer with more experience that you can meet in person, reach out to Avery and the team at Appelman Law Firm today at (952) 224-2277.