Criminal Law Society Addresses Criminal Misconduct in the Justice System

WMU-Cooley law students attended the “Making a Murderer” discussion at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus.

WMU-Cooley law students attended the “Making a Murderer” discussion at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus. Pictured (front row, left-right) Kami Misch, WMU-Cooley Law School student; Valerie Newman, state appellate defender; and Megan Leyva; WMU-Cooley Law School student. Pictured (back row, left-right) Nadia Chami, WMU-Cooley Law School student; Erika Breitfeld, WMU-Cooley Law School professor; Tommy Highers, wrongfully convicted exoneree; and WMU-Cooley Law School students Brandon Mungo, Eric Langton, and Alison Brajich.

On March 22, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills’ Criminal Law Society held the discussion “Making a Murderer,” that addressed criminal misconduct in the justice system. The discussion was led by Erika Breitfeld, WMU-Cooley Law School professor. The event featured Valerie Newman, state appellate defender, and Tommy Highers, an individual who was wrongfully convicted and then exonerated after 25 years.

Highers, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1987 with his brother, reflected on his transition into society after being released from prison. Newman represented the Highers brothers in their retrial after new evidence appeared in a Facebook post after 18 years. She presented the process of the exoneration case and spoke to students about the misconduct in the justice system that affects exonerees long after being released.

“The criminal justice system is problematic and needs to be fixed,” said Newman. “When someone gets convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, they carry a stigma with them for the rest of their life. We need to get Senate Bill 291 passed and begin providing Michigan exonerees the help they deserve.”

Newman has been proactive in reforming the justice system. She served as the state’s Custodial Interrogation Task Force Committee co-chair and lobbied the custodial interrogation law to be passed. The law requires that all law enforcement agencies make a time-stamped, audiovisual recording of custodial interrogations for certain felonies.

“Valerie is a teacher and advocate for improving the criminal justice system,” said Breitfeld. “WMU-Cooley Law School brought this to our students to show them the importance of how powerful the job of an attorney can be and Valerie provided students with an instructional example of how to bring a case to justice.”

Tommy Highers, Valerie Newman

Pictured (left-right) Tommy Highers, wrongfully convicted exoneree; and Valerie Newman, state appellate defender, discuss with WMU-Cooley Law School students about criminal misconduct.


About Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School: Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated in 2014, combining the status of a nationally-ranked, public, comprehensive research university with the commitment to practical legal education of an independent, non-profit, national law school. WMU-Cooley is accredited by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The law school has provided nearly 20,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world, and enrolls classes in January, May, and September at its Lansing, Auburn Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan campuses, and its Tampa Bay, Florida campus. WMU and the law school continue to operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.



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