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How Digital Resources are Helping NY Communities, One Car at a Time

Over the past three years, students in Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic have teamed up with the judges at New York City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the Legal Aid Society to create a website to help people who had their cars confiscated during an arrest get their cars back.

The NYC Police Department can seize a car during the course of an arrest for a variety of reasons, including driving while intoxicated, drug possession, and weapons possession.  What many car owners and drivers who have had their cars taken away do not know is that there is a process for asking to have the car returned in a civil proceeding even if there is a concurrent criminal trial for the arrest.

The process by which they can do this is called a Krimstock hearing, named after a plaintiff in a class action brought by the Legal Aid Society specifically to challenge the police department’s practice of seizing a car without providing a prompt hearing.

The website provides a comprehensive guide for people who wish to bring a Krimstock hearing case, whether or not they have a lawyer.  It describes car owners’ rights and guides them step-by-step through the entire hearing process, from requesting a hearing to recovering the car from the police impound.   It includes a detailed description of the process, what to prepare, how to settle during a pre-hearing conference if they want to, what to expect during the hearing, and what to do/how to re-schedule if they cannot make their hearing date. There are also videos on different pages of the site made by the OATH judges that serve as special guides through the site.

The Krimstock hearing site can be found at www.law.columbia.edu/krimstock.

About the Clinic

The Lawyering in the Digital Age clinic at Columbia Law School was created more than 10 years ago to explore the impact of technology on law practice and the legal profession. The clinic is taught by Professors Conrad Johnson and Mary Marsh Zulack along with Brian Donnelly, Director of Educational Technology.

The clinic represents an innovative approach to teaching students to engage in effective contemporary legal practice. Student fieldwork projects are done in partnership with public interest organizations and with judges. A common theme for all of the fieldwork is to improve access to justice. Clinic students have collaborated with several Legal Aid and Legal Services organizations to help lawyers integrate technology into their practice.

The clinic has also partnered with judges on all levels of the judiciary in New York.  The Krimstock project with OATH, showcased in this STLR post, is just one example of clinic students helping to make an adjudicative system more accessible and legal
information more available to under-served communities. The clinic students hope that this innovative effort will be a model for using technology to create other resources and tools to provide greater access to justice in other legal arenas.

To learn more about the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, visit here.

About the Author

Emily Liu

Emily Liu is an Executive Editor of the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review. She is a 3L at Columbia Law School.
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