Northeastern University School of Law Student Receives 2020 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Northeastern University School of Law Public Interest Law Scholar Hakeem Muhammad has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s $10,000 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded annually to a graduating law student currently attending a Massachusetts law school who is committed to providing legal assistance to underrepresented individuals and communities in Massachusetts upon graduating.
“The Massachusetts Bar Association is very pleased to present this scholarship to Hakeem, who has already demonstrated an impressive dedication to protecting the rights of others through his past public interest experiences,” said attorney Francis C. Morrissey, chair of the MBA’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship Committee. “We look forward to welcoming him as a member of the Massachusetts Bar, and we wish him well as he gets ready to begin his career as a public defender in Boston.”
Muhammad quickly developed an academic interest in the underlying causes of poverty and gang violence after he experienced both firsthand while growing up in Chicago. Now with an even greater appreciation for the many institutional challenges facing marginalized communities, he plans to devote himself to protecting the rights of indigent clients as a soon-to-be public defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) in Roxbury.
A veteran of several public-interest roles during his law school career, Muhammad found himself drawn to the hands-on nature of criminal defense work while interning with CPCS and The Legal Aid Society in Queens, New York. At the latter internship, Muhammad achieved an early professional milestone when he helped argue that a defendant charged with attempted murder had been unlawfully arrested based on false statements attributed to him by police. Muhammad secured another legal victory at CPCS, when he helped file a successful motion to suppress evidence that was seized without probable cause from a homeless African American teenager’s car. Unfortunately, the client could not afford to pursue a civil action against the officers who had violated his rights.
For Muhammad, who shared many of the socioeconomic challenges as his clients during his high school years in Chicago, the case illustrated the need for a more holistic approach to public defense, one that allows indigent clients to access both civil legal and social services as part of their representation. Given the racial and economic disparities in the criminal legal system, Muhammad said, it is imperative that low-income individuals and people of color receive the same level of advocacy afforded to affluent defendants.
“Agents of the State are more likely to trample upon the constitutional rights of defendants from inner-city neighborhoods that have been impacted by poverty and institutional racism. Such defendants are more likely not to receive the same level of quality representation that the Harvey Weinsteins, O.J. Simpsons and Lori Loughlins of the world acquire. This is very unjust. I look forward to contributing to the zealous representation of the indigent as a future trial attorney in Roxbury,” Muhammad said.