By Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18
During winter term, I spent three fantastic weeks at the Federal Public Defender in Honolulu, Hawaii, through HLS’s Independent Clinical Program. Having spent both my 1L and 2L summers at law firms, this was my first opportunity to see a public interest setting.
At HLS, I have been fortunate to take classes with some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. But due to inherent limitations, a classroom setting can only accomplish so much. The Defenders immediately put me to work doing something I am familiar with: legal research and writing. However, this time, I saw my research make a tangible impact on someone’s life. Since federal defenders carry a lighter case load than do most state defenders, there is more time to thoroughly research legal issues during plea negotiations and in preparation for trial. For example, one of my projects involved drafting a motion in limine to suppress a piece of evidence the government plans to introduce in an upcoming trial. I had the chance to not only conduct research, but also see how the findings influenced the team’s trial strategy.
Value of Competent Defense
Working with Defenders also affected my view of the criminal justice system overall. In the federal system, to say that defendants have an uphill battle is an understatement. My criminal procedure class, under the instruction of Professor Paul Butler, explored many of the inequities in criminal law. But it was still shocking for me to see how these things developed in reality. Whether it is Miranda warnings, searches and seizures, coerced confessions, and a number of other topics, prosecutors have an advantage.
Accordingly, the constitutional right to attorney representation is a bedrock part of our legal system. The Defenders supply counsel to individuals immediately after they are arrested and booked. As defendants speak with pre-trial services regarding basic facts about their background, the Defenders are there to ensure the person’s right against self incrimination. Similarly, it is the Defenders filing motions to secure a defendant’s release pending trial and it is them arguing to continue sentencing for an additional week so that one person had a few more days with his family. In Honolulu, I observed passionate individuals who were unanimously intelligent, dedicated, and professional. And they had to take on some of the most challenging cases one could imagine.
This opportunity has opened my eyes to an entirely different setting where effective lawyering happens. I am still unsure about my career path, but this J-term has certainly piqued my interest in a career as a defense lawyer.