Posted on Jun 2, 2020
Having attended the Amicus death penalty training, I knew for certain that I wanted to make a difference by undertaking a placement in the US. I spent two months at the Capital Representation Project in Phoenix, Arizona (I unfortunately had to come back about four months early due to COVID-19). However, I learned and experienced so much in the short time that I was there.
The office was a small post-conviction office in downtown Phoenix. I was one of only four women (and a shih-tzu) in the office which meant I was given a lot of responsibility. When I arrived, it was a week until a two-week evidentiary hearing, so I was thrown in the deep end!
The work was incredibly varied and ranged from working on hearing bundles to listening to Attorney-General witness transcripts. There was also a lot of scanning and document processing so be prepared for a real...
Posted on Apr 29, 2020
Death penalty defence work is notoriously difficult in its unique emotional burden and sheer amount of work. I thought that if I could survive this work, I would be on my way to becoming the best defence lawyer I could be which is why I applied for a placement with Amicus. I was not disappointed.
I started my placement on 6 th January 2020 and was there for 10 weeks (I had to leave three weeks early due to Covid-19). I was placed at the Capital Habeas Unit (CHU) within the Federal Public Defenders Office for the Northern District of Texas. February was an extremely hectic month; one week had three deadlines, one of which included a 400-page petition that needed editing urgently. This claim was statute barred the day after, meaning it could no longer be raised in court. I met clients on death row on three occasions, two visits being consecutive weeks. We also had an execution...
Posted on Nov 20, 2019
When I decided that I wanted to apply for an Amicus placement, one thing was clear in my mind; I wanted to work on capital punishment cases and help those who have been convicted, or are facing conviction, receive a fair trial.
I initially thought that I would be working on post-conviction cases, however, little did I know that I would end up working on one of the highest profile cases in America. This case has been great exposure for myself early in my career and I have learned more than I ever imagined. The Public Defender’s Office in Florida provided me with the opportunity to attend Depositions, undertake state and federal level legal research, attend court, attend jail, review body cam footage, review witness statements, review jail records and health records and be involved in...
Posted on Sep 17, 2019
My experience at Amicus was a great blessing in all honesty. As a law student, I was hoping to gain experience at some point during my time in the UK, but I wasn’t sure how that would happen. Joining the Pro Bono Society in my first year, I heard about Amicus and eventually got involved. My time with the student society led me to attend the spring edition of the US Death Penalty Training in my second year and that got me very interested in doing the volunteer placement in London. I have always wanted to help others and work in human rights law, and Amicus provided a great opportunity to do so. Listening to the various speakers at the training sessions really inspired me. I could really see how dedicated the charity was to what they do.
Once I got the placement, I was there twice a week and definitely got a chance to really help out in the process of making a difference in the...
Posted on Aug 12, 2019
In the weeks before I was meant to start at Amicus as a UK office volunteer my personal and academic schedule became unexpectedly busy, and I even considered rescheduling my placement to later in the year. The usual pre-new job fears floated around my head. What if the work of a volunteer wasn’t fulfilling enough? What if the role wasn’t flexible enough to fit around my studies? Having now come to the end of my placement, I can safely say that not a single one of these fears came to pass, and my time with Amicus was hands down one of the most enriching experiences of my young professional career that I would strongly encourage any student with an interest in criminal justice to seriously consider undertaking.
As a volunteer, no two days at the office are the same, with tasks ranging...
Posted on Aug 5, 2019
I spent the first four months of 2019 volunteering at the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, in New Orleans. In the first weeks I was tasked with combing through 50 client casefiles for evidence that might form the basis for a new ground of appeal which had recently been identified by the US Supreme Court. I was able to follow this process from researching and identifying potential claims to drafting submissions and, after (a lot of) discussion and emendation, eventually seeing them dispatched to the court, which was extremely satisfying. As the placement progressed, I was focussed much more closely on two specific clients, primarily working with lawyers and mitigation specialists on sentencing phase claims. Developing the detailed understanding of an extended family required for a mitigation investigation was a fascinating, and often very moving, challenge.
Posted on Jul 12, 2019
I spent just over 4 months volunteering with the Arizona Capital Representation Project in Phoenix. Having worked as a solicitor for a few years prior to this placement one of the very first things that struck me was the difference in the way that law was practiced between the UK and the US, particularly in the field of criminal law, and specifically death penalty work.
US pleadings were much more voluminous and expansive than anything I’d seen before. In the UK I’d been trained to only use my best and strongest arguments, whereas US pleadings tended to argue every available point. I soon found out that this was because in the US you might be prevented from raising an argument in appellate litigation unless it has been previously raised. Capital trial lawyers are therefore under an obligation (not to mention an incredible...
Posted on Jun 17, 2019
In my final week in Baltimore, Maryland I got a text message from my mum who was sat in Heathrow Airport waiting for her flight out to meet me (I’m 29 years old and my mum is newly retired so we’ve reached the stage where her coming to see me is cute not tragic I PROMISE), telling me that she had just met ‘Margot from your charity’. It turned out that out of all the people in the airport my mum could have bragged to about her daughter volunteering on death row in America, the person she found to do so to was Margot Ravenscroft, Director of Amicus, who was also flying out to NYC on her way to Baltimore for a conference run by the Mitigation Specialist not-for-profit I had spent the previous 3 months volunteering with. Of course!
Bragging rights aside, working on fighting the death sentence is a life sentence without parole in itself, and my biggest take away from...
Posted on May 22, 2019
As a law student it is often hard to find something that makes your application stand out from the crowd. The message is clear for anyone that wants to enter the fiercely competitive legal world – you must have more than just good grades. Volunteering with Amicus ALJ will certainly help your future applications sparkle.
The work undertaken by the UK volunteers is so varied and I am very fortunate to have covered the full spectrum. From being appointed as an Amicus Student Representative in my second year of my Law Degree at The University of Winchester, to assigning lawyers casework. My favourite so far has been running a casework group with other Law students at Winchester following the overwhelming support from Dr Bea Myers, the Law Program Leader. From lectures on the rule of law – to seeing it play out in practice, has...
Posted on May 20, 2019
My time as a volunteer for Amicus ALJ, was spent at the Arizona Capital Representation Project, in the State Capital of Arizona, Phoenix, between the months of November to February 2018/19.
The Phoenix office is a small office, situated close to downtown Phoenix. The project staff are superb, I couldn’t have wished for better supervisors, they are extremely knowledgeable, compassionate and dedicated to the representation of post conviction clients.
The work is wide and varied, ranging from general admin work, making records of inmates various records, and summarising trial transcripts and witness testimony into manageable electronic documents, then there is everything in between.
During my first week at the office, we where headed to Pima County Superior court, in Tuscon, Arizona, to watch the director of the project in action, an expert witness providing...
Posted on Apr 25, 2019
I am at the halfway point of my three-month placement in Florida, and I can’t believe how quickly time has flown. This really is a life changing experience and I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone with an interest in criminal law. It’s not quite like the crime documentaries where the juicier bits are condensed into one hour episodes. Instead it gives you a real and much more exciting opportunity to delve deeply into the details of cases and conduct research, developing your own theories as you go.
I have been doing a wide range of work so far, including attending depositions with witnesses, making detailed notes about police bodycam footage and carrying out research on state laws and precedent to assist with written motions. The office is fast paced, with lots of capital...
Posted on Feb 15, 2019
My placement with Amicus lasted from October to January, and as the scheme was both my first trip to the US, as well as my first long term involvement with criminal law, I was apprehensive as to what lay ahead.
The Atlanta office warmly welcomed me, and I immediately felt encouraged to contribute and get involved in the work that the office was undertaking. The office was mainly representing clients pre-trial, some of whom had only recently been in jail, to clients who had been waiting eight years for their cases to get resolved. Most shocking to me was a case that had been overturned by the US Supreme Court and been set for new trial after over 30 years due to racial discrimination at the first trial. I soon learnt that such injustice is part and parcel of the death penalty system.
I was surprised by the range of tasks in which I was involved: I was...
Posted on Jan 31, 2019
Between September and December 2018, I volunteered at the Federal Community Defenders Office in Philadelphia, PA. I was fortunate enough to work on a wide variety of cases, undertaking a range of tasks from researching case law, to reviewing trial transcripts and drafting claims. The clients whose cases I worked on were imprisoned in states across America including Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia and Kentucky.
Towards the end of my placement, the office had submitted a Kings Bench Petition, which is an archaic legal instrument which allows a petition to be heard immediately by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, without having to go through the lower courts first. The petition, whether the death penalty in Pennsylvania is unconstitutional, was accepted in December. Therefore, a great deal of my remaining time in the office was spent doing legal research into old cases...
Posted on Jan 23, 2019
For three months, between September and December 2018, I volunteered in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Although I undertook a range of projects, my main tasks included conducting legal research and summarising mitigation documents. One of my biggest projects included updating a claim regarding the unconstitutionality of the death penalty in Louisiana, which was filed in all cases. This required extensive research and I attended the library at the Supreme Court of Louisiana in order to obtain detailed records regarding the aggravating factors which have been introduced over the years. For the specific cases that I was handling, I attended regular consultations with investigators and mitigation specialists.
During my time in New Orleans, I visited Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) twice. The first time consisted of a social visit with two clients. I had no specific tasks...
Posted on Oct 29, 2018
Gaining experience in a charity like Amicus has been rewarding and enlightening. Seeing the difference that can be made by the smallest of things, and knowing that you are assisting in helping one of the most human centred causes is truly invaluable. Amicus places a huge priority on human value and consciousness and this is something that I personally feel to be something missing or disregarded in a lot of societies and organisations. The Amicus UK office internship has been unbelievably beneficial in providing me with an insight into both charitable work and Human Rights. Having no previous law experience I came into this internship from a Sociological and Philosophical undergrad degree, and carried out my internship alongside my Masters in Global Ethics.
Getting an insight into the American justice system has been incredibly eye opening and has allowed me to...
Posted on Oct 27, 2018
My internship at Amicus was an end in itself. It was neither a CV-filler, nor a time for thumb twiddling. I say this because the work we did whilst I was in Amicus’ London office was both personally fulfilling and also vital for those on Death Row in the US.
As I understand it, capital punishment in the US is wrong for two reasons. First, it is immoral to put someone to death. In the words of Albert Camus, ‘Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders’.
Second, the capital sentencing system in the US is systemically unjust. It is a seam that runs through the whole system, from ineffective legal counsel and rigged jury selection through to the sentencing of minors and those with intellectual disabilities. The list runs on. It is a failed system that is defined by bias and error. This failure destroys lives, particularly those of the poor and of racial...
Posted on Oct 26, 2018
From day one, it became clear that I would not simply be spending three months in the copy room, when fifteen motions were placed on my desk, each requiring a legal memo on the defense and prosecution’s submissions. Throughout the three months, I carried out a range of legal tasks including preparing for cross examinations, drafting letters to be sent to the District Attorney, formatting motions, attending mitigation field trips and legal research. I also attended court regularly to observe various preparation hearings for our clients. This gave me an interesting insight into the differences between the UK and US legal system. Potentially the most startling difference is the ability to have an alleged offender held in jail for years without them even being convicted. A fact that to this day still confuses and worries me.
I learnt so much from the team in Atlanta,...
Posted on Oct 25, 2018
After attending an Amicus ALJ lecture held by Mark George QC, at Northumbria University, my mind was made up. I wanted to and had to undertake this internship! I undertook my 3-month Amicus ALJ internship in Arizona. Those who I worked with were inspirational, motivated, keen to teach and keen to get me involved in as much as they could. All of this made for an unforgettable 3 months.
The work you actually do, I am sure, will differ from office to office but what you can almost certainly expect is a lot scanning, a lot of record digesting and a lot of research. This is not the work that sets the world to rights but it is essential and the clients and attorneys really do appreciate it, because if I did not do it, who else would? This may not seem particularly interesting from what I have said here, but I guarantee you will love the work that you do.
Posted on Oct 3, 2018
This past summer I worked as a legal intern for the Amicus-St. Louis Short Internship which involved assisting the local legal team in providing pro bono legal representation for cases involving capital punishment and unconstitutional sentencing.
I was intrigued with this opportunity when it was first presented by an Amicus representative at the QMUL campus. I looked at criminal law as being one of the most extreme applications of law, particularly regarding capital punishment, and saw it as an interesting experience to add to my CV. Reflecting back on this short internship, there are many things I experienced, both positive and negative, which I hadn’t expected, or was aware of, going into it.
The first surprise was the focus of the work that we were involved with there. I was one of three summer interns in the office assigned to contribute to an ongoing empirical...
Posted on Oct 2, 2018
I spent the summer in New Orleans, Louisiana working in capital post-conviction and I can genuinely say it was the best summer I have ever had. I have always been passionate about human rights law and the abolition of the death penalty but spending three months working in the area really reinforced to me how important the work capital defense lawyers do. For my part, I was able to assist primarily on a couple of cases. For one client, I examined a lot of expert evidence and helped in the mitigation investigation, identifying important witnesses to interview and collating evidence to support a claim of intellectual disability. For another, I was able to review a large quantity of CCTV evidence, analyse expert testimony and collate a large number of records to go towards the life history of the client.
The most rewarding and humbling part of my placement was meeting...