Posted on Sep 28, 2022
For the last two months, I have been volunteering at a Post-conviction Capital Representation Office in Phoenix.
The work I have been exposed to has been incredibly varied and stimulating. I have read petitions, conducted legal research, written up case memos to chronologise procedural history and facts, summarise trial transcripts, edited witness statements, and ran errands at the police department.
A particular highlight of my internship was attending the Santa Clara Conference, where defence attorneys from across the country came together to brainstorm their pending capital cases, and listen to lectures from renowned capital defence attorneys, and mitigation specialists. This intensive five days certainly exposed me to the intricacies of capital trials, strategic litigation and the significance of racial discrimination and trauma in capital work. Listening to...
Posted on Aug 17, 2022
At the time of writing I am about half way through my Amicus placement which began at the start of July 2022 and which is set to end in late September 2022, between my previous role as a criminal paralegal and, prior to the commencement of a criminal pupillage in the UK. I have been undertaking my placement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I was welcomed by the head of the office, a team of US law school interns and the attorneys.
Since arriving and settling in, I’ve had a steam of diverse and challenging work having been assigned to projects on about 4 or 5 different cases, some on an ongoing basis and others for one-off ad hoc tasks. For each case I’ve interacted with I’ve been able to work alongside the dedicated and diligent individuals who comprise the associated team.
As an Amicus intern, assisting the office I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to...
Posted on Jul 29, 2022
‘We the jury unanimously find…’
The words that follow – rendering the verdict of the jury on two counts of first-degree murder – are etched into my memory. For nearly a month, a carefully curated (*not* randomly selected…) panel of ordinary members of the public listened diligently and painstakingly to the evidence. They listened as the state and defence attorneys skilfully teased out and tested the evidence put before them. Being able to watch the attorneys do that and to assist them in their preparation in the weeks leading up to the start of the death penalty trial was an immense privilege. More than anything, the privilege was to be privy to frank conversations amongst the defence team about trial strategy and decisions.
I worked at a public defender’s office in Florida for three...
Posted on Jan 19, 2022
In January 2019, I set off to Florida where I would be spending 6 months interning at the Broward County Public Defenders Office in Fort Lauderdale with Amicus. I had worked as a paralegal in a criminal defence firm for the two years prior, having left Bar school with my heart set on criminal law. For me, an Amicus placement provided me with unparalleled experience and the opportunity to work on capital punishment cases, something I had always been passionate about. When I arrived in Florida I was greeted with open arms from both the attorneys and another Amicus volunteer who had all been excitedly awaiting my arrival, and my British accent! Within days of stepping foot in Miami airport, I began working on one of the most high profile, widely reported death penalty cases in America. I attended key witness depositions, assisted with drafting and editing of written motions on the law...
Posted on Feb 19, 2021
I was placed with the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defender (MOSPD), working exclusively on juvenile life without parole cases. I completed my internship between May 2019 and August 2019. I am extremely grateful to the Human Rights’ Lawyers’ Association, as without their support I would not have been able to complete this placement.
My task was to assist Stacy Ferraro, my supervisor, in her work as juvenile resource parole counsel. When I arrived in Mississippi, Stacy had already earmarked two cases for me to work on. Both were post-conviction cases in which a juvenile offender had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In both cases, a mitigation investigation had not been conducted, there were serious concerns about the effectiveness of trial counsel, and...
Posted on Feb 19, 2021
I attended the Amicus Death Penalty training the year I studied the GDL and knew I wanted to do a placement in the US. I went for an interview in February 2020 and was thrilled when I heard that I would be able to organise a placement through Amicus for that year. Of course, due to COVID-19 this did not end up going to plan. I was keen to still be able to do something and got in touch with Amicus to see if there was any casework I could do remotely. In September I started a remote internship with The Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana (CPCPL).
I met the whole team over zoom. It was clear they had a great dynamic in the office as they brought a lot of energy to the...
Posted on Feb 9, 2021
In June 2020, I applied for and was fortunate enough to be awarded Inner Temple’s Sir Joseph Priestley Award. The plan was to put this money towards a three-month placement with one of AMICUS’ affiliate offices in the States. Unfortunately, like so many others, my plans were de-railed by COVID and after months of updates, it became clear that it just was not going to be possible for anyone to travel abroad any time soon.
This disappointment was thankfully short lived as not long after came the offer of a remote placement. I got in touch and was soon placed with Advancing Real Change (ARC), mitigation specialists working to ensure that the stories of those facing extreme sentences are told. They promote justice by ensuring the life histories of those charged with crimes are at the forefront of their cases in an effort to humanise them.
Whilst I haven’t been fortunate...
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...