Wednesday, September 6, 2017

‘And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…’ Didn’t someone say that once? Well, now my time as an Amicus Intern in Baltimore is nearly over, I’m pondering what is the case, of which I’m certain…?

Firstly, I’m certain that Amicus will challenge you, and in ways you might not expect. It will challenge you to be compassionate. Not everyone accused of a capital crime is innocent of the actions they are said to have done, and you will feel justifiable sympathy for victims. Sometimes, as you read the facts of a case, revulsion about how anyone could ‘do’ such a thing will stir in your stomach. And that’s the moment when your compassion is challenged - when you must remember the wise words of Sister Helen Prejean, emblazoned across Amicus’s home page, that ‘every person is worth more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.’ Amicus has partnered me with Advancing Real Change (ARC), a team of mitigation specialists who conduct detailed life history investigations on behalf of capital defendants. I can honestly say that all the clients (in the cases I’ve been exposed to) have led very disadvantaged lives indeed. Chaotic family structures, traumatic childhood events, intellectual disabilities, or untreated mental health issues, are sad patterns all too familiar in this line of work. Acknowledging these realities in how we deliver justice is not to be blind to crime; it is the very essence of being open-eyed. As an Amicus intern, you will examine cases in a new light, in order to build up a more nuanced factual picture, and this will challenge you to become a more compassionate person, and hopefully a better lawyer in consequence.

Secondly, I’m certain that you will undertake valuable work. Let me be clear; no juries will be enthralled by your oratory during your time as an intern, and you should expect to spend some hours ‘document processing.’ Nevertheless, whilst in Baltimore I have had the opportunity to work on high profile death penalty cases at the pre-trial stage. The complexity of such cases is something you are unlikely to have experienced as a student or newly-qualified lawyer in the UK, and so it is rewarding to work at that level of detail in a different jurisdiction. Of my office tasks, I most enjoy working on memos in which I can consider how the facts we are investigating might be deployed in a narrative that assists our client. I have also attended court (in order observe proceedings related to an ARC case) and hit the highways to Philadelphia (so as to collect records from the beautiful Court House in the USA’s former capital city). Ultimately, the volume of work required to mount an effective capital defence is frequently not matched by the resources available to defence teams, and so your contribution is valuable and appreciated.  

Finally, I’m certain that you will find America an interesting country to live in and learn about. A significant site in the War of 1812, Baltimore is a place with a rich cultural legacy. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘a city of neighborhoods', a term which perhaps camouflages the high levels of inequality that exist between those neighborhoods. The tourist attractions of the downtown Inner Harbor and Mount Vernon areas are charming and well-worth a visit. But it is also right to acknowledge that high levels of poverty and gun violence afflict some other parts of Baltimore. It seems particularly apt to recognise this disparity given ARC staff have consistently impressed upon me how successful mitigation often involves building relationships of trust with people from disadvantaged communities. A few miles down the road from Baltimore is Washington DC. I would highly recommend spending a weekend there, as the White House, Congress and Supreme Court cannot fail to impress (architecturally, at the very least)! 

Overall the time I’ve spent as an Amicus intern has been full, and I’ve enjoyed exploring eastern America (even if I’ve not quite managed to travel each and every highway)! The other interns I have been working with are great people, and I shall be sorry to leave them. But if anyone reading this blog is thinking about joining their number, I would encourage you to do so. If you have an interest in criminal justice, and believe retribution should be tempered with mercy, you will make a valuable contribution to Amicus’s work on death row.