This summer I spent an amazing ten weeks as a law intern in the office of the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Alabama (FDO). FDO provides representation to people charged with federal crimes in the 23 southeastern counties of Alabama and to people on Alabama’s death row whose appeals are entering federal habeas review. Alabama’s state indigent defense system is largely county-funded and fragmented. Some of the 41 judicial circuits rely on a contractor defense structure and often evaluate and award the contracts based on cost alone. Alabama is also the only state that does not provide indigent defendants on death row with counsel after they have exhausted their initial appeals. Accordingly, the Federal Defender occasionally aids attorneys working on state level habeas issues.
Over the course of the summer I researched a variety of issues, including the application of sentencing enhancements under the federal guidelines; the historical underpinnings of the right to have a jury determine punishment in a capital trial; and due process and equal protection claims in the context of state clemency. The attorneys in the office always invited me to attend court with them, and would frequently explain their strategy and any procedural intricacies after the proceeding. I also was permitted to do most of the investigation for a client’s pretrial diversion package. Being able to interview the client and his friends and family and to write a compelling narrative for his pretrial diversion letter was one of the most rewarding experiences of the summer.
This amazing and life-changing experience would likely not have been possible without the support of PILP. Since my work with FDO was unpaid, the financial burden of housing, transportation, and travel would have posed a significant obstacle. Thanks to my PILP stipend, I was able to accept the position with FDO and bring my knowledge and experience back to Oregon to apply in my current work with the public defender’s office.