By Veronica Saltzman J.D. ’19
This semester, I interned at the Federal Public Defender Office for the District of Massachusetts. Going into this internship, I hoped to get an in depth look at the criminal justice system at the federal level. Since I will be interning at a state public defender office over winter term, I wanted the chance to compare federal and state systems.
On the first day of my internship, I immediately felt welcomed by the office. My supervising attorney introduced me to every attorney in the office and made sure I was given an assignment immediately. My first assignment (and several other assignments later in the semester) involved researching how certain judges sentenced defendants pleading guilty to particular charges. In some cases, my research involved sentencing in firearms cases; in others, I delved into financial fraud cases. The purpose of these assignments was to present information to clients trying to decide whether to accept a more definite plea deal from the prosecutor, or opt for an open plea deal and leave sentencing to the judge. Working with the attorneys on these projects, I started to understand how difficult it is for an attorney to convince a client to accept what are often lengthy sentences to avoid the uncertainty of judicial sentencing. In addition to research on sentencing, some of my other assignments included writing a letter to a prosecutor requesting pretrial diversion for a client and crafting a memo on habeas law to advice an attorney on whether our client could submit an amended habeas petition. In particular, the habeas memo forced me to learn an entirely new area of law and improved my researching and writing skills as I sorted through complex legal issues.
The most exciting part of my internship was working down the street from the federal courthouse. My supervising attorney constantly encouraged me attend court proceedings. Early in the semester, I visited one of our clients in lockup with an attorney before attending his pretrial release hearing. As the semester went on, I also attended several sentencings. At one, I witnessed the court deport a woman my age and saw ICE agents take her away. At another sentencing involving sex trafficking, I observed intense victim impact statements and an emotional allocution. Finally, I got the chance to attend oral argument at the First Circuit and see a variety of strategies in appellate advocacy.
My internship at the Federal Public Defender Office increased my knowledge of federal criminal law and procedure immensely. I appreciated the opportunity to work with fantastic attorneys and gain experience by working on important tasks and witnessing intense moments during the criminal justice process.