Texas Defender Service
I am an ESRC 1+3 student at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge. Thanks in large part to collaborative development funding made available through the Cambridge DTC, I was able to travel to Texas to take up an internship with the Texas Defender Service (TDS). TDS provides much-needed legal and policy assistance to prisoners facing the death penalty, before and after conviction. As a non-profit law firm in an active death penalty state, TDS relies heavily on interns to perform its valuable work.
While attached to the Austin office, I made contacts with a range of lawyers, lobbyists and other criminal justice professionals. Expanding my network in this way will be invaluable for my doctoral research in the field of sentencing, which will draw upon comparative perspectives from a range of jurisdictions including the US. This first-hand experience feeds directly in to the data gathering and dissemination phases of my research: working alongside experienced attorneys has dramatically increased my confidence in navigating American legal databases, as well as using and understanding previously unfamiliar terminology. These lawyers will be key to the boosting the impact of my research findings, in ensuring that my work is both relevant to and effectively disseminated within the American criminal justice audience.
As an intern I worked on a range of death penalty cases, teaching me the value of fearless representation even in unpalatable cases, and particularly of keeping abreast of developments in the law. Visitation with clients on death row was a deeply moving and humbling experience, and increased my confidence when interviewing offenders about their lives and experiences in and out of custody.
Though some of the work I performed was more administrative, even preparing bundles gave me an opportunity to put my legal training into practice, as I was consulted on matters of presentation unique to the circumstances of each case. Honing my eye for detail will assist with my criminal pupillage – which I will be completing between my MPhil and PhD years – as well as with my later doctoral research. It goes without saying that I took home lessons about the tactics of litigation and techniques of oral advocacy that will be valuable in my professional life as a barrister. Those who taught me those lessons have become valuable contacts that I intend to revisit in practice and in academia.
Importantly, I was able to take some time to explore the remarkable city of Austin and the wider state of Texas, taking in the music, food, history and culture of this unique and unforgettable state. I even managed to squeeze in a shift with the Austin Police Department, seeing the city from a very different angle.
In short, DTC collaborative funding has benefitted me personally, professionally and academically, together with benefitting indigent clients facing execution. Thank you for your support.