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Internship Profile: Nicholas Do '12, Maryland Public Defenders Office

Nicholas Do'12 (Legal Studies) interned with the Maryland Public Defender's Office in Summer 2011. He learned a number of things on the job, but, perhaps most important, was his insight into what justice means within our legal system:

"Before I arrived at the Public Defenders Office, I thought that justice simply defined someone as being guilty or not guilty in our legal system.  However, my definition has changed throughout this experience and learned that justice is not as simple as defining someone innocent or a criminal, but made sure that everyone is properly protected through their rights. Justice also taught me that there are always two sides to every story and that a decision should not be made until all of the facts are presented and carefully observed by a person such as a judge, lawyer, or juror. Without this principle, many citizens would be deprived of their rights and may suffer from an unreasonable punishment. All of the facts that pertain to a case need to be properly presented from both the defendant and the state in order to create a legitimate sentencing within the boundaries of the defendant’s rights.  Without knowing all of the facts and hearing both sides of the story from the defendant and the state, justice will never be properly served."

In the process of interning at the Public Defender's Office, he also had the opportunity to visit a correctional facility with a few other interns. The inmates there, however, did not correspond to the preconceived notions of what convicts look or act like:

"When I took a tour of the correctional facility with the other interns, I was extremely nervous because I did not know what to expect. A lot of thoughts went through my mind at the time, and knowing that I was entering a place that was full of convicted felons made the situation even more uncomfortable. I was expecting the worst where inmates would approach me and shout obscenities and invade my personal space. I tried very hard not to make any eye contact and stayed as close to the group as possible.

As we walked around, I noticed that some of the inmates had different colored uniforms. Generally, they are given orange jumpsuits, but I saw some inmates with maroon or white colored jumpsuits. I asked the tour guide why they were different and she told me that the inmates in the white or maroon jumpsuits are minimum security inmates. They are the helpers in the correctional facility that have jobs such as cooking and cleaning, or are currently attending specific trade schools. This trade program has actually won a lot of awards for being very successful in helping inmates become better people in society. The inmates would voluntarily sign up for these tasks because they are rewarded with early release or granted certificate when they get out of prison so that they could find a job."

But, more than that, he eventually saw how these institutions also might help those who are incarcerated:

"As the tour continued, we were taken to one of the trade classes where the inmates were taught how to cut hair in a barber shop. When we walked into the class room, the inmates said hello to us and actually tried to start a conversation with some of the other interns. This is when I realized that my misconception of a convict was wrong and that not everyone in prison is dangerous. Some of these people weren’t even convicted of violent crimes but were locked up because of repeated minor offenses."

As an intern, Nicholas worked closely with several public defenders and learned what it takes to serve in that capacity: Not only do public defenders assist accused individuals in trying to reduce sentences, they also assist these defendants in maintaining and learning about their rights within a legal system. Nicholas goes onto talk about how this plays out:

"In court, I learned that a lot of people do not know their rights. It is the public defender’s job to make sure that their client is being protected by their rights and receives the proper sentencing, rather than the maximum sentencing that the state’s attorneys try to enforce on the defendant. Often people commit crimes that result into years of imprisonment. However, I’ve seen public defenders help their clients by persuading the judge to give a lesser sentencing such as probation or only months in jail rather than years. State’s attorneys may also violate certain procedures such as coaching the witness and/or victim in saying certain statements or misconduct of obtaining certain evidence. This could result into a heavier and unfair sentencing for the defendant if they did not have a lawyer informing and protecting their rights."

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