Lorna Arnold is about to begin her third year on the LLB (Hons) course at Birmingham City University. She visited Arizona as part of the School of Law’s American Internship programme.

In September 2013, I began my second year of University and applied for the American Legal Practice module. To complete this module, we were required to undertake a summer internship in the United States and complete an essay.  To be accepted onto this module students were required to carry out a case analysis, this was on the case of Furman v. Georgia.  Students with a 2:1 grade were accepted onto the module. Throughout the first half of the year we attended lectures which discussed topics in the American Legal System which we likely to come across during our experience, these included topics such as ineffective assistance of counsel and the death penalty. During Winter 2013-Spring 2014 students were placed throughout the States, and we were set an essay which was based on the case of Strickland v. Washington discussing ineffective assistance of counsel. This essay grade combined with our internship grade would be our final grade for this module.

In Spring 2014 I was placed at the Arizona Justice Project for my internship. The Arizona Justice Project was established in 1998 and became the Fifth organisation in the United States to help inmates overturn wrongful convictions. The Justice Projects aim is to represent indigent Arizona inmates who have claims of innocence or manifesting injustice. The Justice Project is a non-profit organization that is primarily volunteer-based and reviews cases. The Justice Project is often a last resort for inmates who have been failed by the American justice system. As well as this the Justice Project has a policy that they will only become involved in a case if the inmate is imprisoned within Arizona and is no longer entitled to a state funded attorney, however there is sometimes the exception.

In preparation for my internship I was required to become familiar with Rule 32 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Rule 32 is the rule for Post-Conviction Relief, this is when an inmate can file a petition for Post-Conviction Relief based on numerous grounds under this rule. An appellant will only file a petition for post-conviction relief once they have exhausted all other appeals. Once one issue has been raised under Post-Conviction Relief it cannot be raised again, however there are some exceptions, for example a claim of innocence can be raised again. I was also required to become familiar with websites which I would be using regularly, for example the Arizona Department of Corrections and Public Access.

During my time at the Justice Project I undertook a variety of tasks. These ranged from attending a conference to carrying out research on my own assigned case. At the beginning of my internship I was assigned a case to work on, I carried out factual research and ensured that I understood the case, this included everything what happened in the case, what the inmate wanted to achieve, and what possibilities there was of the Justice Project being able to help them. I believe that this is the main skill I achieved, when comparing my research between cases, my notes became more detailed and relevant and took me less time to carry out this research.

I also made legal calls with the inmate, this was so I could clear up any questions I had about the case which I could not retrieve from the case documents. This task helped me to improve on my communication skills, I now understand what type of language is best appropriate when speaking with inmates as well as pronouncing your voice loud and clear. Whilst reviewing the cases at the Justice Project I would also go the clerk’s office and review all of the court documents, this would give a clear view of what had happened in the case and to what point we was at now. Overall I looked through all the case documents and weighed up the issues and came to a decision as to whether there was a chance of having a successful claim under Rule 32, or whether it was better to close the case. As well as speaking to the inmate over the phone, we would also write to them, during my time I prepared a closing letter to the inmate as the case was not hopeful. I also produced a memorandum that can be kept on file, this helped me to develop my writing skills of knowing how to write for different audiences and how to present a case clearly and in the most efficient way.

On my internship I also accompanied two volunteers on a visit to prison to see an inmate. This gave me the opportunity to see what prison is like and we could see how the inmate was doing both mentally and physically and clear up any questions we had with their ongoing case. In addition to this it also gave the inmate the chance to ask any questions and speak about their case with the assurance that they could speak freely and honestly.  This again helped me to improve my communication skills plus my body language. Each week we discussed our cases in turn with other volunteers and attorneys at the Justice Project. This would usually be to a group of six or more people, we would explain what research and work we had carried out on each case and what objectives me planned to achieve before the next meeting. This task enhanced my confidence each week when presenting my case, I began to learn that body language and preparation was vital. If you are prepared and feel comfortable about what you are speaking about, it is easier to be confident. On top of these activities I attended the Arizona Public Defenders Association conference during my internship, this introduced and familiarized me with the Arizona legal system. In particularly the Justice Project presented a seminar which gave me a better understanding of what the Project was about and what it aimed to do.

I would definitely recommend a student to undertake the internship programme. In addition to me gaining many unique and useful skills which I know I will use within University and later on in life, the experience is rewarding, fun and is an amazing opportunity to work in a legal environment and contribute to a case.

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