Notes from the Field: Samuel Emmah ’18

Samuel Emmah ’18 interned in the Office of the Public Defender in Hartford, Connecticut for the 2017 Winter term. The following is an excerpt from his internship report.

This past winter, I was able to intern in the Office of the Public Defender in Hartford, Connecticut which provides legal representation to indigent clients of the surrounding Hartford metropolitan area who are at risk of a prison sentence. As a leader in public defender work, the state of Connecticut directly funds the public defender’s office to utilize dedicated attorneys, investigators, and social workers to ensure the protection and enforcement of a defendant’s constitutional rights. In Connecticut, the superior courts are separated into a GA court, which handles misdemeanors and lower class felonies, and a JD court, which provides representation to clients facing higher-class felonies.

As an investigative intern, I spent the initial five weeks working in the GA division of the public defender’s office. Primarily, I interviewed clients to determine whether they qualified financially for our services. Additionally, I would acquire personal information that shines a positive light on their life outside the criminal justice system, such as their occupation, education level, and family life, to provide public defenders leverage to reduce the bond, charges, and/or prison sentence for their clients. Besides interviewing clients in court, I would assist investigators in the collection of requested information, such as interviewing witnesses or collecting video footage, from attorneys pertaining to their client’s pending case.

In my final five weeks, I shifted my responsibilities to accommodate the JD division of the public defender’s office. In this role, I predominantly assisted the public defenders in their pending cases. My responsibilities varied from researching a client’s prior criminal history, viewing and documenting the events of a client and their victim’s interview, and researching statues that pertain with a client’s case. Moreover, I was able to follow investigators and the social worker to jail in order to visit, interview, and inform incarcerated clients on the logistics of their case. Additionally, when time permitted, I could also sit in court proceedings.

While interning, I found it incredibly heartening how much public defenders actually care for their clients. In my office, public defenders will organize clothing drives during the winter for their clients. Additionally, public defenders set up drug rehabilitation programming, counseling, job programming, post-secondary education attainment, and subsidized housing for clients in lieu of incarceration. When a client becomes incarcerated, public defenders will work with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide schooling, counseling, and community programming for clients.

From the new experiences and knowledge I acquired, I now have the foundation to be more helpful in the effort to reform the criminal justice system. By witnessing how much discretion a prosecutor has in filing charges and pursuing jail time for people, I understand that the focus in producing changes in the criminal justice system will need to be made with prosecutors and prosecutorial interest groups. Additionally, by educating the public about how prosecutors essentially hold the lives of people in their hands, the public will push for more accountability of prosecutors to use alternative methods of sentencing, such as drug rehabilitation, counseling, etc. besides just prison time.

Ultimately, working at the Connecticut Public Defender’s Services in Hartford was a fulfilling internship. Working in an organization whose clients face the worse end of the criminal justice system has opened my eyes even more in terms of what needs to be changed in the criminal justice system. I want to pursue a career that will protect people in their most difficult time of life.