Capital Defender Summer Internship Program
The Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases offers summer internships to law students. These internships provide students with hands-on training and exposure to active, trial-level, death penalty cases in Texas. They are open to both 1-L’s and 2-L’s.
In 2021 students will spend a 10-week summer period at one of six trial offices of the RPDO (Lubbock, Wichita Falls, Terrell, Austin, San Antonio, or Angleton) under the supervision of a capital trial team and administration in Lubbock. Students will be assigned to an office based upon the needs of the organization. Mandatory orientation will be May 26, 2021 in Lubbock, Texas. The internship will begin June 1 and end August 6. Interns are expected to be in their office during each workday. Students are responsible for housing and transportation in their respective locations.
Each intern is responsible for travel to Lubbock, Texas for orientation on May 26th and then for their travel to their office location. Access to a car is required for this internship, public transportation is not viable in many of our office locations.
Accepted interns may apply for a $2,500 stipend to assist with the costs of travel or housing. It is the responsibility of each accepted intern to research and consider the consequences of accepting this stipend in relation to other sources of funding they may have or seek for the summer.
The RPDO plans for this internship to be in person, that each intern will be working in their assigned trial office for the entire 10-week period. The status of Covid-19 will be evaluated up until the time of orientation. Should Covid-19 conditions dictate that all or part of the summer program be conducted virtually, that decision will be communicated to accepted interns as soon as possible. It is our sincere hope and plan to conduct this summer program in person.
Interns will assist the capital trial teams with all aspects of our work depending on what needs to be done and what qualifications the intern has. Interns should expect to do many of the following tasks during their summer, depending on the status of cases in a particular office:
- Conduct legal research and draft pleadings
- Write motions and briefs
- Locate and interview witnesses
- In person visits with clients and their families
- Monitor court proceedings and select non-RPDO proceedings at the discretion of the trial team
- Participate in team meetings and strategy sessions
- Provide their independent observations of clients and witnesses they encounter
- Attend the RPDO summer retreat
- Locate and obtain documents and records
- Gather statistical data
- Read and digest transcripts and a variety of records including medical, educational, employment and military records
- Listen to and digest client jail phone calls
- Attend and participate in evidence reviews
- Assist in locating and preparing expert witnesses
- Attend trials, court hearings, and arguments
- Attend select continuing education classes with members of their trial office, when possible
- Review voir dire questionnaires of prospective jurors in a death penalty case that are incorporated for use by the trial team during voir dire
We give our interns a great deal of responsibility and their work is integral to our defense of clients. Intern research and drafting has formed the basis for numerous motions filed by the RPDO in our cases.
Summer interns assisted in trying to convince a client to take a plea by role playing characters in a death penalty trial. Interns researched and documented systemic racism in the school system in which a client attended and how that directly relates to criminal activity, which will be a large part of the mitigation case should the case go to trial. Assisted in briefing to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in a pending case that could change how DNA evidence is analyzed in all criminal cases in the state of Texas. A decision by the court is expected in late 2020 or 2021.
We expect our interns to be committed, work hard, actively participate and have fun learning. Many of our clients are outside the specific location of a trial office; interns can expect to travel with our trial teams as necessary, perhaps overnight. Interns will gain substantive knowledge of the RPDO’s work, including the legal and procedural aspects of death penalty litigation in Texas as well as Federal Constitutional standards applicable to all death penalty defense.
Additional activities could include brown bag lunches in the office with a discussion or presentation of some aspect of death penalty defense, team building exercises with the trial office, social activities of the trial office and other RPDO offices.
Interns work will be reviewed and critiqued by RPDO trial teams and interns should expect meaningful feedback on their work.
The RPDO will cooperate with universities to facilitate academic credit from that institution in every way possible. The RPDO is generally unable to provide financial assistance to our interns and the positions are unpaid. Due to the nature of our work, the RPDO doesn’t allow for split summers; candidates must commit to the full ten-week summer session.
As the RPDO expands, a position will be created that will allow new graduates to apply for associate defender positions, providing them a path into death penalty defense that, while challenging, will be a unique opportunity for those with the commitment to death penalty defense. Second year law students will have an opportunity to determine if the life of a capital defender is for them and whether to apply for permanent employment with the RPDO.
Candidates may be interviewed in person, by phone or video conference. Successful applicants will be notified on a rolling basis beginning no earlier than November 15, 2021.