McGeorge School of Law

Aldana and Garcia Uhrig Lead Chilean Public Defender Training

December 19, 2013

Thompson, Crawford and Nam

Virginia Thompson, Jamie Crawford and Michelle Nam outside of the Defensoria.

Professors Emily Garcia Uhrig and Raquel Aldana conducted a training program for Chilean public defenders on client interviewing, counseling and plea-bargaining in Spanish from Nov. 25 through Nov. 29, 2013 in Santiago, Chile.

In all, 19 public defenders from throughout Chile, some with more than 15 years of public defender experience, participated in the program. Professor Cary Bricker, Garcia Uhrig, Aldana, and Matt Fleming, '11 developed the skills-based syllabus and materials for a similar course conducted in August 2012. Fleming now works as an attorney at the San Diego Federal Defender's Office. The materials included original case simulations and some exercises used in the law school's clinical courses.

"We teach more than skills, but also values related to empathy and the humanization of the client, aimed at the transformation of criminal justice," said Aldana. "We received many compliments about our approach from Chileans who observed the course."

Three bilingual law students, Michelle Nam from McGeorge, and Jamie Crawford and Virginia (Jenna) Thompson from University of Denver, joined Aldana and Garcia Uhrig and played the role of clients.

"These class-sessions were invaluable to me because the professors not only taught the Chilean public defenders about techniques and skills they can use with their clients and with prosecutors, they also taught me some brilliant skills that I plan on using in my future career in public defense," said Nam. "This program gave me the opportunity to look at the US criminal justice system in [an] international context and forced me to reflect on what kind of long-term structural changes the US should strive for."

Aldana, Garcia Uhrig InsertCrawford and Thompson returned from Cambodia, where they had worked for the Khmer Rouge hybrid tribunal with the United Nations, right before they arrived at the Chilean training program. The two Denver students, along with Nam, were selected based on the great cross-cultural and linguistic skills they gained from having participated in the uniquely bilingual McGeorge Inter-American program during summer 2012 in Antigua, Guatemala.

Nam is currently enrolled in the year-long Federal Defender Clinic lead by Professor Bricker. She plans to pursue a job as a public defender after graduation in May 2014.

"I had the opportunity to meet some incredibly smart, passionate and emotionally-intelligent public defenders during this program," said Nam. "Watching them learn and engage with the class material was really touching because I could see that they really care about their clients' lives. These public defenders taught me how important it is to show compassion and sensitivity to our clients as we defend them in their criminal cases."

"What the students accomplished in this program was truly remarkable," said Garcia Uhrig. "We provided each of them with a basic client profile, informed in large part by actual clients Cary and I had had as public defenders, ourselves, and then gave them artistic license to personify that client. Michelle, Jamie, and Jenna then in turn gave us complicated, nuanced interpretations of human beings caught in difficult circumstances and in some cases making poor choices. Indeed, it was often easy to forget throughout the week that these were only simulations. The fact that all three of them were acting in Spanish as non-native Spanish speakers was all the more impressive."

Since 2000, Chile has transitioned from an inquisitorial to adversarial system of criminal justice. This transition has transformed the role of defense counsel from relatively passive participant to vigorous advocate for the criminally accused. The government of Chile has called on McGeorge for assistance in training both prosecutors and public defenders in their new, adversarial system functions two other times: in early 2004, when eight prosecutors and 11 public defenders came to Sacramento for a four-week program directed by Professor Jay Leach, and in summer 2012, when then-students Charlie Young, '13, Meghan Clair, '13, and alumnus Matt Fleming, '11, joined Professors Garcia Uhrig, Aldana, Bricker, and Luis Mogollón for a two-week training program that focused on interviewing, counseling, and plea-bargaining. McGeorge completed a five-year, multi-million dollar, USAID-funded program working with hundreds of legal educators in China last year.