PREP Students Explore Ethical Issues in Criminal Law with Prosecutors and Public Defenders

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Karyn Sanchez, Shawn Abuhoff, Jerome Jackson, and Julien Apollon

Karyn Sanchez, Shawn Abuhoff, Jerome Jackson, and Julien Apollon 

Every year, the Professional Responsibility & Ethics Program (PREP) students are able to explore diverse areas of the law and interact with attorneys in a discussion of the ethical challenges that confront today’s legal profession.

This semester, students from the Miami Law PREP Program had the opportunity to present at the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office to discuss ethical issues faced by prosecutors and public defenders, which have become more complex due to the growth of social media and technology.

Miami Law student Julien Apollon had the unique experience of presenting at both the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office.

“Fortunately, I had the opportunity to attend both the Broward State Attorney and Miami-Dade Public Defender presentation, and was amazed to discuss the issues with attorneys that portrayed subtle differences in the ways they argue, study and perceive similar legal issues,” said Appollon. “The interactive nature of our presentation provided great insight into the practice of law at both offices. I appreciated the unique chance we were offered to discuss new issues in social media that could directly impact trial work in both locations.”

Julien Apollon, Gina Villar, Andrew McCarten, (standing) Assistant Public Defender, and Kevin HellmanAt the State Attorney’s Office, Apollon was joined by PREP Fellow Jerome Jackson and PREP Interns Shawn Abuhoff and Karyn Sanchez to discuss the ethical implications of using social media to investigate witnesses, victims, defendants, and jurors. There was a lively discussion about what a prosecutor is obligated to disclose to the defense when potential evidence is initially discovered on social media, but subsequently has been deleted. Another topic of discussion was the use of power point presentations during closing arguments and the potential ethical violations that could arise.

"The Broward State Attorneys were a lively group who really got engaged with the material,” said Jackson. “It makes for the best trainings when the group has previously tackled the issues we are presenting, or if they have a strong opinion on it."

“The environment of participating in a presentation inside a court room was very unique and exciting,” said Abuhoff. “Those who attended were very engaged and guided the discussion along by asking necessary questions and giving their input. All in all it was a great experience.”

"The attorneys at the Broward State Attorney’s office were engaged and ready to discuss their approach to some of the difficult issues presented through the hypotheticals,” said Sanchez. “It was interesting to hear how they would act in the given hypothetical situation. This provided a great example on how every day practice differs from academia.”

At the Public Defender’s Office, Apollon was joined by PREP Fellow Gina Villar and Intern Andrew McCarten. The presentation included issues arising when a defendant’s smart phone has been seized and when the removal the social media may constitute tampering with evidence.

Reflecting upon his experience at the Public Defender’s Office, McCarten said, “I enjoyed the presentation because it was a back and forth in every sense; rather than simply listening to the results of our research, the public defenders shared their own opinions and talked about their experiences and ongoing concerns. It was interesting to hear their differing approaches to handling various situations with clients, in light of the ever-changing landscape of social media. Our presentation appeared to be thought-provoking as almost everyone in the room participated in the discussion.”

“Discussing the ethical implications of advising clients of the use of social media sparked an intriguing discussion at the public defender’s office,” said Villar. “It was interesting to hear how much of an impact social media can have in a criminal case.”

PREP develops customized CLE ethics trainings thereby providing an opportunity for students to explore diverse areas of the law and interact with attorneys practicing in those areas regarding the ethical challenges that confront today’s legal profession. The program combines the attributes of an ethics institute and an ethics clinic, and has dedicated hundreds of student hours to public service and has educated thousands of members of the Bench & Bar.

In 2012, PREP was recognized by the ABA with its E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award —the leading national award recognizing programs and projects contributing to the understanding and advancement of professionalism among lawyers and judges. In addition to presenting ethics trainings, throughout the semester PREP students publish blog posts regarding the nation’s newest ethics opinions and cases. The blog, Legal Ethics in Motion, can be found here. For more information about PREP, contact PREP’s director, Jan L. Jacobowitz at jjacobowitz@law.miami.edu.