By Moriah Lieberman, CJRC Undergraduate Newsletter Editor
The Criminal Justice Research Center is dedicated to providing high performing undergraduate students the opportunity to experience practical research is a number of community settings. With this in mind, I had the chance to sit down with Moriah Cheatham, a CJRC intern, and learn about her experiences at the Ohio Public Defender’s (OPD) office in the juvenile defender division. Moriah is a senior, majoring in English with a minor in Youth and Development and is planning on going to law school next year. She decided to intern at OPD after receiving an email from CJRC and deciding the internship initially appeared like it would be a good investment of her time.
Her first instincts that the internship would be a great investment were correct. She described her internship as an “eye-opening experience,” challenging, yet rewarding. Moriah along with two other CJRC interns, were tasked with collecting information for a comprehensive database. This particular project is designed to track which juvenile cases are transferred to adult courts and provide an analysis of key information related to this decision. They are collecting different information including the gender, race, social economic status of the children as well as which type of offenses and in what counties they are sent to adult courts. The OPD hopes to identify the key trends of the cases of juveniles that are referred to adult courts.
The internship has further strengthened Moriah’s desire to be a juvenile defense attorney. Ever since she was a child,, she wanted to be a “kid lawyer” as she puts it. With terrific passion, she explained the importance of treating juveniles with humanity. Moriah explained to me how juveniles are different from adults and how it is important for the courts to distinguish between adults and juveniles. She indicated that juveniles have less agency support, generally lack resources, do not have a firm grasp their legal options and are not as cognitively or mentally developed as adults. Moreover they tend to have a higher chance of reforming, which is a focus of juvenile detention centers.
In addition to the great research and professional experiences, Moriah really enjoyed working at the ODP because of her relationships, guidance and support of her coworkers most of whom are attorneys or attorneys in training. She elaborated about how they were extremely welcoming and very willing to provide insights on the law and juvenile justice. Moriah said the passion of her coworkers now drives her to be more passionate about her chosen profession. All of the CJRC students placed at the OPD reported outstanding professional experiences and clearly found their placements affirming of their choices and commitment to their future work.
I also had the opportunity to interview Moriah’s supervisor at the OPD, Lauren Hammersmith. Hammersmith graduated from Ohio State with a bachelor’s degree and is currently a law student at Capital University as well as a legal intern at the Ohio Public Defender’s Office. Hammersmith described the staff of the juvenile division at the OPD as excited about helping kids, dedicated to advancing the law and advocating for positive change. The division looks for interns who are on board with their mission, advocate for kids in tough situations and mesh well with the culture at the OPD office. Moreover, they like to look for interns who are specifically interested in juvenile criminal justice law.
The staff very much enjoys helping interns learn more about this area and work to help them determine if this would be a good career fit. Hammersmith noted there were a few characteristics that make a great Ohio State- OPD intern. These include having an enthusiastic attitude, being ready to learn and take on any task that is thrown their way and having a dedication and passion for the mission of the work of the OPD. Not surprisingly, Moriah and the two other CJRC interns at OPD certainly exceeded these expectations. Hammersmith spoke very highly of Moriah, indicating her willingness to take the initiative, always going above and beyond what is expected of her and as very being very enthusiastic and willing to learn. Lauren indicated these are the keys to success as first an intern and second as an attorney at the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.