Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT)
Intern - Helena Traner Recommendations to Students
My very first day at OPDAT I was given a research assignment regarding immunity of public officials by Catherine Newcombe, the regional director for Eurasia. In this project I was to research the laws that govern prosecution of a public official, such as a prime minister, for acts he or she commits within his or her official capacity. The assignment immediately allowed me to begin researching and comparing foreign law, international law, and decisions of international courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights.
Soon after, I received another long term project that I was engaged with all summer, regarding joint venture doctrine. Joint venture arises when the U.S. and a foreign government cooperate extensively, and unconstitutionally obtained evidence by the foreign government may become tainted for a U.S.-based prosecution if a joint venture exists. My task was to brief the Merida Program Manager, Carlos Acosta, on this subject. Over the course of the summer I was also asked to enquire of various Resident Legal Advisers (RLAs) of what their experiences had been with the doctrine. This enabled me to speak one on one with the federal prosecutors that OPDAT sends overseas to conduct foreign assistance missions, about their experiences.
I also completed several projects for RLAs stationed overseas. For example, I wrote a memorandum regarding how the U.S. handles suspicious banking transactions, and whether or not a specific law or statute provides protection from civil prosecution to a bank employee who makes a report of a suspicious banking transaction. While this project was U.S.-based, the RLA in Indonesia was very happy to receive it, as he could then relay to the Indonesian prosecutors an example of what kind of protections could be built into their criminal code such that an Indonesian bank employee would not be at risk for being sued by the person he or she reported.
I wrote a comparative human trafficking law piece for the Indonesian RLA regarding human trafficking laws worldwide. The RLA wanted to know which countries’ laws specifically provide protection to victims of human trafficking for crimes committed while under the duress or control of their trafficker. Surprisingly, even the U.S. does not have such a comprehensive law affording this level of protection, though some individual states have enacted such laws. The U.N. Model Law was my key suggestion to this RLA and he was very pleased with the research I had found regarding the various approaches to the defenses of coercion and duress. The RLA needed this information in order to help advise the Indonesians on how best to draft laws that could provide such protection to victims.
One of the biggest projects I worked on at OPDAT was the RLA training program. Six new RLAs were deploying to various countries in the world, and I and another student were tasked with creating briefing books for each RLA’s country. In the books we included links to foreign law guides and sources where international law can easily be located as well as cultural and historical information about each country. We were also asked to sit in on all of the RLA briefing sessions over the course of an entire week to take notes and ultimately create power point shows for each session. The briefing sessions included a wide range of various topics, from how OPDAT is funded, administrative items the RLAs need to know when overseas, to reporting requirements for RLAs, to how to deal with life in an embassy. At the end of the week-long training, I sat down to discuss with the Deputy Director of OPDAT how effective the training was, and what could be improved to better prepare the RLAs for their assignments. My final product of this project (the power point slides) will be used from now on to teach newly deploying RLAs about these topics before they deploy on their foreign assistance missions.
While at OPDAT I also drafted, reviewed, edited and altered many documents relating to its work. For example, I drafted, edited and reviewed a budget proposal for one particular project involving a regional network for several countries. Because I was engaged on this assignment, I was able to attend meetings at the State Department regarding the countries involved that I may otherwise not have been able to sit in on. Because OPDAT maintains a special relationship with the State Department (most of its funding comes from the State Department), I was often exposed to this interagency cooperation. For example, I was able to work with another intern at the State Department to edit and revise a very important document regarding metrics used to assess the effectiveness of Merida initiative programs in Mexico. Prior to this experience, I never knew that the Department of Justice and the State Department worked so closely together.
In another project I worked on for Carlos Acosta, I edited and altered a guide that was originally designed to teach Argentine prosecutors best practice methods for intellectual property prosecutions into a guide for narcotics trafficking and money laundering prosecution in Mexico. The best part of this project is that the entire document was in Spanish, so that I was able to utilize my Spanish language abilities and learn new legal vocabulary. As Spanish naturally has some colloquialisms in its legal terminology depending on the country, I was also tasked with calling a representative of the State Department in Mexico for clarification on such terms. My final product is already being used to train Prosecutors in Panama and will be used to train prosecutors throughout Mexico and Central and South America going forward.
One of the most fascinating projects I was able to work on was a memorandum for an RLA in Georgia regarding classified information procedures. I was able to research and write about how the U.S. handles classified information in a trial, and when it is and is not appropriate to close a proceeding to the public. This information was in turn used by the RLA to educate Georgians on how the U.S. system operates.
The last project I worked on was of substantial importance and enabled me to try my hand at a different style of writing. Carl Alexandre, the director of OPDAT, asked me to write a speech for him that he gave at a National Court Clerk’s Association conference. In the speech, I discussed the work of the Department of Justice, OPDAT and court clerks in the promotion of rule of law abroad. I specifically highlighted how important court clerks are to the American justice system, in that they protect and safeguard the public record and noted that this is not the case in many of the countries in which OPDAT is currently engaged. Carl gave this speech before the conference and it may be used as a template for speeches focusing on the rule of law in the future.