267 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455
I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. My research and teaching interests include law, punishment, race, and social movements. My dissertation entitled Public Defenders as the New Civil Rights Leaders? Resistance Lawyering in Southern Courtrooms examines the role of public defenders in criminal justice reform and transformation. The resource-strapped, underfunded conditions of indigent defense in the United States are now well-documented, but little research investigates how attorneys operate within -- or attempt to shift -- the racialized, punitive practices of criminal courts. My dissertation examines these questions using a strategic case study of Gideon's Promise (GP), a public defender training organization.
Based in Atlanta, GP aims to build a social movement of public defenders who will shape cultural transformation from within courts to end mass incarceration. Their core program is a 3-year fellowship for new attorneys that includes bi-annual training, mentoring, and other supports on how to develop trusting client relationships. As one of the most well-resourced organizations supporting this kind of transformation, GP is an essential site to investigate what motivates public defenders and how they use their daily work to resist mass incarceration. My data includes interviews with 42 GP-trained defenders, 200 hours of ethnographic fieldwork at a GP partner office in a Southeastern city, observations at multiple GP training and a discourse analysis of GP's organizational materials. This multi-level approach highlights the broader political context of public defense reform while identifying the daily practices and constraints of reform-oriented attorneys.
I contend GP represents a novel but prominent shift in public defenders' professional identity and purpose. GP aims to transform defenders into resistance lawyers who use their technical and other skills to resist (and potentially shift) existing bail, plea-bargaining, sentencing, and other processes in their local courts. My first in-progress manuscript examines how GP defenders engage in different forms of resistance lawyering including 1) everyday legal defense strategies like frequent motions and courtroom storytelling, 2) whistleblowing and watchdog tactics using the media and appellate courts, and 3) power-shifting tactics by leveraging relationships with local organizers and bail funds.
My dissertation results contradict a common notion in sociolegal scholarship that public defenders are simply “beleaguered dealers” shelling out plea deals. Nonetheless, many noted that such efforts are often met with apathy, threats to their own careers and case outcomes for their clients, and other pushback from their courtroom workgroups and even other public defenders. My results lay critical groundwork for future research on public defense reform, while also offering practical lessons for implementing social change advocacy in similar professions like social work, medicine, and education.
My other research projects include several different collaborations with local justice stakeholders and practitioners in Minneapolis, including social justice nonprofits All Square and Children of Incarcerated Caregivers.
- M.A. : Sociology, University of Minnesota, 2019
- M.A. : Sociology, University of Arkansas, 2016
- B.A. - Magna Cum Laude: Sociology, Psychology, and Criminal Justice, University of Arkansas, 2014
- Social Movements