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Volunteer

The Office of the Ohio Public Defender welcomes contact from current law students, recent graduates, and other interested parties who are seeking unpaid opportunities and learning experiences. The timing and type of volunteer opportunities vary, as do the responsibilities assigned to volunteers. Depending on departmental needs and volunteer qualifications, responsibilities can include but are not limited to: legal research and writing; drafting motions, pleadings, and briefs; assisting with preparations for clemency hearings; file management; and client contact (answering letters, participating in phone interviews, and client visits).

Application Process

We accept applications for unpaid volunteer positions on a continuous rolling basis, so you may contact us at any time. Please submit a letter of interest and resume to the Human Resources Department:

  • Email: HumanResources@opd.ohio.gov
  • Mail: Human Resources Volunteer Program, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, 250 E. Broad St., Suite 1400 Columbus OH 43215
  • Fax: 614-728-4766

In your application, please indicate the department(s) or areas for which you have the most interest. You can read more about OPD departments and their opportunities below. HR or department representatives will contact you if your qualifications and availability match agency need and opportunities.

Overview of Volunteer Opportunities & Activities

Death Penalty

The Death Penalty Department works in teams of two or more to handle Ohio’s death row inmate appeals and handle almost all post-conviction (PC) petitions of those of death row. Volunteer Interns in the Death Penalty Department work on a variety of projects related to capital punishment. Legal research and writing are the largest components, but Volunteer Interns may also be asked to complete document review, file indexes, news queries, public records requests, witness interviews, and general information gathering.  Volunteer Interns work and interact directly with the attorneys within the Department. When possible or practical, Volunteer Interns will also be given the opportunity to attend court proceedings, meet with clients on death row, and go on scene and witness investigations and interviews where appropriate.

Policy and Outreach

The Policy & Outreach (P&O) Division leads OPD’s policy, public outreach, and oversight efforts. The OPD is statutorily mandated to supervise the compliance of county indigent defense systems with the Commission’s standards and the agency’s guidelines, and to provide technical aid and assistance to local indigent defense service providers. The division serves as the main point of contact for county indigent defense systems and oversees reimbursement to the counties. It is also responsible for the agency’s media and social media efforts, public records requests, contract review, and legislation. A Volunteer Intern could potentially work on research, data collection and analysis, assist with graphic design.

Wrongful Conviction Project

The Wrongful Conviction Project’s mission is to remove wrongfully convicted people from Ohio prisons by litigating their cases in Ohio courts. Project staff review and investigate claims of actual innocence from people incarcerated in Ohio prisons. We focus primarily on wrongful conviction claims that do not involve DNA evidence. These claims include, but are not limited to, allegations of flawed science, witness misidentification, and false confessions. We also work to promote policy changes that will prevent wrongful convictions in the future. WCP Volunteer Interns review questionnaires from people applying for assistance from our Project. They build a case file by collecting attorney and court files, and by making public records requests. The Volunteer Interns construct a case summary and participate in team meetings to determine if cases should receive further review and investigation. When appropriate the Volunteer Interns also assist the WCP investigator with interviews and field investigation.

Legal

Volunteer Interns in the Legal Department will assist attorneys in all three sections of the department (intake, prison legal services, and appeals and postconviction) to protect and defend the rights of indigent persons convicted of felony level crimes in adult criminal courts in Ohio. Volunteer Interns will conduct legal research at the appellate and postconviction levels, write memoranda in response to attorney questions, and draft pleadings for various state and federal court proceedings. Volunteer Interns may complete transcript and record reviews, correspond with inmates or their families, accompany staff attorneys during client visits, assist and shadow an Assistant State Public Defender at correctional institutions, and attend oral arguments, Parole Board hearings, probation revocation hearings or other court hearings.

Juvenile

Juvenile Department attorneys provide legal assistance and representation to youth who have been committed to the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Assistance typically begins with a legal orientation during the intake process. Juvenile Department attorneys may then represent children by gathering legal information; correcting sentence errors; filing detention credit and judicial release motions; on appeal and post-conviction matters in state and federal court; during sex offender registration hearings, and when a child’s case is remanded for new trial proceedings. Juvenile Department attorneys also provide assistance to children in ODYS on conditions of confinement matters, which includes responding to requests for assistance, reviewing fact investigations, determining whether the child’s conditions of confinement claim has merit, and referring the child to a private attorney for direct representation on their claim.

Depending on their level of education, volunteers, Volunteer Interns, or externs will be tasked with sending intro letters to clients, collecting releases and sending records-requests for court and institutional records, collecting data and statistics, conducting both legal and non-legal research, answering client letters, and drafting various motions and pleadings. They will also have the opportunity to accompany juvenile attorneys to hearings and appellate arguments, so that they may observe Ohio’s juvenile and appellate systems firsthand.

Mitigation/Criminal Investigation Department

The Mitigation and Investigation Department has internship opportunities for students majoring in Criminology/Criminal Justice, Psychology, History, Anthropology, and Social Work. The Department was created in 1998. All members of this department are trained to conduct both criminal investigations and mitigation investigations. Investigators provide assistance for capital and non-capital cases throughout the state, at both the trial and appellate levels. Our investigators also provide alternative sentencing/placement investigation and assistance. Criminal investigators assist attorneys by locating and interviewing witnesses and gathering information about the facts of the case. Mitigation specialists assist attorneys by gathering information to tell the life story of the client, in order to mitigate the punishment, the client receives.

A Volunteer Internship with our department will focus on exposing the Volunteer Intern to as much of the day-to-day case work done by our investigators. Volunteer Interns will assist investigators with tasks such as, but not limited to, meeting and interviewing clients in Ohio jails and prisons; conducting interviews in the field; record collection; report writing; attending hearings/trials/oral arguments; and developing mitigation themes as a member of the defense team.

The Mitigation/Criminal Investigation Department Volunteer Intern can expect to learn about conducting fact and mitigation investigations on trials, post convictions, death penalty and non-death penalty cases for our adult and juvenile clients.

The Volunteer Internship:

  • Will last a semester or three months.
  • Can be for college credit.
  • Require availability of at least one full business day per week.
  • Require signing a Confidentiality Agreement
  • For Social Work Volunteer Interns, will involve 2-3 semesters for Field Placement

If you have additional questions, please reach out to the Human Resources department: HumanResources@opd.ohio.gov or phone 614-466-5394.