The right defense

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Amber Diagostine prepares for a future in law.

As an undergraduate student at Northern Arizona University, Amber Diagostine has already worked to prove the innocence of wrongfully convicted inmates and played a pivotal role in a number of court hearings. Now a senior criminal justice major nearing graduation, Diagostine is prepared to take her law experience to the next level.

Getting involved

Diagostine chose to attend the university after learning of the variety of high-level extracurricular opportunities available to underclassmen interested in law enforcement, including undergraduate internships administered through the university’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. As soon as she arrived, Diagostine started tailoring her schedule to take advantage of these prospects, which eventually landed her an internship at the Coconino County Attorney’s Office.

“I prepared for the internship my freshman and sophomore year by taking criminal law courses and other supplementary classes,” Diagostine says. “I got the internship my junior year and learned so much.”

During her internship, Diagostine collaborated with local prosecutors on various legal proceedings, including actual court hearings. Working closely with attorneys and paralegals taught Diagostine how to prepare for trials and navigate the inner-workings of the legal system.

She says her work on real cases as an undergraduate provided her with an invaluable opportunity that complemented her coursework.

“I gained immense experience I wouldn’t have learned in class,” Diagostine says. “It was a great way to gain hands-on experience.”

Classroom justice

In addition to working as an intern outside the classroom, Diagostine developed her legal skills with the help of a variety of on-campus resources, including her CCJ 495 course, Wrongful Conviction.  

The class works in conjunction with the Arizona Innocence Project, an on-campus law clinic that reanalyzes Arizona cases involving wrongfully convicted individuals. Convicts serving life sentences or on death row write to students enrolled in the course and ask for help with appealing their cases. Students like Diagostine then investigate their claims and look for clues or pieces of evidence that may have been overlooked that could cast a different light on the case. 

“We are handling cases where some of these people might actually be innocent,” Diagostine says. “If we believe someone has been convicted of a crime that they’re innocent of, we take the case and work with them to prove their innocence.”

Though she is unable to discuss the specifics of her work with the Arizona Innocence Project, she is grateful for the opportunity to witness firsthand the consequences of proving innocence or establishing guilt, as well as what it’s like to play such an important role in someone else’s life.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to have as an undergraduate,” Diagostine says. “I get to practice being a lawyer, so I have to stay on top of my game while I’m learning.”

The next generation of law

Outside of the classroom, Diagostine works as a mentor for the Justice Learning Community, where she guides incoming freshman within the criminal justice program.

Part of her job involves meeting individually with her mentees to ensure success in their studies and their personal lives. Diagostine appreciates how the role has been mutually beneficial.

“I do have a lot of experience in the major, so I feel like I can offer them a lot,” Diagostine says. “The program has changed since I was a freshman, so I can also learn about their new experiences and use this information to grow and be more involved within the major.”

After graduation, Diagostine plans to pursue a position in law enforcement for a few years to continue building experience before attending law school. Thanks to the opportunities she was able to enjoy, she explains that feels equipped for the next steps in her career, whatever they may be.

“Northern Arizona University has prepared me tremendously for law school and my future ever since my freshman year,” Diagostine says. “The university really helped me figure it all out.”