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