Siderman Fellow Examines the US Adversarial System and the Differences of US/Argentinian Criminal Law
As at Fulbright-Jose Siderman Human Rights Fellow pursuing his LL.M. degree, Mariano Gaitan has been enjoying his education at Southwestern. During the Fall semester, he took courses in Evidence with Professor Mark Cammack, as well as Constitutional Law and a seminar on International Protection of Human Rights with Professor Jonathan Miller. Because Gaitan practices criminal law in his native Argentina, he found Criminal Procedure with Professor Jessica Berch to be especially beneficial.
Before graduating from the University of Buenos Aires Law School in 2008, Gaitan began working as a paralegal for the Association of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo (Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo). Since completing school, he has been a staff attorney with this human rights organization. His main responsibilities include litigation of cases concerning massive violations of human rights committed in Argentina during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Gaitan has found it most fascinating to learn about the differences between the ways criminal law is practiced in the United States verses his home country. "In Argentina, we have an inquisitorial system. Trials are mainly written and secret," he said. "We practically don't have hearings. All investigation is up to the judge. It's very bureaucratic, very inefficient and many times, it violates the rights of the involved parties. However, in Argentina there is movement to reform the criminal justice system."
This semester Gaitan is working in an externship at the LA County District Attorney's Office in the Justice System Integrity Division in downtown Los Angeles. This special unit deals with all the cases involving members of the justice system, including lawyers, judges and police. In this work, he is finding that matters concerning the potential wrongdoing of law enforcement are very connected with the kinds of cases he works on in Argentina. "I think that maybe the most interesting is having the opportunity to see how the adversarial system works on a daily basis," he said. "My externship is showing me about this."
Gaitan spends up to three days each week at the D.A.'s office and attends as many hearings as he can. "In Argentina, we are trying to reform our system in a way that might resemble the U.S. adversarial system more," he said. "Going to court regularly gives me advanced insight into the U.S. system."
Currently, he is taking Constitutional Law II with Professor Gowri Ramachandran, Trial Advocacy with Professor Deborah Brazil and History of American Law with Professor Arthur McEvoy. At the conclusion of the Spring semester, he will extern with the ACLU.
"I really like Southwestern," he said. "The faculty has been so great to me. I feel like I had some language issues when I started, and they were very kind and helpful. This school has this atmosphere where everyone is close to you and trying to help you feel comfortable and to do your best."
Gaitan admits that this experience was a bit lonely at first. After all, this Fellowship was his first time traveling to the United States and his girlfriend is currently studying on the East Coast. The thing that made the transition convenient and comfortable was the opportunity to live in The Residences at 7th, Southwestern's new on-campus housing complex. "The facilities are great," he said. "It's a privilege to be in the heart of the city. I don't have to spend any time commuting or worrying about driving."
Southwestern helped Gaitan meet new friends by organizing some activities for other international LL.M. students on campus. But more than anything, he has relished the chance to devote a whole year to concentrate completely on learning about the U.S. legal system. "In Argentina, it's common to work and study at the same time, and it's very hard," he said. "While I'm here, I can focus on my studies and get the most out of it."