Meet Social Science Scholar Fabian Valentin

Despite the pandemic, I pursued three opportunities this summer focused on my interests of human rights, economic policy, and the law. From May to August, I interned at the Law Office of Roger L. Weeden – a criminal defense attorney with 42 years of experience. In June, I participated in the month-long Donald J. Weidner Summer for Undergraduates Program at the Florida State University College of Law to obtain classroom law school experience and practice writing and communication skills. Additionally, I began conducting research on my undergraduate thesis in international affairs; this project focuses on the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

Upon arriving at his Orlando office, Mr. Weeden instructed me to prepare for “street-level lawyering.” Indeed, criminal justice is human rights at the street level. Our cases ranged from serious offenses like murder and gang violence to lower-level charges like reckless driving. Our clients have a variety of backgrounds. I saw how the federal and state criminal justice systems treated them differently. The federal system considers the defendant’s character, adverse childhood experiences, and economic circumstances. In fact, the federal system retains a presumption against cash bail – which helps low-income defendants. However, the state’s legal system juxtaposed this by considering solely the facts of the incident – any notion about the defendant was secondary. Defendants had a right to bail, but the bond could be set beyond their means. Despite my limited direct experience with the criminal justice system, it became evident who was harmed: low-income families, minorities, and persons with disabilities. Appreciating my previous legal experiences, Mr. Weeden entrusted me with writing over fifty motions, proposed orders, and even plea agreements. I witnessed the direct impact of my efforts. In one case, we successfully requested a psychological evaluation for one of our clients who was a minor. Evaluations are crucial because they require the court to consider how brain development may hinder a person’s decision-making capabilities. With few exceptions, one mistake committed by a child should not result in perpetual social ostracization or permanent trauma from prison.

My internship experience benefitted from my participation in the Summer for Undergraduates Program. I participated in three classes: Lawyers as Leaders, Legal Writing, and Criminal Procedure. Using the Socratic Method, the classes offered an intimidating yet thrilling introduction to law school. Criminal Procedure challenged my preconceived notions about civil rights law. In Legal Writing, I completed an oral argument on a criminal appellate case as well as wrote a persuasive statement of facts. I transferred my improved critical thinking skills to both the law office and my research project.

My undergraduate thesis seeks to assess the impact of the partially autonomous status of Puerto Rico on the performance of the territory’s government. As a Puerto Rican, this topic is dear to me because I am aware of the archipelago’s ongoing social problems: widespread poverty, deteriorating infrastructure, and limited political capacity to develop. Preliminary findings suggest the commonwealth status – which denies Puerto Ricans the right to vote in congressional and presidential elections – affects the capacity of the local government to enact effective policy. Further, academic literature and international law contend Puerto Rico’s status denies its residents some human rights. The Social Science Scholars Program’s leadership seminar prepared me for these experiences. Stakeholder analysis and active listening have made me a more passionate and empathetic leader for my community. Without the Social Science Scholars Program, I would have been unable to pursue these opportunities simultaneously due to financial constraints.

Fabian is a third-year student from Orlando majoring in international affairs with a minor in economics. He also is earning a certificate in U.S. intelligence studies from FSU’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program. As a freshman, Fabian participated in the Global and Public Affairs Living-Learning Community and the Pre-Law Society, for which he later became treasurer. In his third year, Fabian joined the Torchlight Campus Policy Center as a policy analyst and was selected as an inaugural fellow at the Institute of Politics. Off campus, his experiences include work at a boutique law firm, volunteer positions within a number of political campaigns, an internship at the Florida House of Representatives and, most recently, an internship at the office of the General Counsel of the Central Florida Expressway Authority. With strong interest in the intersection of economic policy and law, Fabian plans to obtain a J.D. and, eventually, pursue a career in public service.

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