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Practitioner Profile: Allison Heldreth

Allison Heldreth is a Maryland public defender and alumna of American University Washington College of Law. She received her J.D. in 2013 and her B.A. in 2010 from Furman University. After Heldreth graduated from law school, she clerked for Judge Michele D. Hotten at the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Following her clerkship, Heldreth accepted a position with the Maryland Public Defender's Office as an assistant public defender.


The Practitioner interviewed Heldreth virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The full interview is below:


Why did you choose to practice criminal law?


I never really thought about doing anything else. The concept of adjudicating harm and providing accountability in our society has always been my central fascination. I assumed that meant that I should be a prosecutor before I learned more about the system and realized my true calling was standing with individuals against the system as a public defender.


Who are your greatest legal inspirations?


Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Darrow, and Clara Shortridge Foltz (look her up!)


What is your favorite seminal criminal law case and why?


Brady v. Maryland, because it enshrines the seemingly common-sense idea that you can’t hide evidence favorable to the defense.


What do you see as the greatest challenge for criminal law practitioners in your type of practice? i.e defense, prosecution, etc.


As a defense attorney you always have to ground your practice in humanization of your client in a system that seeks to dehumanize them and push cases through. That sometimes means standing up to powerful figures and slowing things down when everyone else in the room is trying to hurry things up.


What barriers have you experienced as a woman practicing criminal law, and how did you overcome them?


Male lawyers and judges can be infantilizing at times. I’ve learned to firmly and loudly call them out- I’m not the one embarrassing them after all, they embarrassed themselves when they said the sexist thing!


What advice do you have for those who want to enter your area of practice?


Shadow a public defender. You can’t get an idea of what it’s really like without spending a day in the life.


What hard-won wisdom—whether it be technical or general—do you have to offer other criminal law practitioners?


Eat during trials even if you’re not hungry. Be nice to the courtroom clerks always.


What else, if anything, is important for people to know about you to understand what kind of practitioner you are?


That I am genuinely honored to stand beside each and every one of my clients, no matter what, and I truly believe that a better system is possible for everyone involved.

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