Jan. 3, 2018
Meet our Alumni: Caitlin Pakosh, JD '11
Caitlin Pakosh is presently Senior Staff Lawyer at Innocence Canada (IC) and, in the new year, will pursue private criminal defence practice. In 2017, the Foundation for Legal Research awarded her book "The Lawyer’s Guide to the Forensic Sciences" the Walter Owen Book Prize, which is “designed to recognize excellent legal writing and to reward outstanding new contributions to Canadian legal doctrine that enhance the quality of legal research in this country.”
Caitlin’s motivation in putting together the book was threefold: (1) to improve science education for lawyers, (2) to encourage dialogue between the legal and forensic communities, and (3) to support the functioning of a fair and reasonable criminal justice system, while seeking to prevent wrongful convictions. She believes that, “the gap in the literature was an opportunity to create something useful for all criminal lawyers.” The book is directed to all members of the justice community including defence counsel, the prosecution, and the judiciary. Caitlin suggests that, “a main problem that arises in the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system is when the two cultures come together at the communication stage, including during interpretation and testimony” and she hopes that her book will help ease the culture clash.
Caitlin started working with Innocence Canada as an Articling Student following her graduation from UCalgary Law, and has been working with the organization since that time. Innocence Canada is a Canadian, non-profit organization dedicated to identifying, advocating for, and exonerating individuals convicted of crimes they did not commit and to preventing such injustices in the future through legal education and justice system reform. The organization typically focuses on wrongful homicide convictions, though persons convicted of other offences may also seek out the help of the organization. Caitlin works on a variety of cases at any given time. Her work often involves collaborating with pro bono case reviewers and IC’s Case Review Committee, requesting new forensic expert opinions, and initiating and monitoring private investigations. The goal? To thoroughly review each case and to determine whether there is new and significant evidence that could support the innocence claim in question.
One of the aspects of the job that Caitlin finds most rewarding is the variety of cases and the detail that needs to be taken into account to develop effective case strategies. Having involvement in so many of IC’s cases affords Caitlin the opportunity to see the “big picture” of the organization’s caseload. Post-conviction innocence work is an uphill battle and she notes that, “A great deal of time and work goes into each one of our cases. Working on a case could take years and, unfortunately, there’s never a guarantee of finding new evidence. Still, we have to try our best and see where the evidence leads us.”
As Caitlin’s career turns to practicing criminal defence law as a sole practitioner, she hopes to continue to build upon her interest in the intersection between the forensic science and the law through publication and legal casework. Before attending law school, Caitlin received her Honours Bachelor of Science (with Distinction) specializing in Forensic Anthropology and obtaining a minor in Biology. Although she initially began her studies in forensics with a view to becoming a police officer, an RCMP recruiter encouraged her to pursue law. When looking back at her career path, Caitlin describes how, “It all worked out rather nicely for not having a career path in terms of specifics. I knew what I liked and what I was good at, but I didn’t know exactly what form it would all take.”
Something Caitlin has found integral to her success is taking the time to keep her life in balance. While in law school and during her professional career, Caitlin has been an active participant in sports and extra-curricular activities. While completing her law degree, Caitlin competed internationally in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, rowed in her free time, and volunteered with Student Legal Assistance. Caitlin recommends that students should, “remember that building a career takes work but so does building a life and it’s important to dedicate effort to both. At the end of a day, every professional is a person too.”