Criminal Justice alumnus interning for public defender after testifying at Tallahassee clemency hearing

Abraham Garcia ’24

Abraham Garcia ’24, recently received a bachelor’s degree with a double major in psychology and criminal justice, is serving as an intern in the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s office, and is planning to go to law school. And while his formal studies aptly prepared him for his aspirations, he did not anticipate that a singular experience in Tallahassee last year would have such a powerful impact.

In January 2023, Garcia testified on behalf of his father, who was seeking a pardon from the Florida State Clemency Board. A Cuban immigrant, he had experienced legal troubles and could not secure U.S. citizenship after nine years of unsuccessful attempts and thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Even after the clemency hearing had been scheduled, Garcia said his father considered not attending. He told him, “‘If you're not there to make your case, they're not going to pardon you. You know, we should go, just in case.’ I was prepared to speak. … On the day, everyone there was with their attorney and my dad only had me. It  felt that it was all on my shoulders”.

Garcia told the board, which included Governor Ron DeSantis and three other Cabinet members, that his father was remorseful about the crime he had committed, and that “the pardon would mean he can become the American he is, in my eyes and in his eyes.”

The board granted the pardon.

“Having that first-hand experience helping my father through the lengthy clemency process and obtaining a pardon after exhausting all resources deepened my passion for criminal law,” Garcia said.

After having received an AA degree from Miami Dade College as a dual-enrollment student in high school, he initially majored in psychology at FIU. Although he had a deep interest in psychology – and especially loved research he conducted at the Eyewitness Memory and Testimony Lab on witness memory and investigative interviewing techniques – he gravitated to dual studies. His academic advisor recommended a second major in criminal justice since both majors required many of the same courses. “I already knew I wanted to be an attorney, but I fell in love with studying the criminal justice system,” he commented. “I wanted to take more of those classes.”

Garcia, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society as an FIU student, decided to take a break before applying for fall 2025 admission to law school. He recently began a paid internship in the office of public defender Carlos J. Martinez of the 11th  Judicial Circuit of Florida. He is now conducting research on laws around the country that protect arrested minors who have waived their Miranda rights, without knowing what that could mean for their legal situation.

Ironically, Garcia could have wound up across the street, working on behalf of another sector of the legal system – at the state attorney’s office. But then the opportunity for the public defender came his way. “I'm always open to anything,” he said. “I've always been open to learning, at least at the stage where I'm at right now. Anything that I can get my hands on, I love to learn.”