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The Harvard Experience: A Fulbright alumnus’ fulfillment of his wildest dreams
Monday, 9 July 2018

When Senator J. William Fulbright established the Fulbright Scholarship Program in 1948, he had the vision of empowering “the minds that will find national and global solutions to tomorrow’s challenges by fostering academic and professional expertise and excellence in leadership.” The Fulbright Commission in the Philippines will always be proud of its scholars who contribute towards making this vision a reality.

Last Friday, July 6, Atty. Ryan Hartzell C. Balisacan was awarded the Honorable Mention status for the 2018 Marshall M. Schulman Competition for Student Papers in Criminal Law and/or Criminal Procedure. Below is the summary of his paper titled “Going Beyond the ‘Biased Prosecutor’ Account: Exploring Cognitive Biases that Can Affect Judges’ and Defense Attorneys’ Brady-Related Decisions:”

Under the landmark US Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors are obligated to disclose all evidence in their possession that may be favorable to the accused. In recent years, there have been numerous cases of prosecutors who were found to have violated this duty. In seeking to explain this phenomenon, scholars identified subconscious cognitive biases that can sometimes affect prosecutors’ evaluation of the exculpatory potential of a piece of evidence, leading them to erroneously decide in favor of non-disclosure. In “Going Beyond the ‘Biased Prosecutor’ Account: Exploring Cognitive Biases that Can Affect Judges’ and Defense Attorneys’ Brady-Related Decisions,” Ryan Balisacan emphasized that the issue of what evidence constitutes Brady material is often decided through litigation. In these Brady litigations, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges look at the same piece of evidence and decide whether it is exculpatory enough to warrant disclosure. Hence, it is worthy to explore whether cognitive biases can also affect the Brady-related decisions of judges and defense attorneys, the same way they can affect those of prosecutors.

The Marshall Schulman Writing Contest

As an Honorable Mention awardee, Atty. Balisacan will be granted a $500 cash prize, his paper will be published in the Criminal Law Journal, the official quarterly publication of the Criminal Law Section of the California Lawyers Association, and he will have a one-year student membership in the Criminal Law Section.

Marshall Schulman

Marshall Shulman first started practicing law in 1953 after graduating from Loyola Law School. He began working as a prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in 1956. As a prosecutor, Marshall handled several high profile cases, including prosecution of the “Onion Field” murder case. After nearly 10 years of service as a prosecutor, Marshall left the office to begin a successful criminal defense practice in Santa Ana. In 2002, Marshall moved his practice to San Francisco, a location closer to his wife’s family. He served for many years as a member and then advisor of the Executive Committee of the Criminal Law Section. He states that what he liked most about his service on the Committee was “the camaraderie between the defense lawyers and prosecutors.” Marshall was instrumental in implementing the policy of balancing defense and prosecution members on the Committee. In addition to his service to the Criminal Law Section, Marshall was a past President of the Orange County chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, was elected into the American College of Trial Attorneys and the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, and was one of the founders of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He was instrumental in developing the State Bar Criminal Law Specialization program. When asked to sum up his thoughts about the practice of criminal law, Marshall stated, “it is the most challenging, interesting, and rewarding area of the practice of law. I enjoy my colleagues and my opponents. I find that it is a highly ethical practice, which is surprising to most people. I am going to miss it terribly.”

The Fulbright Impact

Atty. Balisacan returned from his Master of Laws (LL.M.) program at Harvard University last June 2018. “In sum, my experience at Harvard Law School can be summed up in this manner: it was the fulfillment of every legal scholar’s wildest dreams,” he wrote on his final report to Fulbright Philippines.

As a law student at Harvard, Atty. Balisacan learned from recognized law experts such as Professor Andrew Manuel Crespo and Professor Mark Tushnet. Professor Crespo was Atty. Balisacan’s supervisor for his master’s paper which explores doctrinal issues affecting cases of police violence in the United States. His master’s paper has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming issue of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. He was also able to cross-register to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Taking a course on International Criminal Justice at The Fletcher School gave him the opportunity to write a term paper examining the legal implications of President Duterte’s decision to withdraw the Philippines from the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. An excerpt of this term paper was published in the Cambridge International Law Journal Blog.

Aside from Atty. Balisacan’s academic work, he also participated in seminars and co-curricular activities such as writing short commentaries on corruption issues to the Global Anticorruption Blog, an academic blog edited by Professor Matthew Stephenson. In his Fall Term, he became the Technical Editor of the Harvard Law and Policy Review – the foremost publication for progressive legal scholarship and policy advocacy at Harvard Law School.

Moving Forward

Upon Atty. Balisacan’s return in the Philippines, he returns to his post as a Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer in the Office of the Ombudsman. He also intends to join the judiciary in the near future, since he would be able to participate in the policy reform initiatives spearheaded by the Supreme Court as a trial court judge. Aside from these, he will continue teaching criminal law, criminal procedure, and legal research at the University of the East College of Law and University of the Philippines College of Law.

Atty. Balisacan concluded his final report with the following paragraphs:

“Participating in the Fulbright Scholarship program has been the most rewarding and fruitful experience of my life thus far. The opportunity it gave me to study in the United States – an opportunity that I would not otherwise have – helped me broaden and deepen my understanding and appreciation of criminal law and criminal procedure. What I learned during my LL.M. year at Harvard Law School would undoubtedly stay with me for the rest of my professional career.

Now, perhaps more than ever, there is an imperative need to reach across seas and continents to have conversations and dialogues with peoples of diverse backgrounds. The issues that currently prevail in many corners of the Earth – poverty, the rise of populism, peacebuilding after periods of conflict – are common experiences that would benefit much from collective and collaborative problem-solving. Academia – in all its dynamism and intellectual rigor – is the best laboratory for finding common solutions to common problems. Fulbright has given me a chance to thrive in that kind of environment, and I sincerely hope that it will continue to do the same for other scholars in the future.”

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