Hermes and Alejandra intend to bring what they learn at the Law School back to their home country.
This feature is part of an ongoing series celebrating the diverse array of University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students who make up our Law School’s uniquely collegial academic community. Together, students at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School engage in rich academic discussions, push the boundaries of contemporary legal thought, and work collaboratively toward our shared goal of upholding principles of justice locally, nationally, and around the world.
Hermes Hein Aedo LLM’22 graduated with honors as one of the best students of his class at the University of Chile. He was also awarded the prize “Best Thesis of the Year” for his work on public embezzlement crimes. During his last year at university, he received a scholarship to spend a semester abroad at the University of Barcelona specializing in advanced criminal law courses. He started his legal career in one of the biggest law firms in Chile and later founded an emerging law firm four years ago. He is interested in criminal law theory and procedure, international human rights, and constitutional law.
María Alejandra Maldonado Ibaceta LLM’22 graduated with the highest honors from the University of Chile. Since she was a student, she has been interested in criminal and public law. She was a teacher’s assistant at the criminal law department for seven years and has spent her entire professional career as a public servant. At her last job, she worked in the Chilean State Defense Council for four years as a Criminal Law Advisor, Chief of Staff of the Council’s President, and Legal Advisor of the Research Department. In those positions, she focused her practice on criminal law, human rights, and administrative law.
Hermes Hein Aedo LLM’22 and María Alejandra Maldonado Ibaceta LLM’22 came to the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School together from their home country of Chile, where they both worked in different sectors of criminal law. As students in the LLM program, they have delved deeply into both U.S. criminal law and international human rights law and have set ambitious goals for how to apply what they have learned as they move forward in their careers.
Advocating for equality in Chile
Though the pandemic ultimately deferred their start dates until 2021, Hermes and Alejandra first applied to the LLM program in 2019 – a pivotal year in recent Chilean history, marked by social uprisings of historic scale. Alejandra felt the impact of the uprising acutely at her job as the chief of staff of the Council’s President in the Chilean State Defense Council.
“This public agency has the mission, on the one hand, to protect and monitor public resources because, in short, we are the lawyers of the State. But, on the other hand, it also has the mission to aid in the prosecution of crimes committed by public employees, and that involves the police,” Alejandra said. “As you can imagine, in the context of massive protests all over the country, the potential of police abuse and misconduct increased significantly.”
After the social uprising, the President of the Council changed. During the new administration, Alejandra was deprived of a significant portion of her salary, with no legal reason. At the time, Hermes was working at a law firm he co-founded, concentrating in criminal, human rights, healthcare, and labor discrimination law. He became her lawyer, and together, they took her case all the way to the Chilean Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of Hermes and Alejandra, agreeing that the government committed an illegal, discriminatory act without justification.
“It was like a family effort. In fact, we litigated the last part of the procedure remotely while we were already studying in Philadelphia,” Hermes said. “The State spared no resources in this case because it was very symbolic for them. The limits to the powers of the President of the Chilean State Defense Council were at stake. Even if we were facing a discriminatory act, it is difficult to raise a constitutional action against a powerful employer in the culture of a traditional institution. Indeed, it’s always a hard call to make, from an emotional perspective, to sue your employer and to keep working there.”
Studying in the LLM program
“I had a personal goal to study abroad. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do; a kind of dream. Especially given where I’m from, which is a small town in the Andes mountains,” Alejandra said.
Hermes and Alejandra were first introduced to the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School while they were law students at the University of Chile in 2013. Both were concentrating their studies in criminal law, and they were part of a team of students who had arranged an International Congress on Criminal Law and Policy with leading criminal law scholars from around the world – including Colin S. Diver Professor of Law Paul H. Robinson. Not only did Robinson give the event’s keynote presentation, but he brought brochures and information about the Law School, piquing Hermes and Alejandra’s interest.
In subsequent years, Hermes and Alejandra did their own research on U.S. law schools with strong criminal law programs, and they were pleased to find the Law School at Penn at the top of the list. The esteemed criminal law scholars on the Law School’s faculty played heavily into the decision to apply to the LLM program.
“In my opinion, Penn is the best place to study criminal law. Of course, having the opportunity to study with Professor Robinson was an important factor in our decision to come to Penn. Indeed, we have taken three courses and seminars with him on the evolution of American criminal law, the failures of justice in the criminal justice system, and the universal core principles of criminal law. Last semester, we also had a seminar on the role of consent in sexual crimes with Professor Kimberly Ferzan L’95 [Earle Hepburn Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy], a leading expert in this field and an incredibly engaging teacher. Also, one of the most challenging but rewarding courses was Constitutional Criminal Procedure with Senior Fellow David Rudovsky. His professional career as a civil rights advocate has been very inspiring,” Hermes said. “In addition, we are interested in human rights, so this semester we are enrolled in ‘International Human Rights’ with Professor of Law William Burke-White, who is an expert in international law, and Professor Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [Perry World House Professor of Practice Law and Human Rights], who is the former High Commissioner of Human Rights for the UN. It is a fascinating class with students from many different countries and backgrounds.”
In addition to the faculty, Alejandra pointed to the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice as being another important factor in their decision to come to the Law School, as the Center’s work related to systemic criminal justice reform relates directly to the type of work she has done and plans to continue to do.
“One of the challenges of my job was to deal with the role of the state in the criminal justice system to achieve fair and efficient results,” Alejandra said. “When you handle crimes committed by public employees such as law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges, you realize that there are some problems that are systemic in nature. Improving the criminal justice system in Chile is one of the topics that moves me. That is why I was so interested in the work of the Quattrone Center led by John Hollway C’92, MAPP’18 [Executive Director of the Quattrone Center and Lecturer in Law] and Marissa Bluestine [Assistant Director of the Quattrone Center], because they adopt a systemic approach to improve the quality of the criminal justice system’s outcomes.”
Infusing an international perspective into contemporary Chilean law
“Right now, in Chile, we are doing something unique,” Hermes said. “We are in the middle of drafting a new constitution from scratch. We are excited about this process but also cautious about what the results will be. Interesting things from a political and legal perspective are happening in Chile, and we try to share these experiences in the classroom.”
Alejandra noted that both she and Hermes are eager to take what they learn in the U.S. back to Chile as their country continues to work to reform its legal systems.
“Our plan has always been to take advantage of the time we have here and learn the most we can, then go back to Chile and try to do something valuable in the criminal justice system. The incredible part of this academic experience has been that it has opened our minds,” Alejandra said. “The American and Chilean legal systems are experiencing very similar problems, but in the U.S., people have been thinking about the solutions for a longer time. So that experience is very valuable to us.”
Hermes, who has goals of transitioning into more human rights-oriented work and eventually would like to serve as a judge, underscored the value of studying U.S. law, particularly during this pivotal moment in Chilean history.
“The impact that the American system has had in Chile has been very significant. We have been transitioning in many legal reforms in the last two decades. Probably the most significant was the reform to our criminal procedure that was very much influenced by American criminal procedure. We transitioned from an inquisitorial and written legal procedure to an oral, public procedure – a 180-degree shift,” Hermes said. “The U.S. has a long history of cases that define legal standards such as probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc., so all that experience has been accumulated, and we have had the opportunity to learn from that in our criminal law classes.”
Living in Philadelphia
Though they look forward to returning to Chile to pursue their goals, Hermes and Alejandra have enjoyed living in Philadelphia and forming close friendships with people from all over the world.
“We love our neighborhood. We love our neighbors. It’s just a coincidence, but we ended up living in a building with another LLM student from Germany upstairs, and our next-door neighbor is a Penn Law alum who is extremely friendly,” said Hermes. “We were expecting to make a lot of friends in the LLM program from all over the world; what we weren’t expecting was to have such a close relationship with local people. People in Philly are just so friendly.”
“I truly appreciate the diversity of the LLM program,” Alejandra added. “I have found real friends here that I would never have met if it weren’t for this experience. For example, my closest friend is from China. It has been an enlightening and fun experience.”