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First in a series: ICCC Students Follow their Dreams

Monday, November 19, 2012

Once heavily involved in the Mexican military and justice systems, a Mexico City-educated lawyer is now studying English at Iowa Central Community College Storm Lake as she goes after her highest career dream: becoming an immigration lawyer.

Upon receiving her degree in criminal law with honors from Metropolitan Autonomous University in 1995, Julieta Castilo Ocampo was a covert federal police officer who conducted research on crime suspects.

"The government wanted to improve the police forces and started to hire people with degrees, such as psychology, law and engineering," she explained. "It was all about drugs and guns, and was very dangerous, but fun."

After wanting to serve her country in another way, Julieta earned the rank of lieutenant in military justice, working in a high military courthouse as an assistant judge under a criminal judge who was a three-star general. For two years, she also taught criminal law, human rights and ethics courses at a military university.

Following her military career, Julieta was an assistant judge for 11 years, working under criminal judge Julio Sotomayor.

The Mexican legal system differs greatly from the U.S.'s, relying on judges, rather than juries, to determine a verdict, Julieta explained. The only exception for juries are military courts, with high-ranking military officials serving as jurors.

"I would work with the judge to decide whether or not the suspect was guilty or innocent, and how many years would be served," she said.

Julieta is currently in the process of completing an essay contrasting the two justice systems.

"When you get a call for jury, you could be an engineer, housekeeper, any profession, with no law skills or knowledge," she said. "In America, it's more about how the lawyers present the case, and if defense makes a good connection, the suspect is declared innocent."

Verdicts in Mexico may be more "precise," she says, because of the country's system.

"Here (in the U.S.) precedent is used for the jury, but in Mexico, we don't have that; we have the law and apply it in every different case," she explained.

For the past eight months, Julieta has been taking English Language Learning courses at ICCC, as she prepares to apply to the University of Iowa's law school for the fall 2013 semester. She will only need eight legal courses there, before being able to take her bar exam.

"I love criminal law, but I will try immigration," she said, of her future professional plans. "We have good immigration lawyers, but many don't speak Spanish. I know of many cases right now of people who are in need of a bilingual lawyer."

In the meantime, Julieta aids through translation, for Storm Lake United Methodist Church's National Justice for Our Neighbors program, as well as those involved in criminal trials. She also publishes an opinion in La Voz de Iowa, and sometimes works as a teacher's aid at Alta Elementary School.

Julieta has resided in Alta since 2011, is married to Rev. Craig Cummins, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, and has three stepchildren, Sarah, Matthew and Kristine. She is an active member of her church, serving through Ladies Aid.

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