At this point in early 2019, I’m about halfway through my Criminal Justice degree. The start of this past semester blessed me with an externship at the District Attorney’s office. In case you are suddenly wondering what an “extern” is and what the difference is between “extern” and “intern”, here you go: An externship is generally fulfilled by students to gain experience in a field by job-shadowing. Generally, externs are paid credit hours, not money. Interns tend to volunteer their time for longer periods than externs and may or may not be paid. So for now, I am just as broke as I was at the start of the semester, but I’m getting rich in credit hours.
My duties mostly entail helping whomever would like my help. Generally, I assist the legal assistant who in turn assists the Chief Deputy District Attorney, who is second only to the District Attorney (DA). She also assists another primary Assistant District Attorney (ADA). With her overwhelming workload, I try to help by handling some of the paperwork and files of those who have been arrested, indicted, and are getting prepped for trial.
First, there is a distinction between federal and misdemeanor cases. Since I work for the District Attorney, I am seeing federal cases. This means I handle the files of those that have committed crimes against federal laws. Those convicted of felonies will most likely do prison time. Those who commit crimes against their state laws are convicted of misdemeanors. Usually, misdemeanors are punishable for up to a year in jail, versus the year plus that a felon will serve in prison.
In the short time I have been an extern at the DA’s office, the path a suspect follows from arrest to sentencing has been illuminated. What I have come to realize is that our criminal justice system is a flexible, writhing, moving entity. There are so many cogs in this Justice Machine…some of them are well-oiled and work well. Some grind against other cogs and cause the machine to falter. For example, arrests and bookings are typically efficient processes, but the gears of justice begin to grind against each other when motions are filed by the attorneys on both sides. Other instances that may cause the criminal justice system to crawl include uncooperative witnesses or victims. This past week, I encountered an issue with an active case that is pending trial: the victim no longer lives in this state! Now the DA’s office must pay to buy her plane ticket, meals and hotel room so that she may testify locally.
Stay tuned for more musing from a newly-minted extern who wants to clue you in on what you didn’t know about the criminal justice system!