I am so loving my “job” at the DA’s office. Before getting in and trying it out, I hadn’t ever thought about being a trial lawyer/litigator, but the more I’m there, the more I can see it as a career path that would satisfy every facet of who I am.
Of course, the initial draw for me is that working for a governmental entity is familiar and comfortable. Including this placement, I’ve worked for multiple state agencies, a municipality and now a county government. Clearly, I know the environment in which I fit, but what has surprised me is how exciting it’s been for me to be in and around the courthouse and judges and lawyers. These people roll their sleeves up daily to crank out the work that shapes the legal landscape and resolves societal issues one case at a time.
So far I’ve not done anything too earth-shattering: drafted certain state’s motions, researched defendants’ criminal histories, drafted enhancement notices to defense attorneys, sat in on a victim interview, watched plea bargain negotiations and portions of direct and cross examinations of witnesses in court, prepared trial notebooks and grand jury summaries. But, what I have done a lot is talk to the attorneys and ask questions. This is by far one of the most valuable aspects of going behind the scenes in the DA’s office. I know that the goal is to get us to take more active roles in the weeks to come and ultimately getting us into a trial as a student attorney. I am terrified and exhilarated all at once!
BUT…some of what I’m seeing at the DA’s office does leave me with more questions than answers, though. I guess they forget that an outsider’s perspective is different from the one they’ve developed over time. For example, I recently worked on a case we were prepping for trial (domestic violence) and after having read through all the file I had my mind set that this was going forward. Then, on the day the case shows up on the docket, the IP (injured person) is there in court stating that she wants to drop the charges. She’s gone to the DEFENDANT’s attorney and signed an affidavit stating as much!
I am quietly stunned. I read the reports, more compelling, I saw the pictures–those sad, sad pictures, were burned in my head. While part of me wants to grab this person by the shoulders and yell, “Why?? Why??” the only thing I can do is sit back and observe how the ADAs (Assistant District Attorneys) handle this. Turns out, this is “normal.” In fact, more often than not, this is the result of many more domestic violence cases than you would think. That blew my mind.
There must be a point when doing that job you realize that you can’t save everyone. Once you accept that, you just have to let it go and not carry that around as your own personal baggage. This is a painful lesson that I as a baby student lawyer am just realizing. It’s kind of sad. There is part of my mind that stubbornly wants to hold onto the fantasy that I can be THE person that makes the IP see the light that nobody has been able to show her yet. The other part of my brain, grounded in reality, already sees the writing on the wall.
As I sat there quizzing the ADA’s on this crazy dynamic between IPs and their abusers, that they (the ADAs) see ALL the time, it slowly sank in. The frustration was evident in their body language and in their voices. They are trained to right these wrongs and seek justice for the victims and when those they are charged with helping reject that help, what are they supposed to do?
I should point out that Tarrant County has a “No Drop” policy pertaining to domestic violence cases. This means that just because the IP gives a statement to the defense attorney agreeing to drop the charges, doesn’t mean the State will agree. If an IP wants to drop domestic violence charges they are required to attend a 4-hour course offered by SafeHaven and then return to talk to an ADA about why they want the charges dismissed.
First off, I think if I were an IP and had to sit through a 4-hour lecture about the statistics of domestic violence victims I’d not be able get out of there without something “clicking” in my head. But the IPs happily agree to jump through whatever hoops the State puts in front of them just so the charges get dropped. They go to SafeHaven and then they show up in the office ready to say whatever it takes to the ADA so that everything will just go away. I sat there and listened to one IP come up with one illogical reason after another to justify why what she initially reported as domestic violence was anything but that. She told the police A to cover B because if they wanted to follow-up on B, they’d inevitably ask about C; therefore, D was the obvious choice. WHAT?!?
At the end of the meeting, the ADA said she’d talk to defense counsel and see what they decided. But really, if there were no other witnesses to the incident, what kind of case does the ADA have if the IP recants?? You see the dilemma.
After the IP left and I was able to process what happened I sat there shaking my head, incredulous. One of the ADAs put it so poignantly: You let these cases go, even when you don’t want to, and you hope and pray that the next time you see the Defendant it isn’t because he killed her.
A word to women: Value who you are. Know that you are worthy and that you are a treasure to be handled with care and love. Define who you are and NEVER let someone tell you that you don’t deserve their best.
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