Roger T. Dean (he/him/his) '19
Guess what I did this summer?
I want to first start off by saying welcome to the new class of 1Ls. You have embarked on a worthwhile journey to become a legal advocate at a wonderful institution of higher learning. The University of Virginia School of Law and I both welcome you. Now, I will get straight to the point of this article.
You will never guess what I did this past summer. Go on, guess. I will give you three guesses. If I told you already, you don’t get to guess. I mean you do, but you don’t win. All right, got your guesses? All wrong. All of them. I mean, you actually could have gotten it, but I’m going to tell you anyway. This summer, I stayed with some of my friends from undergrad (George Mason University) while I interned at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO – DC).
According to their website,
The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia is a unique one among the 94 United States Attorney Offices across the nation and its territories by virtue of its size and its varied responsibilities. Shockingly, for an area so small, it is the largest United States Attorney’s Office. It has over 350 Assistant United States Attorneys and over 350 support staff. The size of this Office is the result of the breadth of the responsibility for criminal law enforcement and the ideal location in the nation’s capital. USAO – DC is responsible not only for the prosecution of all federal crimes in the District, but also for the prosecution of all serious local crime committed by adults in the District of Columbia. On the civil side, the USAO – DC represents the United States and its departments and agencies in civil proceedings filed in federal court in the District of Columbia. As the principal prosecutor for all criminal offenses in this jurisdiction, and as the principal litigator for the United States in the nation’s capital, the Office offers extensive litigation experience before over 100 judges in the federal and local courts and unique opportunities for important public service.
I know—pretty fancy, right? During my time there, I was in the homicide division. In D.C., there are two courts in which this office works: the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (the federal trial court) and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (the local courthouse). It was also the courthouse my supervising attorneys practiced in every day. As an office, we were in court every day for something. There are a lot of murders that happen in the district. I was unaware of that. I had no clue. I did not know murder was so prevalent in such a small area.
There were over 130 interns in the intern office and fifteen on my floor. There were a couple of UVa Law students in my division and in my office this summer. You can ask around and get different feedback, but my experience was once-in-a-lifetime. I loved my experience. I had the opportunity to do some solid legal research and writing. I researched and drafted a response to a defense motion for the government arguing that a drug addict’s identification of an illicit substance should be accepted as expert testimony. The question presented was: “Would it be appropriate for the court to accept the government’s request to qualify a drug user as an expert witness in a trial for identification purposes of crack cocaine?” The short answer was: “Yes. It is appropriate as it has been done in other jurisdictions. There is legal support for the decision, and it wouldn’t be overturned on appeal. It is clearly aligned with United States v. Bradley, 165 F.3d 594 (7th Cir. 1999) in which the court says “[t]his just makes common sense because those who smoke, buy, or sell this stuff are the real experts on what is crack.”
Long story short, there was some crack that was supposed to be found and field tested, but it couldn’t be tested or retrieved because it was consumed by the government’s witness. The witness was there for the purpose of identifying the substance. In the oral argument, the judge stated she was inclined to agree with the government’s. Similarly, I analyzed precedent and wrote a response opposing a motion to sever two homicide trials, arguing that joinder was appropriate given the overlapping involvement of the defendant, weapon, and witnesses. I did the normal and expected things like review, analyze, and synthesize witness interview tapes for trial attorney, and I also observed courtroom proceedings including trials, hearings, and appellate arguments. Last, but definitely not least, I went to a medical examiner’s office. The other interns and I were able to learn about the history of the Baltimore Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the field of study. We got to see how they train examiners as well as the ins and outs of the office. More importantly, we got to see autopsies. They are not like what you see on TV. In Baltimore, at least, there is a giant room where they perform the examinations, but there are like five corpses and multiple medical examiners. One person does fingerprints. Another one may be doing the brains. It was a very eye- and mind-opening experience. No pun intended. Or is it?
Either way, I did public service for my first summer and I loved it. For 2Ls and 3Ls, OGI is pretty much over, so we can finally relax. I hope we all get what we are looking for when it comes to offers. 1Ls soon you will have a choice to make as to what you want to do with your next summer. There are many options out there to choose from to spend your summer. I recommend the United States Attorney’s Office in D.C. or any other office for that matter. Maybe you will catch the public service bug. Maybe you will get to go on a police ride-along. Maybe you will realize you want to be a prosecutor. Maybe you will realize you want stay as far away from prosecution as possible. That’s unlikely, but either way, whatever you decide, I wish you all the best.