2014 PFIG Recipient Meg Gould
College of Arts & Sciences
Global Development Studies & French
2015 Graduation Year
Internship: US Department of Justice, US Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia in Washington, DC.
Notes on the First Week
Homicide: the word, written across the front of my orange training folder as I entered my first day of my internship at the US Attorney’s Office in DC, both unnerved and fascinated me. I am interning in the Homicide Section of the Superior Court Division of the USAO – and cannot begin to describe my impressions as I learned more and more of what I would be seeing, doing, hearing and experiencing as a part of this summer job. As I shuffled from courtroom to courtroom, along with the multitudes of other students equally as eager, anxious, and interested as I was; the chiefs of several divisions of the office layered on information we would be learning this summer. We received overviews of the departments, case processing confidentiality, and office professionalism. We were also told about midnight “Ride-alongs” we could attend with on-duty police officers, the types of graphic and distressing images we would see, and about the raw emotion we would observe during trial. I met the twelve fellow interns in my section and the Assistant US Attorneys for whom we would be working.
Despite the short first week - security clearances for many of the workers are (unsurprisingly) slow to come by – I absorbed more information about the US Criminal Court System than I had ever known before. I am working with a team responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all homicides committed in the District of Columbia. We gather and use criminal intelligence about particular areas and work alongside Assistant US Attorneys on murders involving children, domestic violence, street crimes, and cold cases.
My interest in criminal law is not recent; however, my knowledge of the history of homicide in this city has been limited as of yet. My aim for this summer will be to learn more about this city’s criminal history, how prosecutors view justice, and how the legal system deals with and provides for victims and witnesses. Being awarded the opportunity to work with some of the most experienced trial attorneys in the nation will deliver the insight I crave and hopefully career direction.
Interns are constantly encouraged to attend the trials held right across the street in the District or Superior courts; this first week I had the opportunity to visit many of these courtrooms and experience my first Superior Court trials. Not only did I witness many arguments made in several murder trials, but I also had the opportunity to observe closing statements in assault cases, fast-paced decisions in the arraignment courts, and jury selection decisions. As I move forward, I will be working directly for an attorney in the Special Victims Unit of the Homicide Section who deals primarily with murders involving young children. If this week has been any type of foreshadowing for the weeks to come, my summer will be one of the most informative, useful, surprising and enlightening ones I have ever had!
More than anything else, these past several weeks of my internship have focused on one thing: process. Before I came to this office, it was easy for me to simply think of a criminal charge and then subsequent conviction or acquittal; however, what I tended to forget were the steps, the procedure, the process of litigation. Fortunately, I have now seen, from many vantage points, the thorough undertaking each attorney performs for every case from the time a homicide is reported throughout the investigation and trial.
While tedious at times, the process is fast-paced: I have learned how detectives, FBI agents, attorneys and their staffs work long hours to interview witnesses before they could forget details within their testimonies, to collect all time-sensitive evidence before it could be lost, to schedule back-to-back meetings in preparation for trial, and to deal with time limits and legal guidelines. My projects in the office have allowed me to participate in this investigative pre-trial process as I have assisted with witness interviews, constructed case timelines, presented research both to attorneys and to the FBI, and written legal memos or motions before trial.
Additionally, while it is very motivating to see how hard each member of the prosecution works, I was personally shocked by the emotional exhaustion I’ve had during different points this summer. I have felt this emotional strain on my own projects when working with case evidence, such as visiting the medical examiner with my attorney to analyze autopsies or constructing binders of evidence, or when speaking to eyewitnesses and grieving families or transcribing defendants’ personal jail calls. I work most closely with the attorney who specializes in Special Victim homicide cases, and more than once I have asked her how she has handled working with these difficult cases for over twenty years. However, each time she answers me by saying it’s worth her extensive time and thorough effort because she believes in her mission: she is pursuing justice and protecting the defenseless from those endangering their lives. For this reason, I have already found this summer to be incredibly fulfilling because all the work I have done furthers this pursuit of justice.
In the next half of the internship I hope to talk to more of the attorneys and get their perspectives on law school, on the differences in the public and private sector of law, and on why they chose the field in the first place. I hope to get more experience with legal research and writing and to take advantage of the lunch panels and tours that are offered – for instance, like the ones we took of the Supreme Court and of the Secret Service! Finally, I hope to emulate the optimistic energy and work ethic of each AUSA in the office, enabling them, with my small efforts, to do and affect more in the community.
As I sit on the other side of my summer at the USAODC – reflecting on the conversations and questions I had, the binders or facts I compiled, the professional and personal friendships I made – I can confidently say that I saw litigation from the ground up. I can confidently say I learned how passion and motivation are key to working or thriving in any environment.
The last few weeks of my summer were spent on two particular cases, one within the Special Victims Unit and one cold case that was being revisited. I went to court sentencings and I wrote a few motions; I spent countless hours watching and listening to interviews, calls, and videos in order to piece together the fragmented stories of crimes through multiple perspectives. The fact that I got to delve deeply within legal definitions of subpoena power, of Brady evidence, of plea agreements and more gave me an appreciation for this process and the checks of power within the system.
Like I said earlier, passion and motivation are crucial in this job, and it is rare to find an environment like the Homicide Section where those two characteristics are so strong in each paralegal and AUSA. One of the attorneys for which I was working told me that the reason she was there was not only to serve justice to perpetrators of these heinous crimes, but also to fight against injustice. I really liked this sense of moral motivation because it revealed to me the deeper reason that these people spent countless hours in an office, working with tedious facts and long legal rationales: they care about the community and protecting those within it from societal vices and any type of systematic unfairness. It was a pretty visible reminder that the world revolves around a lot more than my limited world.
Since this experience, I have found myself further drawn to looking at questions of social and criminal justice, and how the law interacts with and is valuable to society. This internship may not have directed me to a career battling the cruelty of homicide on the front lines or even behind a desk, but it definitely gave me direction in terms of how I view the world, and how I perceive inequity and morality, and how I desire to continue delving into the world of public service. And for that, I would like to thank the staff at the UVA Career Center and the Parents Fund for the opportunity and privilege of having such a transformative experience in my internship.