PLP Passport Project: Denver District Attorney Victim Advocate

This spring I had the incredible opportunity to intern at the Denver District Attorney’s Office. I worked for three months with the victim advocates department in the Family Violence Unit. This was a wonderful professional and personal opportunity and was made possible entirely by the PLP Passport Fund.

My experience at the office lasted three months and was full of myriad experiences. Throughout the three months I interned at the DA’s office I learned much about law and about the definition of justice in an unjust world.  I sat in homicide trails, sexual assault trials, child abuse trials and manslaughter trials. I learned that any type of strangulation was a felony and that someone can die 72 hours after being strangled. I learned that victims of domestic abuse often do not leave their abuser and that this is a normal response. I learned that far too many times children are present or the victim of horrific family violence, in a way that often impacts their lives forever. I learned how plea deals are arranged and of the dignity and problems within a system that assumes innocence but requires expensive representation. I spent hours in the courtroom, I filed letters, helped advocate for victims within the system and worked with a wide variety of people. These activities gave me a complex and deepened understanding of the criminal justice system. I learned that the bucolic definition of justice I had gleaned from dramatic supreme court rulings and courtroom shows was far more complex in practice. A moment of clarity in this lesson occurred during a murder trial. The presiding judge noted that justice is elusive when a life has ended and a family has been torn apart. He knew that his decision in a courtroom could not erase this harm.  His ruminations on the proper role of the law in addressing unjust and irreparable situations forever changed my understanding of the criminal legal system.

The high-minded ideal and potential of justice is why I want to go to law school and become a lawyer. I see law as a tangible and practical tool for establishing an improved reality. Ultimately, this internship helped me develop a far more contextualized idea of what it means to practice law in a complex world. The goal of establishing justice and to use law in pursuit of a safer and more equal society looks very different in its execution and the exposure to the imperfect system of justice refined my passion for law.

Additionally, I found that my office was staffed by people who truly care about their jobs. The office showed competence and compassion in all of the cases I observed and it was truly heartening to observe good governance at work. My co workers were incredibly patient and instructive. The unit I worked with addressed difficult cases of domestic abuse and violence, attempting to assert some type of justice and safety in a complicated and tragic net of broken human connections. The FVU served a wide variety of the community and interesting often with larger systemic issues of mental health, poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, immigration status and marginalization. The professionalism and the dedication of the office I worked with helped me develop both as a person and as an aspiring professional. As the youngest person in an office that routinely dealt with incredibly difficult situations, I am gained a sense of maturity and professional decorum. In working with extremely upsetting topics all day, I began to develop a sense of self care and a small understanding of the toll that public service can take on an individual. I feel that I leave the office better prepared to conduct myself professionally and manage difficult situations.

Finally, I learned much more about my community- about the pain, struggle and the triumphs of everyday citizens. I learned about the quit dignity of juries, a citizen’s sacrifice that helps move justice slightly forward.  I learned that I am incredibly passionate about addressing the issues of domestic violence, abuse and assault that is quietly ravaging our community. I learned about some of the ways that our community needs to move forward, about the delay in processing court cases, the lack of adequate translation services or the predatory tactics of ICE agents, to name just a few.

This experience would not have been possible without the help of of the Pioneer Leadership Program Passport Fund. Thank you to all who contribute to this amazing program for facilitating this career defining experience.

Post Written by: Olivia Storz

This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!

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