On October 20 and 21, I had the privilege of working along Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dan Laren as he tried an assault case in Fayette Circuit Court. Looking back on those two days in Judge Ishmael’s courtroom, I believe that the experience I gathered working alongside Mr. Laren will be just as valuable to my legal career as anything I have learned in my years of reading cases in law school.
One of the first things Mr. Larson told me when I started this externship was that he would have me up and speaking in court soon after I began. Mr. Laren reiterated this point the first time I met with him. October 20 showed how serious both men were about this.
Part of the Commonwealth’s case in the trial focused on the damages sustained by the victim. In order to present this evidence to the jury, the EMT who first responded to the scene was called to testify. It was my job to conduct the direct examination of the EMT.
While my Litigation Skills class at UK had somewhat prepared me for this moment, nothing could compare to the actual experience of conducting a direct examination in a trial that had real stakes. It’s one thing to conduct a direct examination on a fellow student in front of a professor and a handful of classmates; it’s quite another to actually do it in front of a real courtroom.
The experience of actually helping to try a case didn’t just end there. Mr. Laren treated me as though I was his equal throughout the trial. I was not a clerk; there to run errands for the senior attorney, rather, I was entrusted with key details of every aspect of the trial. From preparing for the trial by reviewing Grand Jury testimony, to interviewing witnesses, to helping with jury selection; throughout it all, I was involved. During the actual trial, not only did I conduct the direct examination mentioned above, I also was called on to give insight at every turn. From analyzing defense objections at the bench to crafting and refining the Commonwealth’s strategy as the trial progressed, I was treated as an equal partner the entire time.
While the hands-on experience was possibly the greatest learning experience I have had in law school, I also got to learn a great deal from simply observing Mr. Laren, his counterpart for the Defense, and Judge Ishmael – not to mention the jury. It’s one thing to read about something like a hearsay objection in your Evidence casebook, it’s quite another to see how parties respond when hearsay is brought into the record.
Overall, through this experience, and the other numerous active roles I have been given in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, I have learned a lot of “the stuff they don’t teach you in law school.” You can learn a lot about a car by reading the owner’s manual, but you can’t learn to drive it until you actually are sitting in the driver’s seat with your hand on the wheel and the key in the ignition. Law school, thus far, has provided me the manual for the practice of law; the prosecutorial externship has me sitting behind the wheel.
On October 15th, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a domestic violence training in Lexington, Kentucky. The main speaker was the 2012 Family Justice Center Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award winner Mark Wynn.
As a 21-year member of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department and Lieutenant to the Domestic Violence Division, Mark was able to provide valuable insight in regards to the fight against domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a heinous crime that knows no boundaries. Throughout the past decades, it has claimed the lives of countless women, children and police officers. Although, I was well aware of the dangers of being a police officer, I had never thought about the possible harm to those who work directly with domestic violence. Responding to domestic violence calls as well as serving protective orders is one of the most dangerous duties of a police officer.
Using the power and control wheel of domestic violence, Mark was able to explain how perpetrators view victims as their personal property. When police officers threaten the “personal property” of offenders, their lives can often become endangered. Police officers and victims of domestic violence are much more similar then I had once thought.
Perpetrators use the power and control wheel to assert dominance over their victims as well as the police officers involved in the case. Seeing a tool used for assessing reasons why victims stay in violent relationships being used in relation to police was very mind opening.
As a future social worker, it was very beneficial to see the fight against domestic violence from a police officer’s perspective. Since police are the first responders, understanding their point of view can prove very helpful for social workers that become involved with the case. The collaboration between the organizations and agencies that work to combat domestic violence is essential in order for the battle to be successful.
I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to someone speak who has dedicated their entire life and career to combating domestic violence. I believe that is very important that these types of trainings continued to be offered to agencies that work so closely with this issue.
The legalization of Marijuana is gaining momentum in the United States and raising many new concerns. Although it is well established that alcohol consumption increases one’s risk for a car crash, toxicology tests are revealing that many impaired drivers are under the influence of marijuana. These lab reports emphasize the fact that drugged driving renders a person less able to perform complex tasks, such as operating a car. Thus, marijuana can play a significant role in fatal car crashes too.
Delta-9 THC, an active ingredient in marijuana, tends to have a combining effect of a depressant, a mild hallucinogenic, and a psychotropic medicine. This means marijuana can negatively affect one’s cognitive processes. Some of these processes include distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, and difficulty thinking and problem solving. Furthermore, all of these cognitive processes are necessary during the course of driving a vehicle. So if the brain is impaired due to marijuana use, it is probable that the driver will have poor coordination, lack focus, weave in and out and react to situations slowly.
Sargent Ron Keaton graciously allowed me to tour the Fayette County police evidence impound lot. The “evidence impound lot” is essentially a lot that showcases roughly 20 automobiles involved in fatal car crashes and/or drug deals. About 90% of the cars have extreme cosmetic damage and were labeled “totaled”. Sgt. Keaton said that almost all of the drivers of the vehicles were driving under the influence of marijuana. At first I found that hard to believe because of what I’ve been told in the past. I’ve heard many people claim that they can drive better while high in comparison to while drunk. The various media outlets, Public Service Announcements, and educational programs instill in us the dangers of driving drunk. But, when will the media expose the numerous risks of drugged driving? We need to create a culture where, like drunk driving, drugged driving is not acceptable either.
The Constitution states that all trials, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by Jury (Art 3. Sec 2. Cl. 3). One mistaken impression made by the public is that trials proceed in this manner, but this is not true. Indeed, criminal cases rarely go to trial for practical reasons: it is expensive, time-consuming, and the number of criminal cases is overwhelming. In fact, more than ninety percent of criminal cases are resolved by what is called a ‘plea bargain,’ whereby a prosecutor offers a reduced prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea by the defendant who, in turn, waives their right to a trial by jury.
On the surface, plea bargaining is problematic: justice is not bargained, but judicially determined. Plea bargaining is an incentive for both prosecutors and defendants, as both do not know whether or not a trial would determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The risk of suffering a great prison sentence is intimidating as well, and this risk is usually enough to convince some innocent defendants to plead guilty in case of a mistaken judgment made by his or her peers in a jury trial.
There does not appear to be an easy fix. Some political theorists believe that plea bargaining is just a necessary institution, whereas others believe that this tendency to exchange sentences and minimize risk is avoidable.
As an aspect of criminology, plea bargaining may or may not play an important role in deterring criminals. If plea bargaining reduces sentences that would otherwise convict real criminals, then one can intuit that criminals are less likely to believe that there is more at stake for them by committing a crime. On the other hand, plea bargaining can be construed as a deterrence because there is a limit to when a prosecutor is willing to negotiate a sentence — especially for repeat offenders, such that some criminals might think twice about committing another crime because they were shown ‘legal mercy’ in the first place.
Ultimately, the current nature of the justice system as aggregate and practical must be considered in light of the absolute principles that are also a part of the justice system: procedural fairness, substantive fairness, and a welcomed political or social benefit.
Monday September 29th, I attended the Strategies for Effective Investigation and Prosecution of Child Exploitation Offenses. It was an eye opening experience in terms of both the criminal justice system and social work. I walked away from the training with a wealth of information from a law enforcement perspective. I learned that the Sex Offender Registry does not always come with a requirement for lifetime registration. Information was presented in terms of the laws that create a framework for the prosecution; which cases are eligible for federal prosecution, how to obtain a federal search warrant, what to look for during searches and vast number of online resources and reporting websites. I had the privilege of listening to FBI agents, the United States Attorney, Kentucky State Police, investigators, and attorneys. The comradery of all the agencies involved spoke to the magnitude of the desire to eliminate child exploitation.
This training left me wondering how victim advocates can best impact child exploitation cases from the social work perspective. It is critical that advocates work with the prosecution to support the victim throughout the legal process. It is important that victims of child exploitation receive the services needed to work through the immense trauma they experienced. It would be extremely beneficial for victims if mental health workers were actively involved in the fight to end child exploitation. Attorneys and investigators are not adequately trained to deal with the psychological trauma experienced by the victims but victim advocates can refer the victims for appropriate services and provide valuable insight in regards to the victim perspective. I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn from this training. I look forward to other training and educational opportunities I will have while at the Commonwealth Attorney Office.
While working with the communication interns this semester at the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, I have had the pleasure of learning what their lives were like before they came here. I have been captivated by one of our intern’s story, so I sat her down for a quick interview to learn what she was all about. Her name is Alexis Athanas and she is from Atlanta, Georgia. Before coming to Lexington and attending the University of Kentucky, Alexis was traveling all over the country playing lacrosse in various recruiting tournaments trying to get noticed by schools.
Every weekend in the fall and spring of her junior year of high school, Alexis would get on a plane Friday after school and fly to somewhere in the country to play in a lacrosse tournament or attend a training weekend at a college or university for the weekend. The purpose of these tournament and training weekends was to get noticed by college coaches that the athletes have been emailing to prove their skills on the field. Then, after the weekend was over and the tournament had ended she would hop on a flight back to Atlanta, do her homework or study for tests on the plane, get a couple hours of sleep, and then go to school the next morning. “It was extremely taxing to be gone all the time and have to catch up on school work 24/7. The experiences I was able to be apart of though was what made it all worth it,” says Athanas.
Alexis told me about many challenges she faced throughout the process of trying to get recruited by a school. Right away she told me what she would forever refer to as “the hard truth”. She explained that the odds were stacked again
st her. There are limited spaces for Division I, Division II, Division III, and club lacrosse women and, on top of that, coming from a nontraditional lacrosse area, like Georgia, makes it even harder to get noticed.
She raved about a woman named Crista Samaras who is the founder of XTEAM, the club travel team Alexis was apart of. Crista Samaras has been a number of things to Alexis. From a mother when she missed her own to the devil when she made her do countless track workouts and pushed her to her maximum capacity. She helped her beat the odds of coming from a nontraditional lacrosse area and getting offers from every divisional level. She helped her increase her confidence and be more outgoing and try to meet new people. Alexis says “Without a doubt, she motivated her to run harder, think broader, and smile bigger. Crista Samaras has influenced me in millions of ways. I am not saying that without having Crista in my life that I would not have any of these attributes at all, but I don’t think they would be reached to their full capacity.” She helped her dig deep within herself to find these characteristics that define her.
Alexis concluded the interview by saying that, “Crista and everyone a part of my lacrosse community hastaught and influenced me to laugh louder, fight harder, and risk more through XTEAM and life.”
Criminology is the scientific study of criminal behavior, and one reason why criminology is valuable is because it helps us figure out better ways to prevent or manage criminal behavior. Out of the many types of crimes, some are more common than others—think, for instance, of theft and larceny, burglaries, or robberies.
These types of crimes share similar meanings, but there are important distinctions between them. Theft and larceny describes a type of crime involving the intent to permanently deprive an owner of something of value that he or she possesses. On the other hand, burglary involves breaking and entering into a home in order to commit theft and larceny. More precisely, robbery involves an extra element: the person who is being robbed. Crimes like mugging or purse-snatching are considered robberies. These are simple definitions.
Interestingly, one fundamental fact of criminology is that a small proportion of individuals are responsible for a large proportion of crime. According to “Career Criminals in Society,” by Matthew DeLisi at Iowa State University, this fact has scientific foundations:
“More than a century of scientific research has indicated that the majority of crime that occurs in society is committed by a small percentage of the population, meaning that most criminals are repeat offenders, or “career criminals.” If societies devoted considerable resources toward preventing and neutralizing career criminals, there would be dramatic reductions in crime, the fear of crime, and the assorted costs and collateral consequences of crime.”
In the same vein, theft, burglary, and robberies are often committed by repeat offenders because of a lack of legal or rational deterrence. This lack may be a result of unconvincing punishments, or perhaps internal reasons resting within the criminal, whose criminal behavior is neither properly treated nor changed in detention centers or prisons.
In Intelligence-Led Policing (2008), Jerry Ratcliffe suggests that nearly 60 percent of crimes in the United States are committed by 6 percent of the population. Resonating with the past observation that a lot of these crimes must be committed by repeat offenders, criminology would also suggest that targeting repeat offenders would seriously reduce crime. One emerging hypothesis in criminology is targeting such prolific offenders. By targeting prolific offenders, some argues, communities can yield a reduction in crime. This is evidenced by particular case studies outside of the United States—such as Operation Anchorage in Canberra, Australia or Police Tactics in Spokane—which determined that targeting repeat or prolific offenders can significantly prevent and deter such offenses as burglaries.
The writers of Law & Order try to use the show to educate the public on the criminal justice system. It’s a popular show all over the world. Crime is something easy to translate to any language. Law & Order doesn’t require you to follow along the entire series to understand what’s going on, you can just get right into it on any episode! So, how alike is Law & Order to reality?
The first half of the show is about showing the audience the crime and builds the story on who committed the crime. They try to pick subjects that aren’t slam-dunks and make you think a little more about the crime. The second half of the show is about preparing for the criminal’s trial, trying to figure why the decided to commit the crime, and of course, proving they’re guilty in court.
Law & Order does a great job of showing that the prosecutors have to prove to the court that the subject committed the crime even if it’s a blatant textbook case. Just like in the real world, justice doesn’t always prevail in the end. Guilty people get off and innocent people get convicted. The show accurately depicts reality by not always ending with a happy ending.
Keep some important ideas in mind when you watch Law & Order though! Remember that the show has about 60 minutes plus commercials to show you a crime and a conviction. The show accelerates a lot of the processes in the show. Remember that detectives usually have multiple cases on their plates and usually don’t devote all of their time to one single case. Also, the justice system takes a significant amount of time; a serious crime trial could last for several months. Our police officers, detectives, and prosecutors are on a sincere quest for justice not matter how long it takes!
These past two weeks have been eventful, to say the least. I’ve been in and out of the different courtrooms for a variety of reasons, toured the police department and both courthouses, participated in “Kids in Court”, attended a meeting held by the Child Sex Abuse Multidisciplinary team, and successfully completed a Concealed Carry of Deadly Weapons course.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned thus far at the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is that knowledge of the court system is essential in any field of social service because the practice of social work and the legal system are inexplicably intertwined. The law plays a multitude of fundamental roles in the field of social work and social workers play a fundamental role in the criminal justice system.
First, the judicial system affects every client’s physical and social environments because the law is supposed to dictate one’s behavior and actions.
Second, the law provides social workers with knowledge of their clients’ rights and responsibilities on the micro and macro levels of society.
Third, it is important that practioners know the specific laws applicable to their clients and the referrals they make on their behalf. In addition, practioners should make sure that their own agencies are adhering to the laws and legislation that regulate their business.
Finally, social workers need to be cognizant of the law, as well as correlating ethical principles, in order to avoid a malpractice suit or causing harm to the client. Social workers should aim to provide the best possible service to their clients and in order to do so knowledge of the law is crucial.