This month blogs, news reports, and cable talk shows are full of courtroom drama. Several of these high-profile cases provide us with better entertainment that any reality show could. The Jodi Arias murder trial, O.J. Simpson’s hearing, and the sentencing of Kermit Gosnell are examples of court room dramas that have captivated the nation. What these cases have in common is that the people have rallied behind and celebrated the prosecuting attorneys as heroes. It’s no surprise that many individuals wonder if they have what it takes to be a criminal prosecutor, seeking justice on behalf of the people.
Despite the attention that prosecutors of high-profile cases receive, most prosecutors are of the unsung-hero variety. They work long hours in return for relatively low pay. They hold a grave responsibility, as they are part of the system that has the power to remove someone’s freedom. Prosecuting attorneys span various organizations, including the Department of Justice, United States Attorney’s Office, state attorney general offices, offices of local district attorneys, military courts, and U.S. regulatory agencies.
This is not a job for everyone. It demands dedication, exceptional court room skills, a sense of prosecutorial discretion, a capacity for fairness, and a desire for justice. And if that is not enough, prosecutors must be able to communicate well with witnesses, victims, defendants, and law enforcement officials. They must have a talent for explaining complex and confusing details in an understandable manner.
How can you tell beyond a reasonable doubt if this job right for you? You can start by interviewing professionals in the criminal court system. Trial watching is a great way to assess this career option because a prosecutor spends a great deal of time in the courtroom. You’ll find that court proceedings in real life are very different from what you have seen on Law and Order or Perry Mason.
The job requires extensive preparation, great attention to detail, and adaptability to surprises. Prosecutors analyze evidence, conduct depositions, and argue motions. Prosecutors interact with law enforcement, the medical examiner’s office, the crime laboratory, psychologists, and a wide range of expert witnesses.
If you have chosen this career path, trial experience will help you build your skills. Many prosecutorial positions require a few years of legal practice and considerable court room experience. You may also pursue opportunities for clerkships to boost your experience.
As a new prosecuting attorney, you will be exposed to a daily barrage of petty crimes and misdemeanors. The workload is unrealistic. As you progress in your career, you will be exposed to the true underbelly of society. Your caseload may include charges, including murder, rape, or in some court venues, white-collar crimes. You will get to know the anguish of victims. The risk for burnout and cynicism is high. However, you also have the chance to represent the people, to stand up for justice, and make the world a better place.
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