This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (SNP), a unit within the New York County District Attorney’s Office. SNP is responsible for the prosecution of felony narcotics crimes in the five boroughs. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the generosity of the Student Affairs Internship Fund and the Harpur Edge Student Support Fund and the flexibility of SNP made my experience possible.
During my eight weeks as an intern, I had the opportunity to meet with Assistant District Attorneys in the Prescription Drug Unit, Gang Violence Unit, Special Victims Unit, and Special Investigations Bureau. We participated in a criminal law crash course as well as a mock felony narcotics trial based on a closed case. We took the case from arrest documents, to drafting complaints, to grand jury, to jury selection, with the culmination at the mock trial. Our internship supervisor was the ADA who initially prosecuted the case. It was so interesting to play the role of the prosecutor and then hear from my supervisor how he constructed his prosecution. I was also assigned a mentor ADA to call with questions about the case.
Through presentations from the various units, I learned about narcotics crimes in my city. I became familiar with the packaging, pricing, and production of narcotic drugs. We discussed where the drugs in New York City originate and how they are shipped. I also learned about the production of heroin and cocaine in apartment units. We heard from detectives and ADAs about investigative procedures, wiretapping, pen and pings, and other methods of surveillance. One of my favorite parts was learning about their Alternative to Incarceration Unit which connects drug-addicted defendants to social services as an alternative to prison time. We also heard from community leaders, such as community board members and police precinct presidents regarding law enforcement and police presence in their communities. It was important for me to see how the District Attorney’s Office outreach to community leaders inform their practices.
I learned so much throughout the program, not only about New York State Criminal Law and Procedure, but also the realities and challenges of being a prosecutor. I learned that courtrooms as presented in movies and television shows are often sensationalized. Hearings are formulaic. New unexpected evidence does not enter the courtroom. The prosecution and defense present two narratives and the jury decides which side they are confident is correct. They come to this conclusion based on the evidence presented. I also learned about the power of prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutors have the power to create charges against the defendant. When speaking to the ADAs, their proudest moments stemmed from times they used this power to lessen a conviction in response to surrounding circumstances.
In my opinion, being a prosecutor is the most challenging public service position. It requires deep thought and sustained attention to detail. The position requires storytelling and crafting arguments to present to a skeptical audience of New Yorkers. Prosecutors must prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. They build upon the evidence presented. While prosecutors must build, the defense attorneys can destruct with pointed cross examinations.
My favorite part of the internship was getting an inside look on what it was like to be an ADA. About two weeks into the internship my supervisor, who is the office’s Director of Training, said we were no longer interns. At this point, he began using the presentations and materials he uses to train new Assistant District Attorneys. I learned more than I thought possible in such a short 8 week period. It was incredible to have time to speak with many ADAs and my four fellow interns. I highly recommend internships as a way to learn about the realities of a particular field of interest. Even if you don’t walk out knowing exactly what you want to do, internships will undoubtedly provide invaluable insight.