The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) is a federally funded organization that represents indigent adults and minors accused of serious crimes in DC. The organization was established in 1970 under a federal statue that stipulated under the 6th amendment that the government provide counsel to those who cannot afford an attorney. As a model public defender, PDS typically handles the most serious felony cases in the district.
This summer, I am an intern investigator working alongside two attorneys, one in the Trial Division and one in the Civil Legal Services Division. Despite the fact that I’ve only been working for a few weeks, I’ve already had the opportunity to work a variety of cases including misdemeanor assaults, custody, housing, and drug cases.
Public defenders are crucial to maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system. One’s income cannot and should not determine whether they have quality legal representation in court. While PDS is not a criminal justice reform or civil rights organization, we certainly do a substantial amount of important work in both of those areas, first and foremost by fighting zealously for our clients. And if that means taking the case to trial, we’re not afraid to do so. In fact, PDS has won acquittals on all significant charges in more than 50 percent of its trial cases since October 2011, a value considerably higher than even the performance of much private counsel.
By the summer’s end, I will have a more in-depth view of the criminal justice system and the communities we serve. While I am learning an incredible amount professionally, working at PDS is also a deeply humbling and personal experience. It’s exposing me to a part of our world I didn’t know existed, and is starting to empower me as the voice of the voiceless. Public defense is not easy work by any stretch of measure, but it’s fun, especially for an adrenaline-junkie like me, and profoundly rewarding.
I’m truly overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to work firsthand in public defense. Is there anything better than using your mind for good?
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Until next week,
Andrew Jacobson, ’19