Upholding the Law in South Carolina: Alexandra Clark ’15 Interns with the Charleston Prosecutor’s Office

Alexandra Clark ’15, the author of this post, is one of three 2013 recipients of a South Carolina Internship Grant provided by Davidson College and The Jolley Foundation.  The purpose of the grant is to allow students to participate in educational internships and to explore living and working in the state of South Carolina.  Stay tuned for Alexandra’s second and final blog post about her Charleston internship at the end of the summer!

Preparing case files for court.

This summer, through the generous help of the Jolley Foundation and the Center for Career Development, I have been fortunate enough to participate in an internship at the City of Charleston Prosecutor’s Office in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. I have learned so much and gained incredible experience from this opportunity and am so grateful that I can share my experience through this blog.

The Office of the Prosecutor is in the Greenberg Municipal Building, which also houses the Charleston Police Department and the City of Charleston Municipal Courthouse. Every weekday, I report to this building for my internship.  I am responsible for preparing the case files on the defendants who have requested a jury trial. This involves collecting the Incident Report and Arrest Report from the Charleston Police Department, the defendant’s criminal record, the Accident Report (if necessary), and any other evidence that would be deemed necessary to create a convincing case against the defendant (such as pictures, CPD patrol car videos or victim’s testimony). My responsibility is to go through the collected information, summarize it and select the most important parts to consolidate for the Chief Prosecutor, Mark Bourdon, as he prepares for the jury trial.

City of Charleston Municipal Courtroom

When I am not spending my time preparing cases for court, I am actually in court, which is my favorite part of this internship. In the courtroom, I sit beside the prosecutor before the presiding judge as we go through the docket for the day. During my short time at the office, I have already begun to recognize the habitual offenders who are in the courts on new charges almost every week. As the judge calls each defendant on the docket, I am responsible for taking notes for the prosecutor, recording how the defendant pleads, the disposition of the case, and the fines or jail sentence passed down to the defendant. In addition, I contact victims during the court session who did not appear in court in order to seek their assistance to further prosecute the case at hand. In certain courts, I am also responsible for negotiating plea deals with defendants in order for the trial to be resolved as smoothly as possible.

Negotiating with the defendants, a task usually reserved for law students, has been my favorite part of the internship. I have been able to make contact with the defendants who have requested a jury trial and attempt to resolve the matter before the case is presented before a jury. Depending on certain aspects of the case, such as the length of the defendant’s criminal record or the strength of the evidence built against the defendant, I am able to offer reduced fines, consolidation of tickets, or even dismissals upon good behavior for a ticket contingent upon a guilty plea from the defendant.

Greenberg Municipal Building

Spending time in court has taught me so much about the judicial process of the United States, including the dynamic between the prosecutor and the defense attorneys. Many of the defendants seek counsel from the public defender, granted to them by their rights that the judge informs them of at the beginning of every court session. Many more defendants choose to represent themselves and are expected to give testimony in order for the case to move forward and be tried. I’ve learned that the few who retain counsel from a defense attorney usually work out a plea bargain with the prosecutor or do something called a deferral for a period of time, which means that if the defendant does not have any new arrests within the period specified by the prosecutor, the charge will be dismissed from their criminal record.

My goal for the remainder of this internship is to further explore the judicial system of South Carolina, both at the municipal level in Charleston and at the state level with the Solicitor’s Office, which works in conjunction with the Prosecutor’s Office but works within a different jurisdiction. I also hope to gain more experience in the courts by spending time in other courtroom settings, such as traffic court, vice court and livability court. Additionally, I am arranging a ride-a-long with the Charleston Police Department to gain further insight from even more levels and angles of local government to better understand the process as a whole.

The experiences that I have gained through this internship have been invaluable to my growth as a student and my passion for attending law school after my time at Davidson College. I am looking forward to learning even more during the second half of my summer.

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