Allison Schultz ’21, a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar and recipient of the Hamon Internship, quickly adapted her summer internship at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to an online-only format. Although she was not able to interact in person, her experience was no less diminished. Find out what Allison found to be rewarding in the post below.
As a summer college intern for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, I was prepared to attend trials, analyze legal documents, draft memos, and conduct research for one of the leading prosecutor’s offices in the nation. Weeks before the start of the program, with the outbreak of COVID-19 ravaging New York City and progressively spreading across the nation, the office transitioned the internship program to an online-only format, with interns, attorneys, and professional staff all working from home. While it was disappointing to forgo ten weeks in New York City, the ensuing program was one of the most informative and rewarding academic programs that I have had the pleasure to participate in.
The District Attorney’s Office of New York County (DANY) handles some of the most complex, challenging cases in the nation. DANY is tasked with law enforcement in the largest metropolitan area in the U.S., home to thriving businesses and financial markets. With cases ranging from violent assaults to white-collar fraud, DANY’s bureaus cover it all. Over the course of my virtual internship, I attended lectures, roundtables, and case studies designed to introduce interns to each of the major bureaus and highlight notable cases that DANY attorneys have prosecuted. Discussions were well-balanced to cover the legal arguments made, the criminal codes utilized, investigative techniques of interest, and also any ethical considerations. Altogether, each presentation emphasized the complexity involved in the practice of law, the importance of sound, ethical decision-making, and the necessity of citywide partnerships. I’ve left the internship with a better understanding of the role of a prosecutor, not to mention practice preparing and presenting arguments on behalf of the people in a mock appellate case.
Far from just the spectrum and complexity of DANY’s cases, the office is also notable for its role in leading the nation towards progressive criminal justice reform, under the leadership of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. The U.S. criminal justice system is currently being scrutinized and criticized for the flaws and biases that exist within the system. To be a public policy scholar and a DANY intern at this time, while there are so many cries for criminal justice reform, I was eager to learn more about DANY’s role within the system and the office’s ability to enact change. Leaving the program, it is now apparent to me that the office has a multifaceted role – both to enforce laws, but also to work with partners like NYPD and local/state/national legislators to determine how legislation should be enforced and to provide feedback when unforeseen problems arise. On a micro-level, prosecutors have the ability to change the lives of victims and witnesses impacted by crime. On a macro-level, the intersection between public policy and law allows prosecutor’s offices to aid entire populations at a time. For instance, DANY no longer prosecutes low-level, nonviolent offenses related to crimes such as marijuana possession and turnstile-jumping – crimes that impact certain populations at a disproportionately higher rate.
Reflecting on my experience in DANY’s summer college internship program, I am immensely grateful for the attorneys who took time out of their busy days to mentor and teach me, turning my theoretical and academic understanding of the criminal justice system into a much more nuanced, practical understanding of what it means to be a policy practitioner, attorney, and advocate for both victims and the people of the State of New York. Thank you to the SMU Tower Center for funding my experience and facilitating my pursuit of knowledge in this field – knowledge I know I will carry with me well into the future.