As part of the first-year PRACTICE program that IU has implemented, we get the chance to link up with an alum and shadow them. Since I was going home for Fall Break anyway, I opted to seek only persons in Lake County. I was very fortunate that one of our grads is a senior judge in the Lake County Criminal Court, specifically the high crimes division. I jumped at the opportunity, and it was fantastic.
I knew that shadowing the judge would make my options clearer in terms of career planning and summer work, and indeed it did just that. His career path after IU was fairly straightforward: several years as a prosecutor, then a stint as a defense attorney, then election to the bench. This certainly is one of the paths that I thought might fit my own ambitions.
I have to admit that the day was fast-paced and surprising, and I realized just how little I actually knew about the function of a felony court. The first part of the day was almost Fordian: an assembly line of criminals and lawyers being brought to the podium as prosecutors rotated in and out of several doors. I saw plea agreements accepted and rejected by the bench, several translators trying to keep up, closing arguments in a double-murder jury trial, a sentencing for a high-profile brutal murder, and dozens of other administrative proceedings.
Law and Order tries to make the process look busy, but nothing compares to just sitting in the room watching everyone. Since I was nearer to the back, I got to watch the reactions of the families. Some took it rather well, almost stoic. Others fell apart. I watched a girl and her mother respond to the sentencing of their brother and son, respectively, and saw how a life can be destroyed by one stupid mistake. There were eighty-plus year old mothers, and little children who might never see their parents without bars. The emotions were hard to deal with, even as a neutral bystander.
To be honest, I'm not sure how the whole day affected me. On one hand, it made me want to be a prosecutor even more. The opportunity to be on a stage, performing for a jury, is appealing. The ability to decide how and why to prosecute someone is appealing. The high-profile nature of it all is appealing. Yet, on the other hand, it was overwhelming. You have to keep your emotions hidden. You have to keep from being empathetic. You have to do your best to be "the state." It's a lot to take in at once.
As a result, I know a lot more about the criminal justice system, in reality and out of the books. No matter what I decide to do, at least I will know that I did all I could to be informed before making it.