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Journey of a Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington, DC Part Two

Throwback Thursday Edition: This is a blog that was originally written and posted by David Benowitz in 2011.

By David Benowitz, criminal defense attorney and firm co-founder

One day I walked into the internship office at Penn to look for ideas about what to do after I graduated. As a Jewish kid from the northeast, it was more or less expected that I would either go to law school, medical school, or into my family’s insurance business. Penn’s internship office was elaborate, with thousands of glossy brochures describing opportunities to travel the world and study art restoration in Florence or government formation in Africa. Then I saw a crumpled piece of paper on a table. It was from the Public Defender Service in Washington, DC, and it described an unpaid internship where students could investigate criminal cases for defense attorneys. The requirements were a car and an aggressive attitude. That fit me perfectly.
I arrived in Washington, DC in January 1992 to start my internship. From the day I walked into PDS, I felt like I was home. At that time, PDS occupied the basement of the old courthouse at 451 Indiana Avenue. The attorneys’ offices were in converted jail cells. The walls swelled with a cottage cheese-like substance that later gave me pneumonia. The toilets didn’t work half the time. When I walked in the door for the first day of orientation, it felt like I was returning to a place I’d been before. I was assigned to work with two Felony I attorneys, which means they were handling homicide and rape cases primarily.

I heard them first. Before I saw them, I heard their voices, no music, just echoes through the hallways of the courthouse. It was beautiful and tragic. I saw my first client, a 16-year-old boy charged as an adult with first degree murder, standing in a circle with his friends, singing. He was little, wearing a sweatshirt, facing 80 years in prison. I couldn’t fathom how he could even walk with the weight of that time on him. His friends testified against him at the trial; one of them cut a deal for himself that ensured he would do only 30 years. It didn’t seem real that this kid that I’d gotten to know would get dropped down a hole for almost a century if he lost. Thank God he won. I think about him a lot. He was murdered in an argument over a girl a few years ago. All of his friends who went to prison outlived him.

This blog post is written by David Benowitz, founding partner and Washington D.C. DUI lawyer. He received an LL.M in Trial Advocacy from Temple University, is a member of the National College for DUI Defense, and is a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Please contact us for a free consultation.