My name is Melanie Dempster. I am a soon-to-be graduate of UMass Amherst, and was fortunate enough to have landed a summer internship in the Salem Superior Court for the Honorable Judge Lowy. As the only intern not yet in law school, on my very first day in Superior Court I was given a crash course on the dark side of human nature. I sat in on a trial where two men were being tried on charges relating to a bank robbery in Saugus, MA that led to a police chase and shootout, resulting in a fatality. The trial went on for 3 weeks. Victims and witnesses came and went, some on the stand for numerous days. After a short 45-minute deliberation, the jury found both defendants guilty on all charges, and the two men were sentenced to life in prison. Still shaken by the facts of that case, I went to observe a neighboring courtroom just in time to see the closing arguments in a trial where a young man (age 25) was charged with the gruesome murders of his mother and grandmother. In his closing argument, the prosecuting attorney gave a graphic retelling of the night of the murders. Pictures of the deceased hung in the background while he spoke to the jury, waving the same bloody knife that was used in the killings. Everyone in the courtroom was hypnotized and hanging on to his every word; it felt like a television courtroom drama. After deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder by extreme atrocity and cruelty, and the young defendant was sentenced to life in prison. As someone not yet desensitized to the realities of criminal court proceedings, the facts of these cases echoed in my head for days afterwards. Heinous crimes I would read about in the news or see on T.V. were being mapped out and argued right in front of me!
The best part about watching these trials were the discussions they sparked. Initially, I thought not being in law school put me at a disadvantage, but I was wrong. The law clerks, and other interns, dissected the issues at hand, the laws that applied, and the arguments made by each side. A lot of times I sat back, listened, and learned.
One of the best parts of my internship at the courthouse is that I learn new things every day I’m here. All of the court staff, the judges, the law clerks, the law librarians, and court officers, are more than happy to stop what they are doing and help me with whatever I may need. At the hands of the law clerks, I have learned a few things they teach you in law school, for example, how to research and “shepardize” case law, draft a memo, or identify the issues at hand in any given case. Some people may find this painfully boring, but for a college student interested in a career in the legal field, I consider myself one of the luckiest college student. I have learned more than I ever imagined, and have been treated with nothing but kindness and respect. I wish I could stay all year!