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Karin Riley Porter on Being a Former Prosecutor

What was your experience like as a former Alexandria Commonwealth attorney, as a prosecutor?

Karin Riley Porter: I was there for over nine years. I started out as a prosecutor who prosecuted traffic cases, including DUIs, exclusively. Then I transitioned to domestic crimes and fraud crimes, then crimes involving juveniles, and then proceeded to felony crimes, property crimes. I have also tried homicide and sexual assault cases, both acquaintance-type rape cases as well as stranger rape cases.

Karin Riley Porter talks about her experience as a former prosecutor.I had a lot of trial experience, jury trial experience. I had a lot of training when I was there specific to DNA, firearms, fingerprints, etc. I got a lot of training during the course of my employment there that would be very expensive and hard to get as a defense attorney, so I do have that under my belt, and that does assist me in my work now as a defense attorney.

What were the main cases that you handled as a prosecutor?

Karin Riley Porter: I started out my career there as a traffic prosecutor, so I prosecuted DUIs and other types of traffic cases. Then I progressed to domestic violence cases. I also handled random felony cases, burglary cases, and fraud cases. I ended my career with rape and sexual assault crimes being the majority of what I handled. I prosecuted homicides, too. I didn’t just handle homicides, but I did have some during my experience there.

Did you enjoy being a prosecutor?

Karin Riley Porter: Yes, [being a prosecutor] is very fulfilling. It’s a little more black and white as far as what you have to prove. Each prosecutor has a different approach. I was a zealous prosecutor, however, I understood that there’s a human side, and there are times in which leniency is appropriate for certain types of offenders. It was an easy transition for me, coming to the defense side. I really got that because I was a prosecutor for so long; I realized that there’s more of a gray area. There is not just right and wrong. Everybody has a different story and a reason why things might have happened, so having that mentality as a prosecutor made me a good one, made me a fair one, and it helps me now in what I do today.

What challenges did you face in your old job as a prosecutor?

Karin Riley Porter: As a prosecutor, your main challenge is that you have the burden of proof. You are expected to win every case, not make mistakes, and make all the right calls. There is a high standard, which is to be expected. I think that is the right standard for prosecutors to be held to. You have to make sure that, depending on the type of case, the police conducted the investigation in a way that conforms to constitutional protections. If there is any question about it, that could be challenged by the defense.

You also have to be able to fight motions filed by the defense and argue before the judge persuasively. You have to be able to make persuasive arguments and deal with curve balls thrown by witnesses and unexpected rulings made by the presiding judge. Making sure you can prove your case and getting witnesses to participate is a fundamental but important aspect of the job.  The right witnesses need to be present and testify for the proper evidence to be submitted.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of people that don’t want to come to court. You just have to deal with that fact. People have different agendas and different reasons why they might not want to participate in a particular case; that includes victims. The biggest challenge is that anything can happen in a courtroom, so you have to be prepared for the unknown. You have to be quick on your feet. Those are some of the challenges I faced as a prosecutor.

How does your experience as a former prosecutor give you an advantage when defending individuals in criminal offenses?

Karin Riley Porter: I understand what has to be done to prove a case, and it’s not always as straightforward as it might seem from the defense side. I have experience in understanding the difficulties that the prosecution might have, for instance, in getting witnesses to appear in court. I understand what pitfalls might come into play when dealing with scientific evidence or forensic evidence because I was in that position where I had to put together the case. From the defense’s perspective it looks easy for the prosecution to send subpoenas, get the witnesses there, and put them up on the stand, but it does take work, and there are things that the prosecutor has to anticipate and prepare for from the defense.

I have seen both sides, and [I know] that the prosecutor has more to think about other than simply showing up to court and putting witnesses on the stand. Especially when dealing with scientific or forensic evidence, it’s a little bit more complicated than it looks when you show up to court. If helps me as a defense attorney to know how much time and effort it takes for them to put their case on, so I do a cost-benefit analysis. It helps me to evaluate the case the best – that’s the bottom line.

Because I have almost a decade of experience on that side, I know what types of arguments and approaches are going to be compelling when I first engage in a conversation with a prosecutor about my client’s case. I can filter out what my client says and narrow it down to what’s going to be persuasive when I’m presenting that case to the prosecutor in the hopes of negotiating a good plea deal. That has been very helpful, as well as the approach and how to communicate with the prosecutor.

You have to respect their time. You have to treat them with respect, but you also have to be a strong advocate and push your client’s case and make sure that they understand that you believe in your client and you are willing to fight for them and put in the time for them. It’s a balance. I understand how important it is to be the type of attorney a prosecutor is going to listen to and respect.

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