Jamie Vaccaro ’21

Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Boston, MA

This summer, I was an intern in the Grand Jury unit of the Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ Office. The Grand Jury unit is a satellite office located in Suffolk Superior Court, where prosecutors work from when they are on trial or presenting to the Grand Jury. The unit only has three full time employees. My supervisor, Linda Poulos, is the Grand Jury director. She is an Assistant District Attorney who impanels and instructs the grand jury in addition to advising the line Assistant District Attorneys. She is also one of the most senior ADAs. The other two employees are Jen, who is a former Victim Witness Advocate, and Kathleen, who is the administrative assistant. They both organize the schedules for the Grand Juries, keep their records, and write indictments from pre-existing templates. Most of the time, there are two Grand Juries on the floor, the regular and the special. This is because Suffolk as too many cases for only one to handle. My job was to work on projects that had been sitting around and needed attention like organizing the jury instructions book, updating and creating presentments and indictments, and writing new jury instructions for enhancements.

One of my projects was to update presentment and indictment templates. Presentments are, in a way, a cover page to a case. They contain the name of the defendant, the ADA, the charge, and some of the facts of the case may be included in the charge. For example, a firearms possession charge might specify the serial number and model of the firearm involved. The office had only somewhat recently started generating these electronically—recently enough that I archived the original paper templates! In the last year or so, the Massachusetts legislature passed a criminal justice reform bill, so a number of changes needed to be made, and there were also a number of crimes that did not yet have digital presentment templates. The cutoff from misdemeanor to felony larceny, for example, moved from $250 to $1,200. The same is true of other similar crimes, such as wanton destruction of property. The charge language on the presentment templates is usually identical on the indictments, so I also went through to update those. The indictment template software was written as an extension to Microsoft Word somewhere between fifteen and twenty years ago, and it shows. There are now far more efficient and user-friendly ways of achieving the end results, although the difficulty of making a change in the work flow is hard to determine.

The last piece of Grand Jury specific work that I did was write jury instructions for enhancements. Enhancements are not crimes, but they can be charged in addition to certain crimes to mandate enhanced sentencing. The most challenging of these is the so-called armed career criminal statute. Although those words appear nowhere in the law, they are often referred to as the armed career criminal statute for its similarities to the federal Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984. In short, the statute provides enhanced sentencing for firearms charges for individuals with violent criminal history by adding a mandatory minimum that increases with the number of predicate offenses.

I learned the most by watching trials—criminal procedure, rules of evidence, and how testimony is taken and cross-examined. This made litigation seem far less daunting than I had previously thought it to be.

This is a particular interesting time to be in the Suffolk DA’s Office. Rachael Rollins is incredibly progressive and has instituted controversial new office-wide policies that change how lower level offenses are prosecuted, with 15 offenses that will not be prosecuted at all. While much of the policy has been the unwritten standard for years, many argue that it is too lenient, and there have been a handful of examples where it seems to be the case. However, I have not noticed the impact of these policies in the Grand Jury unit because only felonies require indictments and end up in the Superior Court. Serious crimes are not treated differently under the new policy. I distinctly remember one of the District Court supervisors saying that “9 out of 10 times, doing the right thing will be compliant with the Rollins Memo. The other 1 out of 10 times, do the right thing.”

Thank you so much to the Estate of George Mead for making this summer possible. I was exposed to a lot that I would otherwise be totally unaware of, and it has made me confident about the direction I am headed.