As children, we are curious – inquisitive little souls who long to know the infinite, unattainable answers to “Why?” It is our mantra – our motto – and as we grow into our teenage years, our curiosity is muted. School is the least of our concerns, and for some, undergoing eight hours of classes is a cruel and unusual punishment. By the time we enter into adulthood and face the reality of “adulting,” our focus has been narrowed and, for a while, our curiosity sated.
However, it is never far from the forefront of our minds, and as the years pass by, our incessant, nagging “Why?” transforms into an expression of genuine intrigue. The desire for knowledge becomes something more, and piece-by-piece, we collect the information to complete our puzzles.
Curiosity and the desire to know more follow us all of our lives, and that is the case with Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Eugene Simmons, who recently returned from a ten-day career prosecuting course in Charleston, South Carolina.
Ninety-five career prosecutors from across the country gathered at the Charleston Hyatt Place Hotel from June 6 to 16 for the 47th annual Career Prosecutor Course hosted by the National District Attorney Association [NDAA].
“I’ve been in office for sixteen years,” Simmons explained, “and I was just recently re-elected for another four. I thought this would be an opportunity for me to pick up some stuff from other prosecutors.”
Over the span of ten days, chief prosecutors from across the country – such as California, Illinois and Michigan – conducted a number of classes concerning leadership skills, substantive legal training and trial advocacy.
Lecture-style classes were held in the mornings, and during the afternoons, Simmons and the other prosecuting attorneys spent time in a lab where they worked example trial cases from beginning to end. The attorneys were divided into groups of eight, and each group was given the opportunity to work through different aspects of the trial such as cross examinations, final arguments, opening statements and more.
To assist with each trial, actors were brought in to portray the individuals involved with each case, and the attorneys were able to cross examine and question each one.
According to Simmons, cross examinations have to be conducted very carefully. Women are a little more quick-minded than men – which can make them more difficult to cross examine – and a question that the prosecutor doesn’t already know the answer to should never be asked.
“Cross examinations are more difficult than people realize,” Simmons explained. “You have to be extremely careful with it, and you always want to try to leave your cross examination with a statement that’s for your side. Basically, you want to make your questions ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. You don’t want the person being cross examined to put ideas before the jury and answer and/or explain something they normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to. If you can ask them a direct question, you’re better off.”
Fifty percent of the conference dealt with drug prosecution, and with 80 percent of Simmons’ cases in the county involving drugs, the two days spent learning how to interview and cross examine expert witnesses in drug and murder cases were of a particular interest to him.
Lectures on how to catch drug-using individuals; how to take care of them once they are caught; and how the individuals are convicted served as an opportunity to refresh old techniques and learn new ones, as well.
Throughout his time in South Carolina, Simmons acquired a plethora of information, and in some instances, feels as though he was able to learn more than his fellow classmates.
Many of the prosecutors in attendance brought along their laptops to take notes, but Simmons noted that the laptops proved to be more of a distraction on more than one occasion. By not using a laptop, Simmons was able to take notes and concentrate more on what was being presented.
The Pocahontas County trial circuit has yet to begin, but Simmons is confident he will be able to apply some of his newly-acquired cross examining techniques in a couple of upcoming cases.
“Being able to cross examine expert witnesses and officers using direct and indirect evidence is really going to help,” Simmons added.
Among the classes’ many instructors was District Attorney George Brauchler, of the 18th Judicial District in Colorado. In 2015, Brauchler prosecuted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, who killed 12 people at the Century Aurora 16’s midnight showing of the “Dark Knight Rises.” Holmes was sentenced to 12 life sentences – one for each of the victims he killed – and 3,318 years for the attempted murders of those he wounded, as well as for rigging his apartment with explosives.
Another notable instructor was District Attorney Michael Ramos, of San Bernardino County, California. Ramos served as the attorney for the People of the State of California following the December 2015 San Bernardino shooting that left 16 people dead – the two perpetrators included.
“It was an outstanding time,” Simmons said. “I had heard about it in the past, but I never had a chance to go to it. I’m sure not too many people go to it from West Virginia because prosecutors here don’t usually stay in office that long. It was an opportunity to get together with people who have been a prosecutor for thirty years or more and learn.”
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org