The Justice Wire
Published in

The Justice Wire

Profiles in Justice: ADA Sarah Gordon

“I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a prosecutor for a long time, and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be,” says Assistant District Attorney Sarah Gordon of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s Juries Unit.

Sarah Gordon joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in November 2016 straight out of Boston College Law School, but she knew she wanted to be a prosecutor even before studying law. She credits her undergrad time at Hampshire College as the impetus for deciding to pursue law. The school requires students to design their own education.

“There’s no grades, just narrative evaluations. And you have to design thesis projects and research them and ask questions and then find evidence to support the answers. And that really prepared me for law school.”

Gordon later interned at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office’s Charging Division, which had a profound impact on her. “That’s when I clearly identified that I wanted to be a prosecutor. Charging decisions totally shape the outcome of a case, and I think that was really interesting just to see that and understand that for the first time, that how a case is charged pretty much determines what’s going to happen down the road.”

After graduating law school, she joined the Philadelphia DA’s Office and began working in the Municipal Court Unit (MC). That first year in the MC was perhaps her favorite stretch.

“Best year of my life. Loved it. The high volume, getting to do so many trials and motions. I felt like that really prepared me to handle more serious cases.”

Following that year in MC, she transferred to the office’s Juvenile Unit, followed by Charging and Waivers. But her most challenging, albeit rewarding, work occurred when she served a rotation in Room 6F of the Criminal Justice Center — juvenile sex assault adjudicatory hearings (trials for juvenile defendants). One case in particular during that period resurfaces in her mind from time to time: a juvenile adjudicatory hearing for a child sex assault case involving a five year-old.

“Meeting with him, getting this little boy to open up to me and talk to me about what happened was very challenging, and then in court having him confront the accused caused him a lot of pain. It’s one thing to have to explain to a teenager the PA Constitution’s Confrontation Clause so they get an understanding. But it’s very challenging to explain to a five year-old boy why you’re going to show him somebody who really scares him.”

She secured a conviction in that case.

When asked if there was a case she’s most proud of in which she secured justice, she shrugs.

“The five to ten cases I have on my desk right now are the ones most important to me. And after those are resolved, the next batch will be the most important to me.”

There are cases that tend to stick with her, however, in ways that others have not.

More recently, she secured a guilty plea in a shooting case.

“On one hand, the guilty plea is good certainly, because it means the defendant is accepting responsibility and not making us go through a trial. On the other hand, I was ready to try the case, the witnesses were there, and sometimes I really think there is a strong justice interest in getting that record out there, getting all the evidence admitted, in a way that it’s not necessarily when it’s just a straight up guilty plea. But the complainant, a young woman who was shot, was there and she was happy with the outcome and that she wouldn’t have to be put through testimony and cross examination.”

For Gordon, being a prosecutor ultimately means performing a delicate balancing act.

“I feel like for me, the idea of what it means to be a prosecutor has always been pretty clear — standing up for victims’ rights but also to make sure that defendants are treated equally and fairly. That’s why I’ve always wanted to work in an office that maintains that balance. No matter what happens to a victim, whether their car was broken into or they got shot, we have to speak to them and make sure they’re heard, and make sure that they get justice, but also make sure that the defense has access to all of the discovery and to make sure that we are not using any kind of unconscious bias in our role.”

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Philadelphia DAO

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is committed to seeking fair and equal justice for 1.5 million residents, while upholding Constitutional rights.