Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019
Matt C. Pinsker, a criminal defense attorney in Henrico County who also serves in the U.S. Army Reserves in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, recently returned from a six-month deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he worked as a federal special prosecutor.
Pinsker, an adjunct professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs’ Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program, shared some of his perspectives from the experience.
Why were you deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border?
With the introduction of “zero tolerance” (meaning all persons illegally entering the U.S. are prosecuted), federal prosecutors at the Justice Department were completely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of new cases because of so many people illegally entering the U.S. every day. Although they started hiring new people, it takes several months to a year to hire and start a new federal prosecutor, in large part because of the federal background search. As a temporary stopgap, the Department of Defense could provide the Justice Department attorneys like myself who are already in the federal system, already have a security clearance and are experienced in criminal practice.
Have you been on similar deployments as a prosecutor?
Although I had done criminal prosecution in the past, I have never been on a deployment like this as a prosecutor. As a civilian, I had done criminal appellate prosecution for the military back in 2012. The last time I spent considerable time on active duty was in Germany in 2017 where I was defense counsel.
What were your key responsibilities at the border?
I did the ordinary work of criminal prosecution in federal court. This includes spending time in court, arguing motions, writing memos, researching legal issues, putting together cases for trial, working with law enforcement and more. I handled the issues you would expect to find in a federal prosecutor’s office on the border, which includes illegal immigration and human trafficking, drugs and firearms. Although not an official responsibility, I also spent considerable time in the field alongside the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection because understanding their job helped me do my job.
How will this experience help inform your teaching at the Wilder School?
This deployment in border security and federal prosecution is another experience I can bring back to the classroom and share with my students.
As an adjunct professor, I bring to the classroom my real-world experience. This deployment in border security and federal prosecution is another experience I can bring back to the classroom and share with my students. They will get an inside account of what is happening at the border, especially in regard to human trafficking, without any filter from the media or the bias of political partisans.
Have you discussed your deployment with your students?
While I was on active duty with the Army and part of the Justice Department, I was very tight-lipped about where I was and what I was doing, not just with my students but even my friends and family. My students knew some basics, but not the details. Now that I am back to being a private citizen again, I look forward to sharing the experience with my students and others in the community.
What advice would you give to students who wish to serve in the JAG Corps?
Serving as a judge advocate is the best job in the entire military. You get the benefits, privileges and opportunities of serving in the military, while also getting to practice law. You also get once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, like this. If this is a career path you want, go to law school, where in addition to top grades you also get involved in criminal litigation and take on assignments where you can demonstrate leadership skills.