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Agustín's Story
Agustín's Story

Setting His Sights on Advocacy for Gang Victims

If you consider the statistics, Agustín Peña '12 probably should have ended up on a different side of the law than he has. Raised in City Heights, a community with one of the highest crime rates in San Diego County, his future held more promise of gang membership than of serving as a graduate law attorney with San Diego County District Attorney's Office. But Peña has a habit of bucking statistics.

"Human nature tells us to stick with what we know. While gangs were prevalent in my neighborhood, I wanted nothing to do with them," he says.

Choosing a career in law may have been the higher road, but it certainly wasn't an easy road for a young man who nearly didn't graduate from high school. But against seemingly insurmountable odds, Peña not only graduated, but went on to earn a bachelor's degree, and later, attended law school.

In 2009, California Western News spoke with then first-year student Agustín Peña '12 about why he chose to study law and how he hoped to use his degree. Click here to hear Agustín's story, in his own words.

"I understood that law school was going to be very difficult and academically rigorous, but I also knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wasn't going to let fear keep me away from my dreams," he says.

Peña considers his experiences at California Western School of Law, where he graduated in 2012, formative not only as to the type of lawyer he aspires to be, but also of his self-confidence.

"California Western does a good job ensuring that its students are well equipped with the knowledge of the law and that they get important practical experience," he says. "I took part in several oral advocacy competitions in school to hone my skills in forming presentations, applying the facts to law, and doing oral arguments in a logical, concise, yet passionate way." Through California Western, Peña also secured an internship with the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, where he worked on high-profile gang cases.

"With the DA, I had the opportunity to work with some of the best prosecutors I've known. They significantly influenced my decision to become a gang prosecutor," he says. "Prosecution just seemed like the best way for me to stand up for those victims who nobody defended when they were beaten, raped, stabbed, or murdered."

With 88 known gangs within the county, Peña has set his sights on becoming a prosecutor in the judicial district that deals with gang crimes, violent crimes, and fatalities more regularly than almost any other in the country. Peña knows those statistics intimately: his 14-year-old brother Javier Quiroz died under a streetlight in City Heights in 2007, a victim of the gang violence he plans to help eradicate.

"I've always had strong feelings about the innocent being harmed by someone who may be stronger, smarter, or younger. I've always disliked the strong taking advantage of the weak and wished I could do something for the weak," he says.

Peña believes his personal experience combined with his education and practical experience will be an asset to not only the judicial system, but also to his hometown.

Having passed the California Bar exam on his first attempt, Peña is excited about continuing his work in criminal prosecution.

"I believe I have a unique perspective that will allow me to be an effective prosecutor. By growing up in the same community as the victims I work with, I can establish a personal connection with them that may not otherwise be established by someone who is viewed as an outsider," says Peña. "My hope is that my work as a prosecutor extends beyond the courtroom and also makes a difference in the same streets that claimed my brother's life."