Raised in southeast Los Angeles, Sonya Jifkins came from a low-income family. Her father is a truck driver who immigrated from Mexico, and her mother is a retired nurse from Guatemala. 

Sonya’s parents had strict rules and instilled in her and her sister that education was paramount in life. They didn’t care what path they took in life in terms of a career but insisted they had a formal education.

Growing Up In Los Angeles

Sonya’s great grandfather immigrated from Ireland to Sinaloa, Mexico, many years ago. He met Sonya’s great grandmother, who was from Mexico, and the name Jifkins carried on through the generations.

As she grew up in her neighborhood, she knew people who had been sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of the sexual assaults were never held accountable, which stuck with Sonya. It was at this time when she knew she didn’t want this to happen to other people.

“No one’s out there to tell children what happened to them is wrong, it shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.”

Sonya began her quest to find a way to help people who were victims of crimes, especially children. Often, children don’t have a voice when it comes to matters involving themselves and their safety.

Learning To Work With People

Sonya’s career ambition was to become a deputy district attorney, and she knew she would have to go to law school to accomplish her goal.

Sonya completed her undergraduate studies at University of California – Santa Cruz. While in school, Sonya worked as a writing tutor, and also took class notes for students who had disabilities, as a way to begin saving her money for law school.

Going to law school wasn’t going to be easy. She knew she was going to have to submit several applications, and the process was going to be expensive. However, her commitment to helping others and her drive motivated her every day to continue her pursuit.

Although Sonya’s parents made considerable sacrifices to help her get to law school, Sonya felt she had a responsibility to herself to do her part as well to get into school. 

As she continued to save for school, she worked at a retail clothing store. She later found this experience to be very beneficial, as she learned how to work and communicate with people. She developed customer service and social skills, which have been invaluable when working with people in stressful situations.

Sonya became a volunteer at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office because she couldn’t be a clerk. She knew she needed to get some form of experience working and speaking with crime victims, and working as a volunteer would provide this experience.

Not Very Glamorous

Achieving one’s dreams is not always easy, and those who often put in the work doing what appears to be menial tasks and jobs, often become the best in their profession.

As a volunteer at the district attorney’s office, Sonya started putting victim letters in envelopes, placing a stamp on them, and sending them out to victims. Though mundane, Sonya looked at it as a right of passage to get where she wanted to be in life.

Sonya was eventually promoted to making photocopies. She did this job equally as well without reservation or complaint, which soon paid off.

Victim Advocacy

Sonya soon became a victim advocate. She went to court with victims, spoke with them in private, and provided them with support and resources to get through the tragedy of crime and get through the court system. “I think that was probably one of the most valuable experiences that I had,” she said.

Sonya eventually obtained her Juris Doctorate from the Monterey College of Law, and later her master’s degree in law from the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University

Sonya attributes her success as a deputy district attorney back to her days as a victim advocate. She relates having personal experiences with victims as the nexus to putting on a successful case. Sonya knows she can’t just ask a victim to sit in a courtroom to tell strangers seated in the jury box what happened. It’s not that simple, and she realizes victims are human and have suffered traumatically when the crime first occurred. Telling their story can cause that trauma to be re-lived in court. 

This leads Sonya to believe the victim advocates program is one of the most critical aspects of the criminal justice system, and more specifically, the district attorney’s office. Victim advocates are simply invaluable, and Sonya doesn’t feel the system would work without them.

Looking Past The Police Reports

Deputy district attorneys read mounds of paperwork, to include police reports. Because of this quantity, sometimes people working in the criminal justice system can lose sight of the fact that the names listed in these reports are actual people. They are more than typed letters on a document, or the subject of a story being explained.

These same people listed in the report remember everything, from the knock on the door by the first responding police officer who comes to help them, to the deputy district attorney who greets them on the first day of court. 

As a personal note, Sonya makes it a point to greet her victims and witnesses at the beginning of court. It makes a significant difference in how the case will proceed, and it helps those who find themselves thrust into the court environment, feel more comfortable.

What Prospective Attorneys Should Know

When you’re standing in court presenting your case, there’s much more going on in an attorney’s head, than simply the words heard by those in the room.

Are you going to say something you shouldn’t, or that won’t sound right? Do you have a firm grasp of the law? Who are the people in the courtroom? What if your witnesses don’t show up to court? For Sonya, she knows to take a step back, breathe, and display the confidence her victims have placed in her.

Sonya remembers her first trial when the victim didn’t bother to show up for a domestic violence case. She lost the case because she didn’t have the victim present, and it was a case she learned from and will never forget. She always looks over every case she has and critiques herself, so she continually strives to improve.

Working With Children

Probably the most difficult cases to work with involve children. They are the most vulnerable victims, and Sonya recognizes this fact.  Crimes involving children not only affect them in the current moment but most likely will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, sometimes these crimes make children not children anymore. They suddenly grow up instantly, because of something that shouldn’t have happened to them.

Ready For A Great Career?

If you want to pursue your dreams as Sonya has, consider a volunteer position or internship with our office.

If you are already an attorney or would like to know more about the position of a deputy district attorney, visit our career opportunities page.