Mark Hobel ’01 
Senior Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia 

Q: As a Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, what does your work entail? 
A: I defend criminal convictions in both the local and the federal appellate courts. Typically, that means writing a lot of briefs and doing oral arguments in front of three-judge panels. I have also served as my office’s Criminal Discovery Coordinator. In my job, I deal with a lot of difficult questions about how much information to disclose to the defense. Sometimes there are witness safety issues involved. There are major privacy issues, and if we get it wrong and we don’t disclose, the consequences for individual prosecutors and for our cases can be really profound. 

Q: What types of cases do you litigate?
A: One of the major areas of litigation right now has to do with protective orders. Judges typically want us to disclose information to the defense very early in the case, well before trial. Because we have to disclose so much information to the defense, those disclosures could have consequences or implications for witness safety. They can also have privacy implications for civilians’ personal information. We have to disclose a lot of disciplinary information, including the type of employment records that you or I would never want to see handed over to somebody whose agenda fundamentally is to show that we did a bad job. 

Q: How has the pandemic impacted the criminal
justice system?
A: The impact on the criminal justice system from the pandemic has been extraordinary. Jury trials for us, or really any trials, came to a dead halt in March 2020 for essentially a couple of years. We only started going back to a somewhat regular jury trial schedule in our local and federal courts toward the beginning of 2022. There is an immense backlog of cases because crime doesn’t stop. In fact, crime went up and there were several areas where we faced some very difficult issues. Most criminal defendants are not detained pending trial, but the most dangerous criminal defendants are. In addition, there are limits on how long you can detain somebody before trial. The courts ended up having to release a lot of people pending trial who probably shouldn’t have been out in the community. But that’s what ended up happening because we couldn’t detain every dangerous defendant for two years until we could get them a trial. It had a massive impact on our ability to get people the process for which they’re entitled.

Q: How has widespread vaccination changed whether prisoners with medical ailments are able to secure “compassionate release?”
A: During the pandemic, many prisoners—people who have been convicted and were serving their sentences—took advantage of a provision in the law called a compassionate release, which allows them to petition a judge to be released from prison for extraordinary and compelling reasons. In the first year of the pandemic, many defendants who had various health ailments were able to secure compassionate release on the basis of having Covid-related comorbidities. Once widespread vaccination hit the prisons in early 2021, that certainly slowed the granting of compassionate release, but we still have many prisoners who continue to claim that they’re entitled to it, and that’s created an enormous amount of work for the appellate courts. It’s had a significant impact. 

Q: When you worked in the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, how did you get involved with the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp?
A: This was during Obama’s second term. He’d been very serious at the beginning of his presidency about trying to close Guantanamo and had been frustrated in certain ways. Toward the end of his second term, he appointed a new special envoy for Guantanamo closure at the State Department. I was one of the Justice Department liaisons to an interagency working group that was established to help move people out of Guantanamo who’d been there for a long period of time and who had been cleared for transfer to other countries subject to appropriate security assurances. I ended up being detailed for a year to help out at the State Department. 
Q: What were the key efforts in negotiating with the foreign governments for those detainee transfers? 
A: That was probably the coolest job I have ever had and probably ever will have. I was an assistant to the Special Envoy who had a lot of authority to go to other countries and try to negotiate transfer agreements with them. It involved creative thinking and trying to work through the bureaucracy to get things approved. I got to fly down to Guantanamo a few times, including with some foreign delegations. I traveled to the Middle East to work on some negotiations and to try to get various countries to accept Guantanamo detainees. We did make a substantial dent in the population, especially some of the people who had been there for a long time and who nobody seriously thought were particularly dangerous anymore. They were the folks who’d been picked up on the battlefield.

Q: What is the most exciting part about your work now?
A: I got into this work because when I was in law school, my favorite classes were about criminal law. I thought criminal law seemed the most real and the most “ripped from the headlines.” It’s very unique in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. in that we handle both local and federal criminal law, which are related, but are distinct areas of the law. There aren’t a lot of other workplaces where you can see the full spectrum of criminal law and the full spectrum of the criminal justice system. I’ve always liked writing. Thanks to College Prep, the skill that I’ve always been best at is writing. I’ve worked hard to be able to use those skills to bring dangerous people to justice, defend convictions, and try to do some good in the world, so it’s exciting for me.
Q: Did you know in high school that you wanted to be a lawyer?
A: No, I wanted to go into journalism. I was editor of The Radar and I wanted to be a journalist in college too. After college, I tried to get into journalism but it didn’t really work out. It was not a great time to be doing it and I think I just didn’t really know how to break into it. I ended up going to law school because I was interested in policy, public service, and history. As it turns out, I like practicing criminal law. I stumbled into it and I certainly wasn’t one of those people growing up who thought I wanted to be a lawyer. At the end of the day though, it was a good fit for me.

Q: Would you say English was the foundational class for you at College Prep?
A: I loved English and History. I had some tremendous teachers and classmates too. One of the history co-teachers taught it from the perspective of a leftist type. The other co-teacher was conservative. Everything’s gotten so much more extreme than what both those teachers were teaching at the time. They brought a contrasting approach and we used a lot of primary sources from history. I think they were ahead of the curve in introducing those types of materials into the curriculum in high school. I’ve always conceived of history as an argument since then. I’ve liked reading history since then as well and tried to learn as much as I can. For me, going into the law where arguing is everything and trying to see the different sides to issues, it was my high school classes that were hugely influential.

Q: What is your fondest memory of College Prep?
A: I played soccer in high school. There was one game where I was playing at midfield and somebody passed me the ball. I decided I was going to kick it up to our forwards who were at the top of the goalie box. The moment I kicked it, I realized I hit it way too hard. It went nowhere near where I wanted it to go. I looked over at the goalie with this panicked look on his face as the ball sailed over him. He backpeddled and fell over—the ball landed behind him and rolled into the goal. Everybody went nuts. I didn’t score a lot of goals and so I’m sure it was clear on my face that I did not intend for that to happen. In life, most of the time, you try really hard to get something done and it doesn’t turn out the way you plan. Once in a while it’s really nice when, just out of sheer, dumb luck and screwing up, you score.

L'école préparatoire du collège

mens conscia recti

un esprit conscient de ce qui est juste