Skip to comments.“This is a Court. Tuck in Your Shirt.”
Posted on 08/25/2005 12:36:01 AM PDT by Congressman Billybob
I spent two days recently in the Circuit Court for Macon County, North Carolina, waiting to be a witness. The Bailiff called people to order, This is a Court. Tuck in your shirt. Its an indication of folks hereabouts that half the males stood up and tucked in their shirts.
At the end of this I have a suggestion for yall. Heres what I saw in this Court.
First, of a total of more than 200 people, only two non-lawyers were wearing suits and ties. Maybe elsewhere, folks put on their best duds to go to court, but not in the Blue Ridge.
But its issues, not clothes, that make the lower-level trial courts a human comedy of citizens and law. There were three basic categories of citizens in court: first, veteran criminals, whod committed crimes before, crimes now, and were apt candidates for future crimes.
Second, smaller category, were one-time criminals, people whod run afoul of the law once, or a few times, but who might straighten up and fly right. The largest category were the friends, family, neighbors, and others, in court to support, testify, and participate however unwillingly in the law.
Youll note I didnt mention innocent defendants; there were very few. This court was handling non-jury crimes, no murders, armed robberies, rapes, arsons, the stock in trade of crime on TV and in books,. Such crimes were bumped up to the jury docket. These defendants either pleaded guilty (about 80%) or were found guilty (about 13%). And even of the roughly 7% who were found not guilty, many of them could have been convicted on the evidence presented.
What do these cases say about the state of justice in Western Carolina? First, the judge was giving most defendants two bites at the apple. If there was any significant doubt, or if he just wanted to give the defendant a break, the judge was finding them not guilty. Second, he was generous in suspending the sentences, and giving them on probation.
Sadly, many defendants granted mercy, refused to accept it. About a fifth of all the hearings were for probation violations. The defendants had failed to abide the terms. And, they got sent to jail despite their pleas for another chance.
Very unfortunate were the young defendants there with their parents. The attorneys were using Mr. and Mrs. Smith as stage props to get Junior a lighter sentence. Ironically, in most such cases, if Junior had been listening to his parents, they wouldnt have been needed to help Junior get probation. The worst of these cases was a young man with some mental difficulties, who had attacked his parents with a chair. Still, they were standing by him. The judge cut him a lot of slack, and wished him well with his medical and psychological programs.
Then there is the small but common category of battered wives who set up for more of the same. These are women who call the police in a panic when they are being beaten up. They may press charges. But when they get to court two months later, they seek to drop the charges because he loves me or he supports the children. One wife came into court using a walker because shed been beaten and kicked in the head. She was not forgiving.
More typical, unfortunately, was a woman asking that her husbands bail be lowered and the assault charges dropped, so he could get out and resume work as a roofer. The Assistant States Attorney, an able and very overworked young woman, objected. She pointed out the details. The husband had (allegedly) dragged his wife to a river, held her head under water, handcuffed her in his truck threatening to kill her, and stabbed her several times, including a gash that took 14 stitches.
For the aggressive roofer, the judge refused the wifes request. He recognized what she did not. She was a candidate to be maimed or murdered by her husband. Because attempted murder is a crime against society, not just the victim, the judge was within his rights.
And the winner in highest bail set for failure to appeal was a name everyone would recognize: Alexander Hamilton, at $3,000.
So, whats my recommendation to you? Find your nearest non-jury, criminal court. Go early. Sit at the front. Hear everything. Observe how well, or poorly, justice is administered in your neck of the woods. I guar-on-d*mn-tee an enlightening experience.
About the Author: John Armor is a First Amendment attorney and author who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu
John / Billybob
I might just do that. Sounds interesting.
Congressman, thanks. I'll raise your challenge one notch, using public record information of course....
Crimes should be reported as follows:
Alexander Hamilton, 34, of 2333 Xerxes Way, Podunk, Anystate, whose parents invite the general public to assist them in the holding to accountability their rapscallion of an overgrown boy who's killing his mother just like Cindy Sheehan is killing hers....
Oh yeah, great article =)
Were there any bothers and sisters or first cousins there to get married?
Though all judges have the power to marry people in NC, they do that in special circumstances and times. No hints of marriage occurred in these courts while in business.
Whatever brought in money to the court.
"Not my cup of tea. "
Walking in blind into a home in the heat of an argument. A woman holding a kitchen knife and a guy with a tire jack...SCREAMING. And when entering the hose, they both look at YOU and want to talk...CLOSE.
But the woman was just plain 'ol cooking up dinner, while the guy was outside changin' a tire. Someone forgot to pay the rent and all heck breaks loose.
With the long line of cars, one can easily mistake the courthouse on Monday morning with the Bank on Friday. It's deposit time.
"You might be a redneck if you go to court and you and your lawyer are the only ones wearing ties."
I agree with this challenge 110%. Several times while going to school, I had to attend court as part of outside assignments for business law classes. A most interesting time and very revealing what's going on with some of your fellow citizens. I think that every teenager ought to have to spend a day observing this process--many lessons to be learned. Another "interesting" tour is of the local jail or lock-up facility--it reinforced a "deterrence" lesson with me (as a responsible adult).
Intriguing. I've surved on a criminal jury and that was a disturbing experience. I'm not surprised at the outcome of the celebrity trials here in California. Partly, I'm surprised any *justice* is actually handed out.
For a first hand glimpse at yhe inner workings of the asylum..visit Landlord-Tenant court in NYC..
Defense Attorney: Your Honor, I'd like another continuance.
Judge: You've already had two.
Defense Attorney: But Your Honor, one of our most important witnesses, "Mr. Green", has failed to show up.
Judge: Three week continuance granted!
the average goob around here (western NY)doesnt have a suit because he's too damned strapped trying to put hamburger helper on the plate and pay for the outrageous tax burden.
Its also a sign of respect for the court
I lost that years ago
I will say though - I was absolutely amazed on having been called to a jury pool once, that I was about the only juror who hadnt been pinched for DUI/DWI (I dont drink)
Many years ago, I was arrested in Fairbanks, AK,, for buying a resident fishing license when I was in fact a non-resident. In my defense, I was 10 days short of being a resident (one year), and I decided to go to court and tell the judge. Yes, they are that serious about their fishing laws in Alaska.
I got there early, front row seat, and what a circus it was.
Fairbanks, during the pipeline boom was a small town gone wild. There were shooting in the streets, prostitutes galore, and general lawlessness. It was a modern version of Dodge City in the 1870s.
The crowd gathered. There were domestics, of course, check kiters, probation breakers, and me, your hunting and fishing scofflaw. Probably 100-150 people waiting in the courtroom for the judge.
Then they brought in the jail population, all in handcuffs 15-20 of them.
I remember 2 prostitutes, both black, handcuffed together. They were smiling, and joking, looking over each person in the audience, blowing kisses to us.
Another guy was obviously a hard core criminal. They seated him in the jury box and handcuffed him to a iron rail. He propped his feet up on the rail.
The bailiff came in and gave us all copies of instructions on how the court was going to proceed that morning. The bailiff said they were sheets used to protect our rights. The hard core criminal said stick my rights up your ass, and threw the papers on the ground.
HERE COM DA JUDGE
All rise (Mr. Hardcore couldnt be bothered, but the rest of us did) and the judge hammered us into session.
He noticed 3 lawyers, 2 Highway Patrolman and a Fish and Game officer sitting at a table and asked why they were there. One of the lawyers said THE MITCHELL CASE, YOUR HONOR.
Holy crap, that is ME!!! 3 lawyers and 3 police men against me, and all I want to do is tell the judge I was 10 days shy of being a resident when I bought my license.
The judge asked me to stand, read me my rights and asked me how I wanted to plead.
I looked at the table full of legal people, 3 lawyers, and 3 cops, and decided that innocent wasnt going to be an option. I said nolo contendra (meaning Im guilty, but perhaps Im not, Im not going to fight it, however, but I want to tell you my side of the story) (man, Latin is descriptive).
Enough about my case, small potatoes, I got 4 months of probation on condition of good behavior and obeying all the fishing laws.
The hardcore criminal gave me a thumbs up, applauded; and the 2 prostitutes winked at me and tried to give me their business cards.
I stayed and watched the proceedings of the others.
One young man had been arrested at 4 am for Driving Under the Influence. He was one of the jail contingent. Here he was at 8 am, probably still drunk, pleading guilty. The judge gave him one year probation, suspended his driving privileges after dark (Fairbanks, in the summer, has sunlight 24 hours a day) and sent him on his way.
Another crook, a check kilter, was fined $100, and she asked if the clerk could take a check.
Lots of restraining orders were imposed on guys for the domestic violence thing.
The really bad guy, didnt bother to stand, and the judge let him sit, just referring him to jail, and another court date.
I spent the morning in the court, and it really was an eye opener. I highly recommend a visit to your local court for a mornings entertainment.
"Maybe elsewhere, folks put on their best duds to go to court, but not in the Blue Ridge."
Maybe overalls and a wife-beater are their best duds.
I watched my local court one day. I know I don't want to be there for any other reason.
They city hired a lawyer from Ft. Worth to come in once a month and be the judge. He was also doing this in some other small towns. The Texas State Constitution forbids anyone to be a judge in more than one place.
After that, there was an Amendment on the state ballots seeking to okay this practice and it failed. They still do it.
Used to go to court a lot over deadbeats, vandals and thieves while I was a property owner and manager in Massachusetts.
I have no more respect for the courts than they have respect for the law.
Would never go back for any reason.
Needed or wanted.
I've noticed far to many criminals who speak perfect english and then when they are busted turn around and demand a translator.
I don't know if its a stalling tactic or what it is, but it annoys the living hell out of me and its not fooling anybody.
One notable example was Sammy Sosa at the steriod hearings in congress, he speaks english and does his interviews in his english, but when speaking to congress, somehow forgot the entire language and wanted and needed a translator.
I can't blame ya.
Looking at the NYC courts, I wonder about these folks.
I've seen judges try and help defendents and even give them advice and encouragement on how to file complaints and harass police officers.
In housing court I've seen folks who are judges who also work dual jobs as heads of tenant advocate organizations (guess how they feel about landlords).
Sounds pretty bold...
Domestic court is sometimes funny too. Once when I was there a couple were before the judge as they had both charged each other with some nonesense over child custody, which had been going on for about 3 years.
When the Judge found out that there had never been any formal visitation/custody papers signed he found both people in contempt and ordered them to be placed in side by side cells until they could come to an agreement.
Arr arr arr arr!
One of my favorite criminal tricks to witness is when doofus comes to court for sentencing and a deputy will pat down said doofus looking for weapons, the deputy finds a cigarette pack, looks inside and finds a joint or two.
Massachusetts Courts are very formal, commie state that it is. I was involved in an accident in Virginia and fought a ticket, big fine and licence suspension, out of stater.
I have been a juror, a defendant, divorce, and a witness, in Mass, Virginina is to informal for me.
Depends on the shirt. I wear Hawaiian shirts, and usually those aren't tucked in.
As a Detective I am in court all the time. I am appalled at how people show up for both Justice and District court. Sometimes even the cops astound me with the casual nature of their dress. I always wear a tie to court. Now I may leave the jacket behind during summer especially when we are over 100 degrees but I always wear a tie. I know a lot of cops who think dressing for court is a polo shirt. I once screamed a rookie who showed up to Justice Court looking like a skater....just more bad signs of the general slippage in society. Thanks Billybob, nice post...
The Dallas Morning News just finished a long series about factors affecting jury duty in Dallas County. One of the "gems" was that a man, 35 or older, wearing a suit, has "zero" chance of serving on a jury. Another, which applies to me, is that the prosecutors have dossiers on about two million former jurors and automatically reject anyone who has served on a jury that has produced an acquittal. (What ever happened to "reasonable doubt"? We got a stiff lecture from a really PO'd prosecutor, thanks a lot, citizens.)
Neck or bow tie?
Great post, Congressman.
This is a national thing. Americans are becoming uniformly fat AND very sloppy, appearing in public in the most unclean/and/or outlandish clothing. Grown men walking about in sneakers and torn jeans, or torn jean baggy shorts, goofy shirts with the names of sports stars, baseball caps, no haircut. And the women? Whoever brought this bare-midriff look to America ought to be hanged.
Jerry Springer fashion show on the streets of your town. Don't the rubes notice that Jerry is wearing a suit and tie? I do not understand this phenomenon. No excuse for it because it costs very little for a man to look decent.
My husband went to traffic court in a small, adjoining town in Texas one time many years ago. He was the only person there in a suit (just home from work). He pleaded innocent to an expired inspection sticker on his car -- his excuse being that he had been in Europe on business, had left the car to be serviced in his absence, and had asked that the inspection be completed at the same time. The auto shop did the work, but forgot the inspection. He had the documentation to prove that the work had been ordered and his plane ticket to show that he had just returned to the country. He had received the ticket when he dropped our daughter off at high school the morning after he returned. The cop would just sit at the exit of the school driveway and eyeball the long line of parents as they drove by slowly.
The fine was about $50, but he decided to fight the citation. Well, they made us sit while they heard (and excused ) nearly every other case. Many of the cases were dismissed because the citing officer was not present. At one point, we saw them wave a lingering officer out the door and then they dismissed the case that was heard next because the officer was not present.
Finally, it was his turn. At that point, he had misgivings about trying to fight this and thought he'd jus pay the fine. The officer who'd been waved out the door earlier came back in and he turned out to be the officer who was to testify against my husband. My husband tried to change his plea. The judge wouldn't allow it. My husband got a tongue lashing you wouldn't believe and was fined a stiff enough fine that he paid the court costs for everybody else that night.
We were never sure whether the heavy fine was because he was wearing a suit, if is was because the small town issuing the ticket was resentful of the people who lived in our newer, mor fashionable area, or what. But, we learned to forget about challenging something minor when the cards are in the other person's hands!
Great Post !!!!!!
Hope you don't mind, I e-mailed your article to J.A.I.L.
That's fine that you sent this on to others with your compliments. But, what is J.A.I.L.?
Great post, great stories above. (Nothing ever happens to me - WAAAAAH!)
Interesting. My Step-Father practiced law in Rutherfordton until he passed away this past February. I gathered from some of the stories I heard the area is unique. Your account seems to be in sync with his.
J.A.I.L.- Judicial Accountability Initiative Law
I had a ticket about five years ago for running a stale yellow -- I was preoccupied with the driver to my right who wasn't staying in his lane. This was in a suburb of Detroit.
I went to court dressed for work -- button up shirt, slacks, etc. Sitting waiting to be called, I got to watch a string of "yutes" from Detroit slouching up the aisle when called, baggy pants, baseball caps, sullen attitude.
Every one of them -- guilty, pay the clerk.
I get called. I walk up to the front, head up, actually acting alert instead of half-asleep. "Good morning, your Honor" while looking him in the eye. The cop was there, verified my story. I did run the red, but with a reason. The judge asked me if my driving record was actually spotless as the printout he had indicated. "Yes, your Honor."
He dropped the ticket. Cleanliness and courtesy go a long way in a courtroom.
Do you still have relatives in Western Carolina? If so, please put them in touch with me.
I can't imagine many people following your suggestion, though -- not while we have Court TV.
IMHO Court TV is an atrocity. Television cameras should NOT be in courtrooms. "Reality TV" is an oxymoron -- nobody acts the same on TV as they do without a camera on them. I believe that TV in courtrooms taint the process -- reason enough to ban them.
I spent 2 days following my ex-wife around Hamilton County for two offenses. One offense was heard in one courtroom because it took place on the highways, the other was in a different courtroom across the county because it took place in the courthouse where the first offense was heard. I still don't understand that.
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