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)