My Day in Court

I remarked, on the way in, that we were the only people that wanted to be there. Being a defendant must be a bad time, and I doubt being a plaintiff is much better. Jurors are getting a couple bucks a day to disrupt their lives, and it’s just another day at work for everyone else. But we were there voluntarily, because we wanted to see what a trial was like.

Everyone at the courthouse was friendly, but it clearly wasn’t a place meant for visitors. We walked around trying to find someone to give us information, and finally found a friendly janitor. He had no specific suggestions, but said that we ought to just open courtroom doors until we find a case we’d like to see.

We walked in in the middle of the case, and I immediately felt as though I was somewhere I shouldn’t be. A trial seems like such a personal and intimate thing, deciding one’s fate. We sat up front.

The witness being questioned was a sixty-year-old woman. Her questioning was slow because it went through a Chinese interpreter, was interrupted by her sobbing, and was hindered by her clear displeasure at being there. It turned out that although she was the victim of a purse-snatching, she wasn’t the one prosecuting. It was the city’s DA.

The case seemed like a formality to me. Hours were spent arguing over whether she received the purse back at the same time she received the cell phone originally contained within it. I assumed that the defendant was guilty and that they were deliberating minutiae to try to find some discrepancy in testimony upon which to pounce.

We finally had a recess for fifteen minutes, so we adjourned to the hallway. Jurors took benches and used the bathrooms, but we stood near the door. So did the defense attorney, who asked us what we were doing there. Were we law students?

We answered that we just wanted to see what a trial looked like, and that we found it interesting but confusing. I asked if there was some way to get the backstory, and she offered to talk to us after the trial.

The courtroom experience was interesting, but talking with her was twice as fascinating. She was very open with us and answered all of our questions readily. It was obvious from the beginning that no amount of tiptoeing was necessary. She gave us her argument, which was that the police pretended that they took the phone off his body, even though it was in the abandoned purse with everything else.

She said that a lot of cops were good cops, but that some of them become convinced of a suspect’s guilt, so they gild the lily and exaggerate to help convict. She asked what we thought about the case, and seemed encouraged when I said that I wasn’t sure.

“Reasonable doubt!” she said.

I asked if she thought she was going to win, and she said she had no idea. When I indicated that I wanted to know how the case went, she gave me her cell phone so that I could call and find out.

The whole experience was really fascinating. Go down to your local courthouse and sit in on a trial. It will give you a new appreciation for the fragility of justice.

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My next book is almost done. I’m really happy with how it came out, but am revising a few things based on early reader feedback. I’m also going to record an audio version at the same time.

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