LAST WEEK IN COURT

DECEMBER 4 - DECEMBER 10

Reflection from a Watcher

The defendants are so tranquil in court. I never fail to notice it. The ADA looks down and drones out the details of a low point in this person’s life, maybe one of the lowest, and the accused person doesn’t react. It saddens me that they have to stand there, disembodied, watching others argue the merits of their freedom.

The bureaucracy of the room is overpowering. It’s jarring when the ADA reads what transpired “in substance” between the arresting officer and the accused. They’re words that a heated person would speak to another, especially if all that separated them was a badge. That little wedge of state power that someone can force into someone else’s life at will, and which now envelops the defendant totally.

I’m new to Court Watch, but it’s jarring to see someone so enveloped they can’t even move. Especially at the outset of what might be a long road back to freedom. From the gallery, I can’t tell if it’s power or imitation that blankets the accused. All I can see is a person performing their own conquest as an offering to the slowgoing procedure, that it might find the humanity in the human moment that brought them there.

Reflection from Another Watcher

The most striking thing about sitting in a court room for any period of time is how difficult it is to hear what’s being said. The docket numbers and legal codes are disorienting enough but when the real discussions begin, it’s shocking how often the proceedings are garbled or raced through with the uninflected detachment of a speedreader speaking under their breath. It would be hard enough to follow along for someone with a law degree and years of education to help give the language context, but for the average person the setting often seems designed to disorient rather than help someone take full advantage of their rights. Asking for clarification or expressing any kind of confusion is often met with irritation or hostility from judges and prosecutors. It leaves the impression that the merits of the case are being considered, but that person is being moved through a system, and any attempts to point out flaws are treated not as reasonable defense of individual liberty but an obstacle preventing the system from moving at maximum speed. The average time of most cases was between two and five minutes, something which when combined with the confusing nature of legal language and the pressure to move on to the next case, puts an inordinate amount of pressure on defendants to quickly make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.