Business as Usual

March 10th, 2018

Karin and I were in the courtroom a bit early. Room 205 is not terribly imposing. It looks like most any other office, except for the fact that it has the elevated judge’s bench. People were already busy in the courtroom when Karin and I arrived. The assistant DA was scrolling through documents on his computer screen. A couple of lawyers were in the room, alternately advising and ignoring their clients. Clerks were shuffling papers and sipping Starbucks at their desks. Everybody seemed to know everyone else in the courtroom. It felt like any other work place. It was all business as usual.

I heard an odd sound from outside the courtroom. It was a jangling, metallic sound. It reminded me of the noise that the chain on dog leash makes. Then it occurred to me: it was our loved one coming into the room.

She was wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, just as she did during her previous court appearance. The girl looked grim as she sat down. Her public defender sidled up to her, and started talking with the loved one. The lawyer smiled as she explained things. Our young woman nodded and looked at the attorney with an unblinking stare.

The judge came into the courtroom. We all rose. We all sat down again. The judge lost his reading glasses, and the process stalled until he found them again. Then he started hearing the cases before him. There was a routine and ritual involved with proceedings. Each person working in the courtroom played a familiar role, and they all knew their lines. Only the defendants seemed to have stage fright.

There were several cases on the docket. The girl we love was not at the top of the batting order. The first case involved a young woman who had been busted repeatedly for driving with a revoked license. Her lawyer asked for leniency because the young woman had to care for little daughter and a elderly grandfather. This woman had been in front of this same judge just a few months ago, and he had given her probation. The judge was no longer amused by the situation.

He told her, “I am not impressed that you are here again.  The last time you were here, I gave you probation. I guess you weren’t impressed by me either. Maybe a month in jail will impress you.”

Our loved one listened carefully to what the judge said to this other girl. It got her attention.

When it came time for our girl to plead her case, the judge patiently and thoroughly explained her rights. He made it very clear as to what would happen if she pleaded guilty. She did plead guilty. They had her dead to rights. The only real option for our girl was  to cop a plea and hope for mercy from the court. The DA wanted her to get put away for a year. Our girl accepted that deal, rather than a potential three year sentence.

The judge ordered a pre-sentencing review of the case. The public defender and the DA will give the judge any pertinent facts regarding the young woman’s AODA history, work record, academic degrees, and anything else that is needed. The judge will sentence our loved one on May 10th.

The thing that struck me most about the whole process was how mundane it all seemed. For most of the people in that courtroom, the events were nothing unusual. Our loved one was just part of an endless parade of offenders going through an impersonal and heartless system. For our loved one, the brief procedure was profoundly life-altering. It also radically changed my life and the life of my wife.

How can a single event be simultaneously inconsequential for some people and incredibly intense for others?



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