Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back to the Bench

Found this and realized I hadn't posted it yet.

I give you my most recent court observation write-up!

Picking a floor at random, I stroll down the hall hoping to catch whiffs of interesting legal material. Outside of Department 28, a uniformed police officer sits conversing with a suited man. Both direct me to a preliminary trial going on inside that they will be testifying in. Score! I settle into my plush chair and wait for the games to begin.

I enjoy coming into a case cold – half the fun is figuring out what happened. First thing I notice is that the witnesses had obviously never seen a court show in their lives to know what the deal is as far as the swearing in process. Very similar to depo introductions, the lawyers counsel the witness on the fact that the court reporter cannot take down uh-huhs and hu-uhs…which the court reporter promptly takes down for the record. I find it interesting that the lawyers made a point of finding out that the child (14) understood the difference between the truth and a lie, but such conversation is never had with adults. I’m thinking some adults could use it.

Seeing/hearing that the witness seemed to lack adequate vocal chords for a room of that size, Prosecution asks that the microphone be turned on. Before he is done with the second syllable, Madame Court Reporter is in action. I’m sure she has been waiting for the chance.

Witness is asked if he recognizes someone in the room. I realize that it might be like that in all cases we hear in class…there is only one person in the room besides counsel, clerk, et cetera. How awkward t’would be if the witness recognizes someone they weren’t supposed to!

The witness continues shyly and inaudibly answering questions, hesitating before each “yes” or “no” and I’m thinking that this sounds easy. I pull my air writer out and throw down a few practice strokes. Piece of cake. I’m confused, though, because presumably, the kid had been asked these questions before, yet he seemed to be hearing them for the first time now. Prosecution pulls out his phone while hurriedly saying, “Your Honor, just using the phone for the calendar.” Well played, well played.

I lean forward with anticipation as the story begins to become clear. We have John and Jane. Jane has two kids from a previous relationship (Son 1 and Son 2). John gets together with Jane and they live at Jane’s parents and subsequently produce offspring (Son 3 and Baby). They then move to a house to themselves. Our alleged altercation begins when, around1:30am, John comes in and wakes up Son 1 and 2 to “help clean” the kitchen. His demeanor? “Acting dumb and complaining.”

Prosecution tries to extract the story, but Son 2 doesn’t seem to remember ANY of the events that night…except for the fact that it involved sitting on the couch at some point. Thereafter, the police report states that Son 2 alleged the night in question that the John was pacing and yelling (and acting dumb) about their lack of respect and that Son 2 was “the weak one.” Son 2 then says to back off of the family. John subsequently takes a kitchen knife and holds it to Son 2’s neck and says he will kill them all. There is a scuffle, Son 2 escapes out the door into the street, followed by a large pot thrown by John which subsequently shatters in the street.

Areas of contention seem to be the ownership of the knife recovered by police at the scene. None of the witnesses recognize the knife in question as even coming from their kitchen. Photograph exhibits showing red scratches and marks alleged at the time to have been caused by the knife were from a “skating accident.”

DEFENSE: You told him to sit down. Was he standing up or sitting down?

WITNESS: I don’t remember.

Q: was he walking around?

A: I don’t remember.

Q: Would you tell someone who was sitting down to sit down?

A: I don’t know.

Q: When you walked out the door, did you take a frying pan with you?

A: No.

Q: Do you normally walk out of the house with a frying pan?

A: No.

Q: So you would remember if you had?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Did the defendant throw a frying pan at you?

A: No.

Q: Do you remember telling the officers that your step-dad was swinging a knife around in the air yelling, “I’m going to kill you all!”?

A: No.

I think that Prosecution is getting a little miffed with the witness, and I know for certain when he says:

Q: Do you routinely come up with stories to get people arrested?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Do you normally spend time making up stories to get the police involved?

A: I don’t remember….

When the next witness is called (Jane), I really wonder if there is TV in the house to familiarize the witnesses with the swearing in process. At least Jane seems to want to answer the questions. Too bad she doesn’t remember anything about the night in question except for what John didn’t do and that she and the offspring sat around while she coached them with a story to get John arrested…the details of which are hazy at best.

A: I don’t remember anything that happened that night.

Q: You don’t remember anything from that night?

A: Well, I remember some, but not very much.

Q: You were awake when you woke them up, correct?

A: Yes.

Well, if she hadn’t been, that would answer a lot of questions.

The story appearing to be the one that the witnesses want to spin (possibly with help from the defendant) is that Son 2 got into a physical altercation with the John in the same period of time that he, Son 2, had a case open in court. To avoid getting slapped into Juvie, he fabricated a story about John that was convincing enough that two police officers showed up in court and lied their heads off about how realistic it was.

The bench really heats up when the suited police officer was asked about things that Son 2 had told uniformed police officer (still in the hallway). Defense didn’t like that one bit and put on his objecting pants.

DFNS: Hearsay within hearsay under 115.

COURT: Overruled.

DFNS: Your Honor, that’s TWO LAYERS of hearsay!

PRSC: It was in the police report, Your Honor. Under 115.

COURT: Overruled.

His Honor decides to break for lunch, as it is noon. Both lawyers, having heard I am there for observing, approach me and ask if I have any questions (to my surprise). I clarify what 115* is and Defense tells me that he still didn’t think it should be allowed. Prosecutions confides to both of us that he didn’t think it should either and that he was surprised it worked. When Defense walks off, Prosecution asks me if I think the defendant is guilty.

“Well,” I say, “I doubt it went down exactly like the kid originally said it did, but something happened, and it’s not what they’re saying.”

He gives a shark grin. “They’re all lying right now. It’ll go to trial.”

Conclusion: Domestic abuse cases must be really frustrating for the lawyers and the judge.

*115 has to do with hearsay rules and that police officers are allowed to recount things other officers have said, like a verbal report or something.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Ha ha, great story. You must be happy to know you picked the right career!