22 July 2010

Wednesday, 21 July 2010, was a court service day in Newton. The number of cases was surprisingly small including four people transported from the jail to the courtroom. My trial for Monday has gone out. The defendant has decided she would rather plead than go to trial regardless of the fact that I have encouraged her to try it. Most are afraid of trial and just want it to go away which is easiest done by pleading guilty. Fines are never paid so the fine doesn't matter. Most will not ever be able to drive legally which does not stop them from driving. What does not occur to them that the next time, and there always is a next time, it will be more difficult because of the previous legal pleas. Forward thinking, long range goals, thoughtful analysis are not part of the equation for most defendants.

My view is that trial would be the best thing for both them and the community as a whole. These defendants, most young, uneducated, and not very bright have never experienced anything like a trial where they must sit and be judged by the community and present themselves in a manner that would indicate to the jury that they actually belong or potentially belong to the productive part of that community. The idea of getting on the stand and testifying is truly frightening for them and they just can't do it. If they did--if they actually went to trial--went through the process, it would have a lasting impact on them which a few days in jail, a fine, or a lecture by the judge does not. The goal, after all, is to convince these defendants that they ought to get a job, look, dress, and act in a manner that allows them to be part of the community. Our system of plea bargaining does not do that. Trials would come much closer to having the desired effect.

Defense attorneys are as much to blame as the defendants themselves, but that discussion is for another day.

The second event of the day was the swearing in of Brad McCall as a District Judge. 36 judges were in attendance from the 5th judicial district, robed and properly recognized. Several other judges were in the audience. Much to do was made with several dignitaries making remarks. The courtroom furniture was shifted about by the local clerk's office and there was room for all except a few latecomers. We have a new opening to replace Judge Keller and it is conceivable that Jasper County could have two district judges after a hiatus of 20 years without any.