I had the opportunity to visit a district court felony trial and a justice court misdemeanor DUI. These two courts were very different from start to finish from the atmosphere, length of the case, and how the lawyers acted. Stepping into each of these courtrooms was like stepping into two different worlds. While the proceedings may have been similar, the environments were completely opposite. The first court I attended was a district court case that was supposed to be a jury trial. The presiding judge was Vernice Trease.
The defendant, Joshua Robert King, was charged with: Burglary a second degree felony, two counts of propelling a substance at an officer a class a misdemeanor, and assault against a peace officer knowing person is an officer a class a misdemeanor. When court was about to start I went and found the courtroom and noticed how small the actual courtroom was. I had never been to court and was just going off of my perception from watching law shows on television. I was the only one in the courtroom before court was about to begin not even the bailiff was present.
I took a seat in one of the rows and noticed there were cameras everywhere. The courtroom had this dark wood encapsulating the room and behind the judges seat was a U. S. flag and also the Utah flag. Soon the attorneys entered and I heard one of them say “Yeah, he was drunk and tried to enter so…” he stopped talking once he saw me. I realized they were discussing the case. One of the attorneys said “I wonder if she will accept it” and soon the bailiff entered the courtroom again and the attorneys asked if the judge was in. He said yes and the said “we might have a deal”. ““Plea bargains are quite common in criminal cases.
Thus trials in the United States (especially jury trials) are quite rare. ” (). Which is why I was excited to see a jury trial but from the way they were talking it didn’t sound like that was going to happen. They soon returned from the back of the courtroom and the defense attorney was talking about how he didn’t want to fill out the paperwork quiet yet and “jinx” himself. While they were waiting for the defendant to show up from the prison they were talking like they were old high school buddies. It wasn’t like the television shows where the two attorneys are mortal enemies.
In the Blumberg it talks about how defense attorneys “have close and continuing relationships with the prosecuting office” (). They continued telling each other stories from when they were younger and laughing. When the defendant arrived the defense attorney went in a room on the left to go speak with his client. Within minutes he was back and the defendant had accepted the deal. His family then entered the courtroom and his attorney went and let his mother know of what was going on. The judge entered and asked that the defendant, Mr. King, be brought into the courtroom.
The defense attorney said there was newly discovered body cam footage and because of this new footage that they had agreed to a plea deal with the state. Mr. King would plead guilty to burglary of a building a third degree felony and guilty to one of the class A misdemeanor propelling a substance at an officer, in return the assault and one of the propelling a substance at an officer would be dropped. The judge then asked King to retell the story of what happened that night as he did he stood up straight, kept saying yes ma’am, no ma’am, and seemed sincere about his actions.
The judge asked King if he knew what he was pleading guilty to and that he was able to comprehend what was happening. She asked if he was being compensated in any way for entering his plea other than what the court was offering he said no, and signed a piece of paper and the guilty plea was entered. The judge asked if he wanted to be sentenced that day or at another time. He asked to be sentenced that day. The judge asked if he wanted to say anything, he said he did. King started talking about that he was on parole for two year before this happened and had been behaving, and taking care of his kids.
He said he should not have been drinking that night and “I’m not that kind of person. ” The prosecutor had remained fairly quiet up until this point and asked the judge to have King serve this sentence consecutively to the one he was currently serving. The prosecutor brought up King’s record sighting that he has a history including: criminal trespassing, multiple DUI’s, criminal mischief, a couple assaults, protective order violation, hit and run, and a kidnapping charge in 2005 which he was on parole for when this burglary happened.
The prosecutor believes that King has a “substance abuse problem”. Because of his record “A prior record is likely to increase the seriousness of a case” (). The family starts shaking their heads and crying. The defense attorney calls the sister of King up to the podium to say positive things about her brother. She starts crying and says the he’s had a bunch of traumatic things happen in his life and he drinks to cope with them. The judge finally interrupted and says that this testimony is great but if she wants him to get help she’s going to have to talk to the parole board.
She tells the sister that her job because he was on parole and this is a felony the only thing she can do is decide whether the sentence is served consecutively or concurrently. The judge calls King up to the podium one last time and says “I do not believe you are a bad person, you have people surrounding you and all the help you need but you are choosing not to take it. ” She tells him he has no more excuses and that if he commits another crime he’s going to be locked up for a very long time.
A decision is “affected by the judge’s life experiences, prejudices, and overall social values. (Carp). Judge Trease seemed to show compassion towards King but strictness in her tone. She orders him to serve these crimes concurrently and dismisses court. For the second court I attended justice court and the first thing I noticed was how big the courtroom was there were more seats and rows before the line where the attorneys sit. The courtroom seemed lighter and not nearly as formal. There was a small state flag in something similar to a picture frame behind her and a United States flag off in the corner to the left.
On the docket for the judge, Jeanne M Robison, that morning was misdemeanor DUI’s. That was the only thing on her docket and it’s because “Specialization enhances familiarity and knowledge of relevant issues among the judges on the court, and offer the possibility to resolve specific types of cases in both a fair and timely fashion. “(). It would allow her to move through the 22 cases she had in a little over 2 and half hours. There were several people waiting for their turn in front of the judge, they were all looking at their phones.
While the judge was doing a case, the defense attorney would ask around if their client was here and when someone would raise their hand they would walk over with a file and talk to them for a minute and then walk over to the prosecutor’s desk “waiting to talk to him about their case, and if all goes well, will be sent out to an open courtroom a few minutes later. “(). The defense would then walk back to their client and talk with them just before the judge would call them to the stand.
The defense attorney would say that they entered a plea deal with the state for a lesser charge with community service and a fine. The judge would then ask if the defendant knew what they were pleading guilty to and make sure they understood what they were giving up. The entire case lasted 4 minutes and there is a “speed of disposition” to each case as they try to get through them as quickly as possible (). The state attorney sat in her chair at her desk and four or so defense attorneys would cycle taking cases and agreeing to plea deals.
One of the attorneys was new and didn’t use shorthand jargon for one of the legal terms and the other attorneys sitting behind him were giving him grief. It seemed very odd and not at all what I pictured when I thought of going to court. The lawyers were laughing with each other, they seemed like this was just another day rather than that they were in court facing a judge. “Lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy. “(). They seemed to be enjoying themselves and carefree.
Because these cases were never longer than ten minutes; not only the defense attorney’s but also the state seemed unprepared at times. The judge asked the state what a particular defendant’s record was and she struggled to try to find anything on him but finally found what they had on file. She laughed and then apologized to the judge for struggling to find his file. In one of the cases the judge had both attorneys approach the bench and she put static on these speakers that were facing us so we could not hear what was being said.