Sunday, July 17, 2011

How To Spell Apologize

Everyone in the courtroom is angry. The judge is frustrated with the bailiffs, who are short-staffed and delay in bringing the defendants from holding up to the courtroom. My attorney is furious with the co-defendant’s lawyer, who presented a last minute witness who laid the alleged armed robbery at the feet of our client. Our client’s mother is fed up with my attorney, and during every break coaches her on evidence she needs to bring up or contest. The client’s mother puts excessive emphasis on small discrepancies between the governments’ witnesses: the complaining witness said the gunman was about 5’10”, but her son is 6’1”. The first officer said the umbrella the gunman carried was white and blue; her son’s is white and green. My attorney already went over this while each witness was on the stand. “But Miss Charles, it’s your job to bring that out more!” our client’s mother says.

“I know how to do my job, Ms. Jones,” my attorney replies. Our client is charged with armed robbery. He is eighteen. He was stopped by police while wearing a distinctive pink jacket with sports patches, carrying a Tech 9 submachine gun, with three crisp $20 bills in his pocket. His friend carried four additional $20 bills. The complaining witness ID’ed them as the two suspects she had described to police a few hours earlier, after she reported being robbed at gunpoint of $140 in twenties by two young men, one of them carrying a submachine gun and wearing a pink jacket with sports patches on it. It is a difficult case.

I wonder if anyone should be angry at our client, this cute, lanky young man who happened to be in possession of a loaded machine gun, and who possibly pointed it to a stranger’s head and demanded money from her. He reminds me of my first boyfriend, who wore Rolling Stones t-shirts and made inappropriate jokes in class. The defendants are teens just like any others; they push boundaries, miscalculate danger, and can’t visualize the future. Their mothers come to court every day; they are concerned, respectful, pulled together. They are normal-looking parents with normal-looking kids who somehow end up carrying dangerous weapons and facing years in prison before they even graduate high school.

I watched a video of a police interrogation of one such young man. He came on camera cocky and demanding a soda, and was escorted off camera six hours later, crying and wiping his nose on his T-shirt. In between, he’d confessed to a robbery gone wrong which ended with him shooting and killing a 74 year-old barber. After copping to the crime, at the detectives' suggestion, the boy began to write a letter to the barber’s widow, explaining what happened and seeking her forgiveness. The kid sat in the interrogation room, writing, erasing and re-writing for about 10 minutes. Then he stopped and looked up at the detectives. “How do you spell apologize?” he asked.

My attorney says the saddest part of her job is when she sees kids she represented as juveniles back in court, facing new charges as adults. Not losing cases, not getting motions denied, not getting overruled on objections, but knowing that for some clients, even if they are acquitted it’s not over. I loved working at the PD's office this semester. It’s a real privilege to be allowed into the clients’ lives, especially for these confused and painful moments. It’s rewarding be able to help them understand, order, and improve their situations. But there is a lot of anger to go around in these cases, and a certain frustration, because no one knows how to make things right.

No comments:

Post a Comment