This story was submitted to us by a law student about their first time going to court. They asked we did not share their name.
Courts Can Be Scary
I attended the Toronto court house at 361 University Ave. I went to the area for minor offences hoping to identify professional dominance. The first thing I noticed walking up the steps to the court house was the building towering above and a lot of cold concrete. Walking through the door I saw sheriffs, lawyers, students, and a lot of administration booths. After identifying myself as a student to security, I was directed to a wall displaying a lot of notices about the times and room number where a case would be heard. I attended a court and sat down on one of the 5 wood rows.
Law Student Story
I watched as the defendant was brought into a plastic cage by two sheriffs and then was locked in the cage. The Judge came in wearing a strange gown and wig, looking very powerful and intimidating. We were all told to stand with the words “Will the court please rise?” The tone of voice didn’t make sound like we had an option. It looked like a setting for a play with the judge being the protagonist and the defendant being the antagonist. Entrances and exits were carefully controlled. The lawyers fill roles of supporting actors. It seemed that everyone knew the lines and the role they had to play in courtroom except for the defendant who seemed scared and confused.
The words that the defendents lawyer and the prosecution used were very intimidating, sometimes confusing the defendant. The
defendant was then sentenced to seven months in prison for selling heroin and was collected by the sheriffs again and taken out of the court room.
We were told to leave the room for lunch break by the guards. I saw people crying and talking in the halls. I went to a lot of different courtrooms and in all of them the judge was a white male. It did not seem like a happy place and fear and sorrow filled the air. The presence of police, lawyers, judges, criminals and security really made it an interesting and scary experience. It was not hard to identify signs of professional dominance at the Court House. The people who worked there were clearly control of every aspect of the procedures there, from the locations, times and settings to the legal jargon and disconcerting formality.
Courts decide on the ” moral character”of a juvenile offender by considering the presentation of the defense and the crown and the protective strategies offered by the juvenile. Typifications, or common-sense knowledge of social structures, play a vital role in the work of the courts. This helps them establish reasons for the juvenile’s behavior and to justify whatever actions the courts decide to take. The courts know the defendant is regarded as “trouble”by someone. The court wishes to ascertain the potential for the defendant to commit serious crimes in the future. The offense being discussed helps to typify the “trouble, but the courts also want to take into consideration information about the “type” of offender before them -his or her family, employment background, demeanour, past behaviour, and personality.
The lawyers use pitches and denunciations as character presentations. Pitches present a positive impression of the youth, explaining that the act was typical of a normal actor, aiming to obtain a more lenient disposition. Denunciations aim to blacken the juvenile’s character, establishing that the act was typical of juveniles with criminal-like characters.
The juvenile has a chance to plead his case too, using one of three strategies:
- making excuses
- Using justifications
- Pleading innocent
These accounts are important as the court’s verdict and judge sentence, if applicable, will be based on the success of the strategy chosen. The moral characters presented by the lawyers are also considered. The courts consider the three categories of moral character, the normal, the”disturbed”and the “hardcore ” to help them justify their decision on how to deal with the delinquent. A “disturbed characterization justifies psychiatric care, and”criminal” characterization justifies punishment, probably prison time, and a normal characterization provides justification for routine handling, like probation.
All these experiences show me why people hire lawyers in the first place. What a terrible place to be.