Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Emotional Courtroom

The defendant had just turned 16. It's a milestone in every person's life - driver's license, proms, SATs. In the New York criminal world, it means graduation. A graduation from family court to adult court. The change from family court where the main goal is to address the needs of the juvenile to adult court where the main goal is deterrence of crime is often jarring.

And most kids just don't get the difference until it's too late.

The defendant had not appeared for the previous court date, but due to her age the judge agreed to allow her another chance to appear a month later. The date rolled around and again the defendant does not show. The judge issued the warrant, meaning the police would actively hunt for her.

She did show up that day, hours late and with her mother. The defendant claimed she did not really understand how serious the charges were. The judge had heard enough excuses in this case and probably her other cases and the situation warranted an increase in bail. In most of these teenage defendant cases, the parents take center stage when anything bad is about to happen to their children.

This mom made no exception. She arrived in jeans and a tight, teal tee shirt, with eye shadow to match. She stood in the front row as the judge increased bail, the tears dripping down her face and soaking her shirt. She made no efforts to stop the flow. She begged the judge not to take her baby away, because her other baby was already in jail. She was homeless right now and needed her daughter to sleep with at night.

The judge allowed mom to say whatever she needed, and then, calmly and rationally, explained why the bail was increasing. She kept emotion out of her decision and even left open the possibility of releasing the defendant if mom was able to pull her life together.

It's a difficult world and some lessons are learned the hard way.

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