The U. S criminal justice system has been hailed over time as being the epitome and representation of fairness and justice. Its rules, procedures and structures are complex and maybe confusing for those who are yet to get a chance to visit one, either voluntarily or under the watchful eyes of the police. Its complexity is perplexing and yet humbling. Its tenacity in delivering equity in justice has continued to stand the test of time. To be able to understand the intricate details of our court system requires a combination of both theoretical and practical experience.
It is in this line of wishing to disembowel and understand the composite structure of U. S courts that will take me to a court room where I am supposed to learn and experience firsthand what goes inside the four walls of our justice system. My choice of court lies in Currituck County in the North Carolina State where there is a felony case going on. As details later emerge, a man named Jackson Nite is accused of stealing his neighbor’s truck two weeks ago and seriously injuring the occupants who happened to be the neighbors tow teenage boys.
He had a week ago been arraigned in court and a need for a trial established, he had pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him at the advice of the lawyer appointed to represent him in court. He had claimed he did not have enough money to hire his own. The united states justice system emphasizes the importance of legal representation for all accused persons and incases where they cannot afford one, the state appoints one for example from the Legal Aid Society which is a non profit making organization that gives free legal services to those who cannot afford one (Judith S, 2006).
The accused had been given an option for a bail but he was unable to post one and has had to be remanded. A preliminary hearing too has been held and the grand jury had found there was overwhelming evidence against the accused and passed an indictment vote that consequenced the transfer of the case to this supreme court where the jury trial is taking place. Our justice system is among the few in the world that prides of allowing a person to be judged by the common man; petit jury trial.
This is a group of people selected from among a jury panel with an intention of rendering a guilty or not guilty verdict after having listened to arguments and evidences brought to court by both relevant parties (the federal judiciary, n. d). The traditional, “All Rise For the Court! ” Marks the beginning of the day’s proceedings. Everyone goes to his feet in a show of deep respect for the judge and the court system in general. The courtroom is packed and we resume to our seats as the judge also takes hers.
Today’s court affairs will predominantly feature the selection of trail jurors in the courts bid to exercise fairness and impartiality. The court clerk is calling out the names of people in the jury panel and directing them to the jury box, which is fully packed with prospective jurors. They are taken through a strenuous exercise to establish if any one of them may be holding any bias or preconceived attitudes towards the case that might affect their partiality.
Strings of questions are directed to the jury by the judge, the prosecutor and Jackson’s lawyer; they are challenged for cause to ensure that only those are perceived impartial sits in the jury. Many persons are excused on the basis that they indicate some signs of partiality while others it is through peremptory challenge. The scenario in court is like haggles and bargaining in the market place where each side hopes that they get to place sympathetic characters in the jury box. The destiny of the verdict starts and ends with the jury. In the end a panel of thirteen jurors had been selected.
The judge then advices the selected jurors to be organized and immediately elect a foreman failure to which his honor would be obliged to nominate one. They are to wear the red and white buttons while in court. They are further advised not to discuss the case amongst themselves or with any person outside and should report any undue influence or attempts to influence their decisions. The impartiality and objectivity of the jurors in reading their verdicts is greatly emphasized. The first person to open the floor in the court room is the prosecutor, also known as the assistant district attorney.
He leads the prosecutions case and represents the state in a criminal. The presence of an assistant district attorney is only imperative in cases where there is likely to be a fine or a jail term sentence to the accused. In his/her opening statement which he/she addresses to the jury he tells them how he will prove beyond a reasonable doubt how Jackson planned to execute his crime as well as laying down all the corroborating evidence to support his case, the witnesses to be called on the witness stand to give their testimony against Jackson.
The full attention of the district attorney is directed to the jury, it is the jury panel that he wishes to convince on the guilt of the accused. In criminal cases, the burden of proof falls squarely on the prosecutor and he is supposed to prove to the judge and the jury that the accused did commit the crime he is brought before the court for. In the process of proving the case against Jackson, the prosecutor cross examines the state witnesses Jackson as well as the defense witnesses in the bid to establish the facts as well refute any counter claims and evidences tabled by the defendants.
All this is done within the laid down law and court procedures under the direction of the judge. The defense constantly complains if they find the district attorney overstepping the bounds when cross-examining. The defendant, through his lawyer for example objected when the prosecution probed the past records of Jackson’s past sexual affairs. The judge might choose to overrule or sustain the objection depending on its relevance on establishing the truth in court. The defense in this case constituted of two females volunteered from the legal aid society.
They kicked off their opening statement by volunteering information on how humble and gentle Jackson is, a family man who is a victim of the prosecution’s fertile imagination, he is the face guy after the prosecution had failed to conduct their investigations and lack of due thoroughness. In their evidences and witnesses they were to counter the states claims with a corroborated alibi for Jackson. Jackson they claimed was in this day working in his family cafeteria and hence there was no way he could have stolen the truck and assaulted his two lovely neighbors.
This, they said, would prove his innocence before the case ends. The defense attorney functions within some presumptions and ethics. He or she is not supposed to lie to the court if aware that the defendant is guilty as charged. He or she is there to defend the accused against the prosecution in the belief that he or she is not guilty. In case it emerges to the counsel that the accused is guilty he or she is supposed to report to the judge on the facts as they are. The defense attorney plays a role of ensuring fairness of trial and the preservation of the accused rights.
This is the reason our constitution posits the right to an attorney as being a basic and fundamental right to every U. S citizen. In defending the client he is supposed to act with reasonable skills and diligence regardless of whether he is remunerated for the task at hand. In carrying out their duties however, the client attorney confidentiality is to be maintained at all times and the attorney is at no liberty to reveal any information not unless it is established that doing so is imperative in preventing any future crime (Michael Mears, n. d)
In the case at hand, the defense attorney is seen attacking the prosecution evidences and stand with vicious intensity, in the bid to counter the claims presented to the jury. Every opportunity for the court to disregard the prosecution’s evidence and witness is seized at the slightest chance possible. Sometimes it appears that the defense and prosecuting attorney are locked into an endless emotional war of words with each trying to down play the opponents claims. This is done in the effort of each side wishing to convince the jury on the validity of their stand.
In presenting its arguments, evidence and counter-testimonies which is done under a sworn oath, the defense introduces new evidence meant to counter the prosecution stand. A number of witnesses, receipts and CCTV clips in the Jackson’s cafeteria are introduced in the court with no prior warning to the prosecution, they are allowed however to cross examine the witnesses as well as question the validity of the evidence. After both the prosecution and the defense are through with their witnesses and evidences, they are supposed to make their closing arguments specially presented to the jury.
These are mere summations of their specific case urging the jury to take the appropriate action favorable to each party’s stand. After this they are to rest their case and the jury takes to a closed deliberation where after they will announce their verdict. Jackson’s in this case was acquitted by the jury at a vote of nine to four in his favor. Now taking a look at other court officials. The bailiff in this case was a middle aged male court office with darting eyes trying to spot any irregular practice or behavior in the court.
The basic duty of a bailiff in the broader sense is to provide security in the courtroom He could be seen consulting and reassuring the jury whenever the court was not in session and I could understand that he must be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that their affairs and needs are taken care off. The nature and employment terms of bailiffs differ from state to state. In Vermont State they are elected into office while in New York they are sworn in by the court administration and charged with the duty of enforcing peace inside the court.
This role in some states and counties is played by the local sheriff. This however is shunned by some states who would wish to maintain a sense of impartiality between the state and the court system. The bailiff is the person supposed to call the people to take the witness stands after appropriately swearing them. He is an authority charged with maintaining a conducive atmosphere for serious activities in the court room, the traditional call he makes, “all arise, the court is now in session” sets a serious pace for the session (Forensic Camps, n. d).
A bailiff generally performs tasks instructed by the judge; he follows the judge’s orders and ensures that order is maintained in court at all times. The reporter is another important official. During the court proceedings the court he could be seen busy pressing keys and checking on complex sound recording tools and devices. The court was using the real-time court reporting method as I came to learn later, it is a method where stenotype devises are connected to take information to the computer to record voices in their real time (U. S department of labor, 2005).
This information appears as texts on the screen later. I came to understand that this is to cater for the hearing impaired. The basis role of a court reporter is to note down and record every word and activity taking place inside the courtroom and sometimes, outside the courtroom in the attorney’s offices during depositions. The courtroom experience was indeed a magical eye opener on many issues and details that would have remained an enigma to me. The experience has left me a wiser person in regard to court procedures and officials.
The courtroom has always been a frightening place in my mind, this notion has completely been erased and in it I see a room where justice and fairness are delivered indiscriminately. References: Hon. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge, New York court of appeals, last updated august 11, 2006. Litigants: Criminal Justice System Handbook. New York State unified court system. Retrieved on August 29, 2007from http://wwwcourts. state. ny. us. litigants/criminaljusticesyshandbook. sthml U. S Courts. The federal judiciary: Juror Service in Federal Courts. Administrative office of the U. S courts.
Retrieved on august 29, 2007 from http://www.uscourts. gove/jury/welcomejuror. html Michael Mears, The Defense Attorney’s Ethical Response to Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims. The Georgia public defender standards council. Retrieved on august 29, 2007 from http://www. gpdsc. com/resources-publications-ineffective-assistance. pdf Forensic camps Australia, The Court Trials. Forensic Inc Worldwide. Retrieved on August 29, 2007 from http://www. forensiccamps. com/courttrials. php U. S Department of labor, 2005. Occupational outlook Handbook: Court Reporters. Bureau labor statistics. Retrieved on August 29, 2007 from http://www. bls. gov/oco/oco5152. htm#nature