Monday, January 31, 2011

Trial as a Condition

I was having a drink discussing legal issues with my friend John Craig Still after work today, when he mentioned that a court he was working in this morning was in trial on a murder case with some fairly graphic crime scene photos.

It brought to mind different times in my career (both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney) where I was trying cases when a morning docket was still in progress, and the interesting phenomenon occurred where there would be defendants charged with completely unrelated offenses who found themselves very intrigued by the case on trial.  On some occasions, defendants would even approach me and the other lawyers involved in the case and either ask questions or offer words of encouragement as the trial progressed.

The point that Reverend Still mentioned to me was that the prosecutor on the case had cautioned the audience that graphic photos were about to be shown in the courtroom, and that actually made me think of an idea.  Ideas are sometimes few and far between for me, so I thought I would post on it.

With budget cuts rampant with the County, and programs like Boot Camp becoming long a thing of the past, why don't judges order that defendants (especially younger ones) watch the entirety of a trial as a condition of their probation (should they receive it)?

Especially a murder trial.  Especially especially a murder trial that has some gang ties to it.

So often (as a defense attorney), I find myself explaining to a defendant how a trial would proceed for them if they elected to take their case to trial, and I find them looking at me like my dog does when I try to teach her math.  Having to watch a trial would be a tremendous civics lesson to a person who has already found themselves entwined within the Criminal Justice System, and it would be something that they could do at no cost.

It would be a hell of a lot less strenuous than community service, if you think about it.

Let's look at just some of the upsides:

#1 -- if the probationer is watching the Judge of the court of which they are on probation out of, they get a feel for what the Judge would do to them if they were to violate the terms of their probation.

#2 -- they learn the procedure of what can and what can't be done for them when they are charged with a crime.

#3 -- if the case is a violent crime with victims, they get to see something from an outsider's perspective on the effect of violent crime.  This could potentially vastly differentiate from their view of crimes related to them, because they have no ties to the case they are watching.  They will see scene photographs, pathologist testimony, and victim impact.  They might actually identify with the complainant of a case rather than the accused.  At a bare minimum, they would get to witness the loss a family can feel.

#4 -- by attending (especially in the court that their probation originates out of), the Judge becomes familiar with them, and they no longer become just a case, but more of a person to that Judge.

I'm feeling a little overly-Pollyanna here with this post, but my experience with those who watch trials is that those same people become emotionally invested in those trials and the outcomes.  Those on probation who are involved in gang life can get a nice preview of what their lives would be like if they don't deviate from their current pattern of behavior.

Anyway, it was just a random thought I had, and maybe I'm rambling, but what would be the downside to making a trial a condition of probation for those probationers that we can still reach and make a difference in their lives?

NOTE:  For those who would say that it would make them take time out of their jobs or school, etc., I would say that jurors have to take time out of their jobs to serve every day of the week, and for those in school, the condition could be served during their Summer Vacations.

What do y'all think?


Anonymous said...

Houston Chronicle, February 1, 2010

"Pat Lykos, pseudo-DA of Harris County, has just come up with an ingenious plan to have probationers watch trials....."

Just wait and see.

Anonymous said...

Already been done. Poe required young probationers to sit in court for weeks on end trial or no trial and take notes. I know Poe pretty much thinks of Poe, but to give credit where credit is due (notwithstanding other attention getting conditions) he DID do this one. They pretty much hung out on the back two rows in the BIG courtroom and they took copious notes.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Ted used to do that, I still get giggles thinking of a future US attorney who ran afoul of uncle Ted and had to sit through Court Room probation for a week.
David Wyborny

Luci said...

Yep, Poe did that. We called them "court timers." When in trial, they could give you good advice, as well. Had 1 escape once though...just ask Marcy.

Luci Davidson

Anonymous said...

Well if gang members true desire is to have the feeling of holding a gun and having a band of brothers, why not make a condition of their parole that they join the Army and serve in combat?

Anonymous said...

One downside...

Way more people waiting at the elevator banks to attend trials on the upper floors.

Perhaps they could sign in on the 6th floor, and take the Lykos memorial stairwell up to the courtroom... That is if they oculd make their way through the smoke and liquor smell.

A good idea, Murray. Great minds think alike (not to compare you to Poe or anything)

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of my friend's son who, after being charged with possession with intent to sell a large quantity of pot in a college town said "But Mom, everyone smokes pot". My response was "not the people on the jury". I don't think defendants realize that a "jury of your peers" is not literal.

Anonymous said...

Probation recipients don't know what they are signing for. All they know is sign here, get out today,

Anonymous said...

I would appreciate it if the judges would just let them be ON the jury.

Anonymous said...

Get fo-real Murry these balloonheads just wanna sign and fly outta here, most would never show back up to watch a trial unless they were promised PBJ's and mountain Dews!