Friday, April 14, 2017
I have learned a lot while at WATCH about where I want to continue with my career path in the criminal justice field. It also gave me a sense of hope. This organization stands behind it’s mission statement of creating a more informed public by producing the WATCH Chronicle reports as they do from all the volunteer feedback. No matter how many or how few volunteers we have, we still manage to go see court cases every day and think about what our system would be like if everyone outside of those committing crimes and those prosecuting, defending or judging that person, could never enter the walls of the courthouse. With the overabundance of media coverage that we have today, we also see those courtrooms while we watch the news, incorporated into our shows, and displayed through various video games and board games. This means that there is an even more vital stance to take on this issue because we are involving volunteers from the surrounding communities to learn what it is really like, not just what the TV and the media says it is.
Friday, April 7, 2017
One of the most surprising aspects of court monitoring is how eachindividual case has its own unique complexities. As an intern at WATCH, I’ve been observing cases from domestic assault, to sex trafficking, to murder, and have had the opportunity to witness how the Hennepin and Ramsey county courts work towards addressing crimes of violence towards women and children. Through observing WATCH’s priority cases, I also see many other cases that fall outside of our work, giving insight into how the Minnesota judicial system addresses a myriad of offenses.
Because each case is distinct, I have learned how important it is to be present in the courtroom, listening for the reasoning behind the judges and juries’ decisions during sentencing. A recent example that comes to mind of how nuanced each cases can be, is jury trial involving a sex trafficker. The jury was unable to reach an agreement on whether the female defendant was solely acting as a trafficker, or if she herself was also being trafficked at some point. Because of the complex nature of sex trafficking, it became very clear to me that each case must be followed, taking into account every complexity and individual involved. Through recording information on cases and their outcomes, we can better understand why traffickers and buyers are receiving certain sentences, and provide informed and appropriate recommendations for change within the judicial system.
Friday, March 31, 2017
I’ve been thinking a lot about how sex workers and buyers are criminalized, and why. In multiple cases I’ve witnessed now, buyers are caught because of an undercover police officer who set out a fake advertisement. In essence, the police are setting up the illegal situation and drawing potential buyers in – using honey instead of vinegar, I suppose. I understand that the point of that operation is to stop potential offenders from offending, and from hurting vulnerable women and girls in the process, but the sheer prevalence of undercover police cases where buyers are concerned is extremely striking to me. Coupled with my sense that people of color are highly targeted by the justice system, the “undercover sting” method does not sit well with me. It feels more like law enforcement is trying to meet a quota instead of trying to stop people who are really dangerous to others. Good as their intentions might be, this method cannot escape the perception that the justice system is unfairly narrowed onto people of color.
I find that many sex workers are also held to unreasonable standards, and occasionally get worse sentences than buyers. Why do we simultaneously view sex workers as both victims and perpetrators? Something about that combination doesn’t match up. I think decriminalizing and regulating sex work would allow us to catch many more instances of trafficking, instead of targeting already vulnerable populations.
Friday, March 24, 2017
With most of the court monitoring that is done by WATCH volunteers, a lot of your time is spent waiting for cases to be called, or waiting for the right people to show up for every class. Once you are a more “seasoned” volunteer or intern, you spend time taking others to court with you to show them the courtroom and how to fill out all of the forms that are completed every time you go to court. As my time as an intern progresses, taking other volunteers to court is growing to be one of my most enlightening and insightful experiences.
When you take other volunteers to court, you get to know them as well as watch and hear how they react to different situations that are brought up in a courtroom. There was one specific volunteer that I have taken to court a few times to show her how each courtroom is different, and I really enjoyed meeting with her because our different backgrounds result in very different perceptions of the case that we monitor.
I think that one of the most important parts of WATCH is how we can bring so many community members into a courtroom, show them the process, and get their perspectives to present to the rest of the public who don’t get the opportunity to be involved in the court monitoring process.
Friday, March 17, 2017
As volunteers before me have probably explained, much of court monitoring is sitting around waiting for cases to be called, or the proper professionals to arrive. That was the case with my half-day, I only managed to observe two cases of interest to WATCH. The people and issues of interest, as I look back on the day, were contained within the gallery instead of up on the stand.
I can’t recount the specific number of occasions where I noticed women in the gallery taking care of their infants and toddlers, but I can tell you that the presence of young children in the courtroom is common. While I adore children, (trying my best to teach an infant in the gallery today how to open and close their hand in a “wave” with a wide, goofy grin on my face,) I can only imagine that caring for children interferes with one’s understanding of court proceedings, and constantly needing to tote the child around is not ideal for fulfilling tasks in the adult realm in general. Multitasking is tough to do! In observing this ongoing issue, I would recommend the courts, or agencies working in tandem with the justice system, provide childcare for those in the galleries or defendants with young children.
Friday, March 10, 2017
I recently monitored two different jury trials in Ramsey County. Having served on a jury before, it was interesting to view the trials from a court monitor’s perspective. In both cases, the defendants were black, and in both cases only one member of the jury was black. Considering the atmosphere around black people and the United States’ justice system currently, I thought it was an oversight that there were not more black people on either jury, in the interest of fairness. However, I was not present for the jury selection process, so I am unsure as to who was in the pool of jurors in the beginning.
In the second jury trial, something else I noticed was that during afternoon recess, both the prosecuting and defense attorneys complained about the defendant’s accent. He was a little difficult to understand at times, but I thought it was highly unprofessional for the two of them to complain about his mumbling in a way that bordered on mockery. Both attorneys were white.
In the month that I’ve been at WATCH, there has been a clear race discrepancy between who is doing the judicial work (white people, usually men) and who is being charged (people of color, also usually men). While I am a very staunch advocate for the victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and sex trafficking, I can’t help but feel conflicted about the prevalence of black and brown bodies in our criminal justice system. The idea that people of color are simply more violent and commit more crimes has been proven time and time again to be untrue, which says to me that there is a huge racial difference in who is caught breaking the law, and who the state chooses to pursue charges against. Who is this system made to punish? How can we support victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and sex trafficking without pushing institutional racism? I do not have answers to these questions yet. It is a complex issue, and one I am more aware of now after monitoring several cases at WATCH.
Friday, March 3, 2017
For those who may not be aware, WATCH has successfully expanded its court monitoring mission into Washington County. One of the first things I noticed in the infancy of monitoring in Washington County is the amount of communication that is had between court personnel and defendants. Since Washington County is not nearly the size of Ramsey or Hennepin, the caseload is considerably lower, which allows the opportunity for defendants to speak with both the prosecutors and defense attorneys. I feel like this could be advantageous to both parties because it informs the defendants of the prosecutor’s intentions, allows direct communication between prosecutor and defense, and makes for a clearer overall process for the defendants. This is also advantageous for prosecutors because it can establish a clear pathway of communication between both sides which allows for less surprises during the proceedings. In addition, the courtrooms and waiting areas outside of each courtroom has TV monitors that list the order in which defendants’ cases will be called. As many people know who have monitored court, Hennepin and Ramsey do not say who will be called next which can often times leave the defendants unsure when their case will be heard. The addition of TVs in Hennepin and Ramsey county, I think, could help with alleviating some of the uncertainty experienced by those not familiar with the court process and could also add better efficiency.
Friday, February 24, 2017
My first experience at Order For Protection (OFP) Court was very interesting. There were a few that really stuck out to me for various reasons. First, there was a petitioner who came in with his twin children. He told the judge that he wanted to dismiss his case because he did not wish to keep his children away from their mother. This surprised me since the facts of the claim were that the respondent was abusing both chemicals and drugs and might be of danger to both the petitioner and their children. The judge seemed reluctant to dismiss the case but told the petitioner that it was completely his choice and that he could always come back to OFP court. Second, there was a woman petitioner, of what seemed to be African descent asking for a modification of her OFP against her husband. The petitioner was very confused on what was happening, both her advocate and the judge tried to explain to her what was going on but she was rather upset.
After she calmed down and got a full explanation of what was going to happen the rest went smoothly. The petitioner wanted help with her children, she asked that her children be removed from the OFP so that the respondent take the children. I thought that the judge did a very good job at staying patience with the petitioner and helping her as well.
The third case was the most interesting. When the hearing started and the petitioner started to tell her story I immediately believed her. After the petitioner was finished telling her story, the respondent had a turn to ask questions. The respondent was calm and clear headed when asking questions. During his questioning he brought to light alot that the petitioner had left out, like her mental state and her attachment to the respondent, While listening to the respondents questions and the petitioners answers to them I felt my opinion of the petitioner changing. I felt extremely horrified at the idea of being the judge for this hearing. Both petitioner and respondent sounded genuine and believable in their stories. I did not get to stay for the rest of the hearing but I think the judge is going to have a difficult time deciding whether or not to grant the OFP.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Today I had the opportunity to tour the Hennepin County Jail with several others, which was incredibly eye-opening experience. The only other facility I have ever toured was the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center, which actually had a few surprising similarities to the County Jail. The way most of the living quarters are divided in sections, with the individual rooms attached to a larger shared space, was similar. Both facilities have also taken a lot of precautions to ensure the safety of those in their care. They use a number of different factors when determining room/ section assignments. They have protocols in place for handling medical emergencies, both mental and physical.
What surprised me about the jail though, was exactly how clean, quiet, and orderly everything was. For some reason, I was completely expecting something else when we walked in. Everything though, from the booking area to the kitchen to the living quarters, was clean and quiet. I think we missed some of the disturbances that took place earlier in the morning, plus everyone was in their individual rooms for “quiet time” after lunch, but it was still definitely not what I was picturing when we began the tour!
This tour will certainly change the way I view the defendants who come into court from now on. There is something about seeing the emptiness of the cells, the space they have to share with several dozen others, the sterilized and medical feel to the spaces. This is the dreary environment. Yet, as the employee who gave the tour said, many receive better nourishment, medical services, and housing at the jail than when they are any where else. Many of their lives are so much more difficult than I could ever possibly imagine.
Friday, February 10, 2017
There were no victims in the two courtrooms monitored today. I did notice that, as during the 30 years I spent as a correction agent, the judges seem overly trustful of anything the defendants say or promise. My observation back in the day, which has not changed based on my observations this week is that judges had insufficient or no training in human behavior, particularly in the realm of personality disorder, and that as long as they fail to see things from the victims point of view, in addition to the defendants, they will inequitably identity with the defendants. There was nothing but respect- plenty of encouraging “atta boys”, but precious little skepticism. They could also benefit from an alternative point of view about the role of chemicals in criminal behavior, as I suspect they believe that, once sober they can be trusted to not re offend. I was never happier, as a corrections agents then when someone turned their life around, but I also did not trust anyone- nor wonder how much exposure judges get to crime victims in general, e.g. CEU classes. Something to reduce their naivety.
Friday, September 2, 2016
The victim in the Kelton case was very agitated and (though she was not allowed to speak) made it clear by shaking her head that she did not agree with the allegations made. She was spoken for for from by all parties- the prosecutor mentioned physical evidence of assault, the defense mentioned her request for the charges to be dropped and asked that she be allowed to speak, and the judge mentioned she may have battered women’s syndrome. I think seeing her made me realize what a complex position victims are in, especially when you are not able to speak for yourself.
Friday, August 26, 2016
Interning for WATCH has provided me with a great experience and a new outlook on our Criminal Justice System as a whole. Prior to being apart of WATCH I had been to Hennepin County Courthouse and Ramsey County Courthouse one time each. During the past three months at WATCH I have been to each courthouse multiple times and have been able to view similarities and differences between the two.
Being able to experience these different courthouses, judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors was astonishing. It is difficult to put into words the different ways these many people can effect the court process in the grand scheme of things as well as looking at them from a smaller perspective. The role of defense attorneys grabs my attention the most. There are some instances where I am truly baffled that someone wants to try and defend someone who committed such a heinous crime, but at the end of the day, it’s their job. Seeing the determination many of the defense attorneys and prosecutors have makes me have faith and hope for the future of our Criminal Justice System as well as society as a whole.
Being a Criminology/Criminal Justice Major with a Minor in Psychology and Forensic Science I have been unsure what I want to do upon graduation. Though spending 200 or so hours this summer familiarizing myself with the courts system, I have concluded that I don’t think I could ever be an attorney. From the start that wasn’t my top choice, but after seeing the wit and quickness an attorney must uphold for the benefit of their client, I believe I am not cut out to be a prosecutor or defense attorney. However, in realizing that I am not interested in being an attorney, my views to other possible career paths has opened up. Watching Victim Advocates console their clients, being a part of behind the scenes work that WATCH provides the system, as well as doing my own research on the BCA and other agencies has opened my eyes to a whole surplus of options for my future career. I have reached an understanding that as my graduating days are approaching within a year and a half I want to be apart of something that will benefit both sides of the Criminal Justice System, not just part of it.
Viewing WATCH as a whole, I commend how things are ran day to day. As an intern, it was reassuring knowing that I wasn’t going to be thrown into the courthouse by myself on the first day and have to learn the ropes myself. Having that assistance the first day and everyday after that from the other interns, volunteers, and supervisors was something that every good organization should have. Walking into different courtrooms having bailiffs, attorneys, judges, clerks, etc. know who you are and talk to you because you have a Red Clipboard is another positive aspect of this organization.
Looking back at my time here at WATCH I am unable to think of anything within the organization that is negative or needs changing/adjusting. I am proud to say I was able to intern for such an incredible non-profit organization and hope to volunteer here in the future as well as recommend classmates and peers to volunteer/intern as well. I truly believe that no matter what you want to do with your education, if it’s something within the Criminal Justice System, getting yourself in a courtroom setting on multiple occasions will benefit you immensely. I am thankful for my time here and hope to return in the near future.