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.

 

Friday, August 19, 2016

With the summer coming to a bittersweet close, I would like to take a moment to reflect on all the incredible opportunities WATCH has offered me as an intern. This was my first criminal justice internship, and I learned more about the legal process in one summer than I have my entire college career. Going into this internship, I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on the criminal justice system, but WATCH quickly taught me I knew very little. In the first few weeks, WATCH taught me that the legal process is extremely slow. It is painfully slow some days. I began the week often times wondering if a single hearing would occur or if I was going to spend all morning staring at the empty chair behind the judge’s bench. Although this seemed frustrating at first, WATCH taught me patience.

As the weeks went by, WATCH taught me professionalism and to always keep an open mind. Although it wasn’t required, I learned how to dress similarly to the attorneys. I wanted individuals in the courtroom to take me seriously and to walk into the room feeling confident. I also learned how to communicate with attorneys, judges, and everyday people in the galley. After the first month, it is easy to spot racial trends in the criminal justice system. WATCH taught me to approach every case in an unbiased manner and to be respectful of others while taking notes. In many cases, defendants catch a bad break and should not be judged simply on one mistake. Also, defendants often times come from difficult backgrounds with issues of chemical dependency, abuse, or mental health. WATCH taught me that these individuals can function normally in society if they are entered into the right treatment programs.

By the last two weeks of my internship, WATCH taught me there may of legal authorities who care about improving defendants’ lives and others who only show up for a pay check. I learned that the ones who practice law for the money are the same ones who WATCH is there to monitor. Without a program like WATCH, these selfish individuals would get away with treating defendants and victims like dirt. WATCH plays a crucial role in improving the justice system and many professionals change their behavior at the sight of a red clipboard. The legal figures who do care about improving lives are the ones who make WATCH’s mission easy. These are the individuals that young interns aspire to be like as they go on to law school. WATCH taught me how important it is to have passionate, respectable professionals in this field. These legal figures have the power to ruin someone’s life or turn them into a success story. I loved being a part of an organization that works hard to make legal professionals respected by members of society.

As a final remark, I would like to thank WATCH for everything it has allowed me to do this summer. I got an unbelievable amount of court exposure that allowed me to better understand the legal system. I learned a ton about human sex trafficking and the huge problem it has become in Minnesota. WATCH allowed me to network with several individuals in the legal community which would have been nearly impossible without this internship. I was able to sit in on professional workshops and listen to domestic abuse survivors tell their stories at a Cornerstone breakfast. Finally, WATCH helped me realize the impact the community has on the legal system and the type of law I want to practice in the future. I never thought I would be able to pursue criminal law because of the toll it takes on attorneys and the complexity of the cases. WATCH showed me that I can do criminal law and have the passion to change people’s lives for the better. I cannot thank my supervisors and this agency enough for everything I have learned this summer. In twelve short weeks, I obtained a lifetime of information that I will never forget as I move forward into law school.

Friday, August 5, 2016

In my experience, OFP (Order for Protection) Court is not always fully accessible to all petitioners and respondents due to repeated issues regarding interpreters. Just today, a woman discovered in court that the Real Time interpreter she had requested in advance would no longer be able to make her dismissal hearing. As a result, the advocate did her best to repeat most of what the judge said into her phone, relying on voice recognition to type out her words so that the petitioner could read them.

Later, I observed an evidentiary hearing where the petitioner required an Urdu interpreter, causing many problems. First, the interpreter did not have the usual equipment (headphones, ear-pieces) used by other translators. Due to this, the interpreter was only translating questions and testimony directed specifically to the petitioner. Many of the judge’s comments and other witness testimony were not translated to the petitioner. The defense attorney would not pause between his questions to allow a translation for most of his witnesses, forcing the translator to interrupt him multiple times in order to explain what was going on to the petitioner. After a brief recess during the hearing, the judge continued the proceedings without the interpreter, and only noticed part-way into the witness’s testimony that she was not even in the courtroom. Finally, the interpreter did not translate any of the testimony from the respondent’s brother, even though his testimony concerned the petitioner’s alleged thoughts, actions, and motivations. The OFP was brought by the petitioner, but I doubt that she was able to follow most of what happened during her own hearing, which was incredibly frustrating and troubling to watch.

Friday, July 29, 2016

In February 2018, people from all across the county will swarm to Minneapolis, Minnesota to enjoy one of America’s greatest television events: The NFL Super Bowl. The public will watch law enforcement desperately crack down on drug sales, theft, and petty crimes over the three day weekend. What they won’t expect is the outrageous amount of human sex trafficking crimes that will take place in response to this event. An unfortunate reality for Minnesota is the rising number of young, vulnerable women being sold for sex all throughout the state. With an event as large as the Super Bowl, the number of interested buyers will reach a shocking new level. Seeing a recent rise in the last decade, many dedicated Minnesotans have worked to combat human sex trafficking. By the time February 2018 rolls around, the community hopes to bring human sex trafficking to a bare minimum or a complete halt.

On July 25, 2016, over one hundred passionate individuals from a variety of different organizations came together to learn about and contribute to the prevention of human trafficking. Professionals from law enforcement, healthcare, education, non-profit, and more attended the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force workshop in hope of creating a safer Minnesota. Beatriz Menanteau and Sarah Warpinski Ladd presented on the expansion of trafficking work to include both sex and labor. In many instances these two categories overlap, but individuals focus specifically on the sex trafficking part. The Minnesota laws regarding these two crimes are very similar and should be taken equally serious.

Following up their insightful work, healthcare professional Pam Dewitt-Meza gave an engaging presentation on the relationship between healthcare and human sex trafficking. She discussed the potential healthcare has for assisting victims with assault services and improving their mental/physical health. There are a series of unfortunate institutional and attitudinal barriers in which the healthcare field has struggled to overcome. Many of the barriers involve the wrong professional attitude or legal barriers which require law enforcement to step in. The hope is to eventually make survivors feel comfortable and accepted by healthcare professionals. As a final remark to the workshop, there was an opportunity for attendees to announce changes or updates related to human trafficking. Representatives from Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, Safe Harbor, and more shared their exciting progress in the fight to end human trafficking. It was inspiring to see so many individuals come together to share their hopes and dreams for the future of Minnesota. Although this workshop consisted of a huge support system, it takes the entire nation to come together to end human trafficking.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” –Hellen Keller

Friday, July 15, 2016

I was able to observe the jury selection process for a felony criminal trial this week, and I was surprised to see how the process starkly contrasted with a previous jury selection I had witnessed for a misdemeanor case. Rather than asking members of the jury panel the same question one after another, each juror was brought in and questioned individually. I was surprised and a little disconcerted to see that the state’s line of questioning was much less in depth and personal than the prosecutor’s handling of the misdemeanor jury selection. The court was interviewing dozens of potential jurors due to the seriousness of the case, but I wonder if there was a good balance between being thorough and continuing to drag out a years-old case for the victims and defendants.

Friday, June 10, 2016

I watched all afternoon and monitored cases of all sorts. The judge listened patiently and attentively to all sides- especially when defendant spoke. Whenever defense gave excuses or asked or leniency, the judge brought up the specifics of the case and talked about bad decisions. The judge’s toneofvoice and demeanor engaged the defendant as a person with a future. In one case, a young defendant was so drawnin and encouraged by the judge that he asked if he could contact her to give her updates about his progress; she had given him faith in himself at least in that moment. The judge has a gift.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The attorney told his client that he received the paperwork when he was out-of-town and had not seen it. He told the client he would review it and see if he can keep this charge off his record. To me, this just shows how non-seriously the court process is taken. If the attorneys are lazy about getting their work done, how can they holding the defendants accountable? If the attorneys do not even attempt address the seriousness of the allegations the clients are facing, how can the justice system be fair?

Friday, May 27, 2016

It seems that each time I arrive to watch a hearing no one is on time. Additionally, no one has ever acknowledged me until the very moment I started writing this, then the Judge asked why I was sitting in the courtroom. No public announcements are made and it is difficult for me to figure out if a case is postponed, canceled, or rescheduled. A lot of the time rooms are completely empty even though I have three things on my list scheduled at that time in that courtroom. Most conversations regarding what is actually happening are held behind close doors or back hallways where the public is left clueless.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The judge is my new hero. In all 3 cases he showed much concern for victims. In one case he called a recess so that Probation Officer could contact the abuse counselor to confirm the victim wants contact. In a second case when told by probation and prosecutor that victim wasn’t afraid, judge said, “she should be” based on strangulation accusations; and in the third, the victim was in the room (she also wanted contact) so the judge took the opportunity to speak to attorneys about victims need for a safety plan and ability to obtain an Order for Protection.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Something interesting that I noted today is that there is a difference in how much of a voice the defendant has during sentencing versus arraignment or any other type of hearing. A handful of individuals today felt the need to speak out rather than talking through their public defender.  This makes me question the nature of the relationship between the public defender and the defendant.  Is there trust? Do the defendants think the public defender is there to be on their side?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Before beginning at WATCH, my knowledge of the criminal justice system in the United States essentially stemmed from the episodes I had watched of “Law and Order: SVU.” Now, I can go into a courtroom and legitimately understand what is going on. I now know that a defendant doesn’t go from arraignment to a jury trial in a matter of days, and that jury trials are not even as common as I once thought. Before interning at WATCH, I did not understand that sex trafficking was such a big issue in Minnesota or how many sex traffickers do little to no time in custody in Minnesota. Right off the bat, I learned that the court system is very inefficient and leaves defendants, victims, witnesses, and public observers waiting sometimes hours for something to happen. I knew about the racial and income disparities and how that influences who is in the court system and for how long, but it is completely different to observe it first hand.

One of my favorite aspects of this internship is that it wasn’t all just office work. Most of my time was spent in the courtroom observing cases, rather than reorganizing the file space. I enjoyed researching information for the upcoming project on the Firearms Statute, but I learned the most while monitoring cases. I loved learning about the differences between what happens in the Government Center versus the Family Courts and having the opportunity to chat with some of the clerks, judges, and attorneys who were willing engage in conversation.

Friday, April 22, 2016

I think that it is really interesting to see how judges vary in the way they conduct their courtrooms and how they decide the different sanctions. I liked how thorough and explicit one judge was in explaining what No Contact meansHconsistently went beyond examples of how the defendant can initiate contact and also mentioned that the DANCO is still very much in effect if contact is requested by the victim.

Friday, April 15, 2016

I sat in on a case about a juvenile female who had accused her mother’s fiancé of sexual assault. Unfortunately, her mother did not believe the allegations, because she thought that her daughter just said them because she was not happy with moving from her home state. I think it is always a lot harder for the family to not support the alleged victim, and it definitely affects the case itself. The victim’s brothers also had to testify in the matter and they were quite young. One was taken out of school for it, and had a hard time answering questions because he was often confused with what the lawyers were asking and the way questions were worded. With the case involving minors as witnesses and as the victim, there is a lot more emotional baggage that comes with it and puts more pressure on the justice system and on how the case is being handled.

Friday, April 8, 2016

 Today, I observed Order for Protection Court and was shocked at how the cases were handled in the courtroom that I observed. I have observed OFP court on several other occasions and had always found the proceedings to be fair, but today I sat in the courtroom of a referee that I had never observed before. Not only was the judge disrespectful to her own staff (including being short in responses to her clerk when he asked harmless questions about cases), but she was disrespectful towards the parties that entered the courtroom seeking or denying the OFP. On one occasion, there was a dismissal hearing in which the judge started without the respondent being present though he had checked in as being in the building and was on his way to the courtroom. After waiting several minutes for the respondent to arrive, the judge began the proceedings without him. The clerk attempted to tell her the respondent was not present but she held up her hand to quiet him and proceeded with asking the petitioner questions pertaining to the dismissal. The respondent entered the courtroom as the judge declared the OFP would be dismissed.The sheriff in the courtroom ended up having to tell him what happened because the judge did not attempt to fill the respondent in.

            Another case today involved a biological father seeking an OFP on behalf of his minor son against the son’s step-father. The father became concerned when the minor child started acting aggressively towards the other children in the household. Upon asking the son where he learned that behavior, the son said he learned it in his other home. The son also told his father that his step-father would discipline him by hitting him with a spoon that had holes in it. The biological father was also concerned because the step-father had pled guilty to a felony-level terroristic threats charge for an alleged act involving the minor child’s mother. The step-father denied having any negative contact with the minor child. Despite the father’s concerns, the judge did not grant an Order for Protection on behalf of the minor child because she felt the case was more about custody than abuse. In a previous court order from a different judge, the step-father was to have no contact with the minor child until his sentencing was complete for the criminal charge. Upon completion of sentencing, the biological mother and father were supposed to come to an agreement about the contact allowed between the step-father and the minor child, but they had not yet reached an agreement. The judge did not grant the OFP because she considered the biological parents’ actions to be in violation of the court order to reach an agreement. While I can understand the judge’s frustration that the parents did not go to mediation within the past three months since the sentencing was complete, I do not think that not granting the OFP was the correct path to take. She could have issued a temporary one until contact is agreed upon based on the allegations the biological father made. The judge would not even allow the criminal history of the step-father to be considered in the courtroom when making her decision. On top of this, when the biological father was on the stand giving testimony, the judge was reading her computer screen and did not even look at the petitioner.

            As I previously mentioned, most of my experiences in OFP Court have been positive and I perceived the process as fair and just, but today I did not leave the courtroom with a good feeling about the work that was done.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Today I watched the victim of a DANCO (domestic abuse no-contact order) violation almost on the verge of tears and all flustered because of what she felt was injustice by the court system. The violation was serious involving both rape and assault and the alleged perpetrator was about to be released because there was not a lot of information about the case. I felt for her.

To add to her burden she was also worried that she might have gotten a ticket because the court took so long getting to his case.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Something that interested me today is that the judge spent his time in the courtroom between the cases instead of constantly going back to chambers, which I like. A sheriff came to ask the judge about handcuffing a specific defendant during a sentencing hearing and he denied it. The sheriff said that there a was a new guideline for handcuffing defendants who have committed violent acts against others during sentencing. The clerk in the judge’s courtroom politely asked me if I had any questions about hearings when she saw me writing after everyone else left the courtroom for lunch. That was something that no one else has done. I also respect the judge’s command of the courtroom; he seemed in control of the activities going on in the court. He was willing to confront lawyers about their thought process instead of just agreeing or disagreeing with their arguments. The discussion that ensued led to better understanding of the situation for everyone in the courtroom.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Today I monitored Domestic Violence Court in Hennepin County. It was interesting to hear one of the defendants express concern that the victim constantly tries to contact him, and that he is worried that will violate the No Contact Order. The judge told him to ignore the victim and referred him to a resource on the 6th floor for help with following probation. I think the judge did a good job of being strict yet fair. He offered mostly conditional releases because there were a lot of first time offenders, but he made it very clear not to violate the conditions. I also found it interesting that one of the defendants asked for the no drug and alcohol restriction to be dropped from her conditional release. The judge did not drop it but did say that the defendant would not be subjected to random drug tests throughout probation. The defense’s argument was that she had no prior drug or alcohol abuse violations. It just made me wonder why they wanted the restriction dropped if their argument was that she wouldn’t violate it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

In my first few weeks volunteering at WATCH I have had the opportunity to watch cases in domestic violence court, sentencing hearings as well as a jury trial. Additionally, I was able to meet with a judge who spoke with a group from WATCH about his experience being a judge as well as his path to becoming a judge. The jury trial last week involved an alleged kidnapping in which the defendant was eventually acquitted. I had the opportunity to witness opening arguments as well as some of the witnesses testimony. One notable fact of the trial last week was lack of diversity among the jurors although the defendant was African American. Even though there may not have been any bias, it is important that the process not suggest the opportunity for bias.

My experience so far has evidenced significant professionalism on most counts of those involved in the judicial process. Areas, which are in need of improvement, include providing clarity in what a no contact order means as well as speaking in terms that all parties including the public can understand. Additionally, there needs to be a stronger support presence for victims. In many of the cases that I have witnessed there was no one there on behalf of the victim besides the prosecutor.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Today, no one discussed victims or the impact that the defendant’s behavior had on them. The judge wanted the defendant to think about how to prevent future domestic abuse, but did not show any more concern for anyone or attempt to assure that the defendant understood the gravity of his actions. On the one hand, I do not know if words alone justify 61 days in jail, but I wonder is 61 days might not be enough, especially since the defendant served half of those days in Hennepin County on other charges.

I did not think that the court process was fair this time because it seemed that the defendants (in particular the those with public defenders) were just trying to get people to plead guilty rather than giving them their full right to a trial. I understand that trials are costly. I understand that some of these defendants are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but there seems to be too much prevalence of a culture of just having people accept plea deals so that the state has less work to do. With such representation, the state might as well not appoint public defenders if the people will just plea to anything to get the process over with faster. This situation also goes against victims as well. To make the judges, lawyers, and staffs life easier, defendants are granted lower pleas for serious crimes, and the victim is left feeling not vindicated and helpless because of fear or retaliation. This system is not good for defendants nor the victims.

My trust in the court’s ability to administer justice decreased. They were just processing people through. They were not concerned with justice. It was as if they were working for some corporation and their job duties were mundane, heartless, pointless tasks. That was their attitude in court. It is an unacceptable attitude in a courtroom where victims and defendants are seeking justice.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Being able to go into the courtroom and watch the justice system play out is such a great opportunity to see a difference in people’s lives in whatever way it may be. I encourage the public to become more responsive to our justice system and to become more informed about how it works because although it directly affects individuals, it also affects the community we live in everyday. There are so many ideals on how the system should work due to the media and unless we take the time to experience it for ourselves and see how things actually work, it won’t change. I think that what the public fails to realize is that justice is oftentimes in their own hands; the court works for the people. The unique opportunity to monitor the court that WATCH gives is one I think that is very important and is a great way to mediate between the public’s wants and needs and the justice system that resides in it.

Friday, February 5, 2016

I thought it was interesting that in Ramsey County the defendants sat across a table from the prosecutor, as if in a conference room. I think this positioning confused the witness because when she was asked if she recognized the defendant in the room, she kept looking at the jury box and not over to where all the lawyers sat. Also, the attorneys, judge, clerks and others seemed far less approachable and friendly in Ramsey County than in Hennepin County.

The prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney had a friendly relationship. Neither side attacked the witness or each other. There was less tension in the courtroom then I have observed in Hennepin, making it seem that both parties are interested in learning the truth and not just winning.

The judge could have been a bit more friendly. I understand feeling frustrated with lawyers, but scolding and yelling at them in front of the jurors might not be the best way to present the courtroom and the legal process to the jurors and witnesses.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Today in Order for Protection Court it was interesting to see how the judge handled the hearings. The judge appeared completely neutral but got very frustrated with both sides when they didn’t answer the questions specifically. The judge’s facial expression reflected various emotions (frustration, disbelief, etc.) I was concerned about the way the judge would get frustrated at the victims, often it was because they didn’t understand the questions. The judge was somewhat sympathetic during the dismissal hearings, however, asking if the victim felt pressured to come to court and/or had spoken to an advocate and reassuring the victim that it is always possible to petition for an OFP in the future.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A trafficking ring that we have followed recently was supposed to have sentenced the last person on the 20th of January. All of the other defendants linked to this one (Matthew Lee Merritt) have all already plead guilty and been sentenced. Merritt has also entered his plea of guilty, but the sentencing that was scheduled to happen Wednesday afternoon was rescheduled for a later date in May. This is a sudden turn of events from a case that has been going on since 2014. The other defendants,  Bryant, Moore and Williams, all got low sentences compared to what the statute allows possibly because during their hearings it was argued that although they all were accepting responsibility, they were not the main actors. It will be interesting to follow the case of Mr. Merritt and its resolution.

Friday, January 15, 2016

I am an employed business professional with an educational background in the social sciences. I continue to enjoy volunteer opportunities and being a WATCH court monitor is fascinating. I enjoy the little things from the downtown experience and skyways to seeking the detained being brought in and and hearing the victim impact statements. My motivation for being involved includes assisting with the advocacy of victims and seeing that the injustice and violence are addressed.

Friday, June 24, 2016

When I first started at WATCH I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had only been in a small county’s courthouse to observe and even then I only had the opportunity to witness first appearances. WATCH has been a huge help in educating me about our country’s justice system and allowed me to witness some surprising things. For instance, most judges are willing to work with the defendants; they tend to be lenient and work more on getting defendants the treatment or help they need rather than simply sending them to jail. Today I witnessed a judge spend 30 minutes with a defendant, explaining to her that while there need to be consequences to her actions, she also can see that the defendant has made great strides to turn her life around and get the help she needs. She told the defendant she wants to give her the opportunity to keep getting the help she needed rather than punishing her needlessly. This struck me because while it’s not the first time I’ve seen a judge give both words of encouragement and express an interest in the defendant’s well being, it made it clear that it’s not just an anomaly that happens once in a blue moon, but something that happens on a regular basis. That, in my opinion, is a very heartening and reassuring thing to see.’