On September 27th I went to Branch 6 to watch the criminal trial of the defendant Lord Wilson. It was making out to be a weeklong trial and I made it on the second to last day. All I knew was that it was a case involving drugs and had been in the making for a while. When I arrived at the public safety building to listen to the criminal trial taking place I learned firsthand that things never seem to stay on schedule. A recess was taking place when I walked in. While I was sitting there I overheard another person in the courthouse talking about how they heard testimonies from witnesses the day before. That’s what I was looking forward to and now I was worried that I wouldn’t get to observe anything too interesting. During the recess I had some time to take in what was going on around me.
The judge was not in the court room. I assumed he was probably in his chambers going over information from the trial that called for the recess to begin with. The prosecutor and the defense attorney were both present in the courtroom, occasionally talking to one another while they waited for the judge to return. The defendant was in the room as well, sitting next to his lawyer waiting for things to resume. There were also a few police officers sitting behind me and from what I could tell at least one was involved in the case against the defendant. While I was sitting there Thomas Gerleman, the defense attorney came over and told me who the people involved in trying the case were. The judge who presided over this court room was Daniel Bissett and the District attorney was Christian Gosset. The A.D.A was Eric Sparr, which another student informed me he was a “drug expert” and had a lot of experience dealing with cases involving the delivering and manufacturing of drugs. Knowing who everyone was made it a little easier to follow what was going on. While I was sitting there I did feel kind of uneasy.
Everyone in the room would occasionally look back at me and the other students, probably wondering why we were there. After what felt like forever the judge returned from his chambers and everyone stood up. As he entered the court room the bailiff told everyone to please rise. That was definitely something I was expecting and one of the things that TV shows accurately depict. This showed to me how much power the judge has over his courtroom. He decides when things happen and for how long. As things got up and running again I started to get excited to see what would unfold in front of me. The jury at this point was not in the room and the way things were looking they wouldn’t be for quite some time. The defense didn’t want the jury to be present while certain things were discussed because they felt it would negatively and unfairly affect their client. I didn’t know that the jury wasn’t present for certain parts of the trial. I understood that they wouldn’t need to sit in the courtroom during a recess but I always thought they had to listen to all parts of the case.
The prosecutor and the defense each took their turn putting forth information they wanted to use in this case. Once one side put forth their argument the judge allowed the opposing side to argue against it. For example, in this case the prosecutor wanted to introduce a witness that monitored the jail phone calls. She told the prosecutor that she was able to identify the voice of the defendant and the other two men he was having conversations with. This information would help further strengthen the case against Lord Wilson. The defense then argued that she should be required to show some type of proof that she was trained in voice recognition. They argued that she shouldn’t be allowed to testify because there was more than one mode of hearing involved. There were different voices being heard on various phones used over a period of time and because of that they didn’t believe it was possible to make an accurate voice id.
Then as I was listening to this go on a term came up I was finally familiarly with and I started feeling like I kind of understood what was being talked about amongst all this legal jargon. The defense argued “hearsay”. Some of the people in the voice recordings haven’t even testified and haven’t been confronted in court about the recordings. The defense believed that was reason enough to not have it allowed. Unfortunately for the defense the judge ruled that the witness could testify and that her job of supervising the telephone calls was all the ‘training’ she needed to be a reliable witness. While I sat there and watched the defense and prosecution argue back and forth about what information should be introduced I realized that it wasn’t exactly like the TV shows I loved to watch. It was so much slower and not as easy to follow. In real life you have the defense and prosecution switching off saying statute numbers to help argue their points and you soon get lost in it all; it’s not easy to understand.
There were certain points during the trial that I felt like I didn’t even know what was being said. It definitely felt like the people involved in the criminal trial were speaking a different language to one another and the people watching/observing were just left sitting there confused. Just as I thought things were about to pick up with the judge allowing the witness to testify the prosecution had yet another piece of information they wanted to introduce. I always thought that the prosecution and the defense had to introduce all their ‘evidence’ or witnesses in the first day or so. I didn’t realize that these things could be introduced almost up until the end of the trial. The prosecution’s next piece of information brought up another thing that I hadn’t seen on any TV shows.
The prosecution said that one of the witnesses for the defense had given inconsistent statements during an interview with an investigator and they were different from what was on tape from his testimony. The defense then requested to have a transcript made to show the parts that were inconsistent. I wasn’t aware they could request things to be written up when the trial was supposed to be almost over. I can see now why trials end up going on much longer than expected. It seems as though you never know what will be introduced and what will be needed to be done to allow it to be used in the case.
As that took place it was the first time I had seen the judge get a little annoyed with what was going on. This case has been in the making for a while and he couldn’t understand why these transcripts hadn’t been made prior to the trial starting. It seemed as though he had enough with all the delays in this trial and especially felt bad for the jury. The jury was told their services would be needed right away in the morning and unfortunately it didn’t end up going that way.
At this time I was wondering if I’d ever get to see the jury being present in the room. After more of discussion of witnesses and when they would testify the judge finally called for the jury to enter the courtroom. A student that I was sitting with said that for some reason this jury consisted of 14 people. This was something new I learned because I always thought there could only be 12. I was curious on the matter and looked up some other cases and it looked like juries have consisted of 14 jurors depending on the type of criminal case. When the jury entered the court room much to my surprise we had to rise for them as well. It’s obvious that the jury plays an important role in this trial but that part of it was new to me.
The judge addressed the jury and apologized for the long delay. He told them that things were taking longer than expected and that he was sorry that they had to come in early for no reason. He assured them that he would not allow further delays. Once again the jury left for a short period until the witnesses would be called forth. In the end I didn’t get to hear to final verdict because the trial didn’t end the day that I was observing. I would have to say that the court room observation definitely was different than what I was expecting. On television things move very fast and it seems like the trial is practically over when it starts. You don’t see on TV how the jury is asked to step out occasionally and how new witnesses seem to be introduced far into the trial.
In these criminal trials it’s basically a contest between the opposing sides who are putting forth their best arguments for their clients. The judge is important part of that. On TV it seems that the judge is quite involved in the arguments and has a lot to say about what is happening. In reality though the judge is there to make sure that the law is being tried fairly and that the information being presented fits the definition of the law.
Being able to observe a criminal trial was definitely worthwhile and taught me a lot about things actually work, and how different they are from what we perceive them to be. The one thing I would say that the TV shows don’t depict is the slowness of the criminal trial. There are those moments where there is downtime and things are being looked over by the judge in his chamber. Overall I learned a great deal and have a better idea of how criminal trials actually work.