Nonfiction

My Day in the Criminal Justice System

justice-system

By Luca Morgante

When you think of the word “lawyers,” you may think of old men or women wearing old-fashioned white wigs and voluminous black gowns arguing in a court. These stereotypes are true for some lawyers, but not for others–not the ones who deal with the nitty-gritty work of Canadian courtroom trials and who get their hands dirty trying to fix the real problem in society, criminals. And that is exactly what I got to see.

On Wednesday, November 2nd, I travelled with my mother to Old City Hall as part of “Take your kids to work day.” The intent of the day was to show the kids of lawyers just what the hands-on city and provincial courtroom lawyers do on a day-to-day basis. After convening in an empty courtroom at 8:00 sharp, we were all given a list of trials that were taking place in the courtrooms and what they were about. The first couple of trials I watched dealt with traffic laws. Boring! The next couple dealt with petty crimes like theft–interesting, but not what I was looking for. I wanted to get a real eye opener on what really happens behind the doors of the courtrooms involving more serious offences. That’s why I chose to go to a trial on drug trafficking prosecution.

At ten o’clock, my mom and I sat down on the cold, hard benches of courtroom number 117. First, lawyers streamed in, cracking jokes and chatting with their colleagues. The mood of the room seemed to be pretty casual. That all changed when a large man yelled “All rise!!!” Everyone took their places and immediately hushed as the judge walked into the room. I could see the lawyers exchanging looks at each other and did not know the cause of it until I saw the judge. He was the scariest person I had ever seen, huge pointy ears, long angular face and features that looked like it came straight out of The Lord of the Rings.

As the trial began, I noticed that the accused ringleader wasn’t present. But, just in time, came two police officers dragging a man with handcuffs on and shoving him into a chair at the corner of the room behind bullet proof glass. He yelled and screamed all the while, complaining that he had been mistreated while in custody (no food, cell phone or shower)? Next came his partners in crime who were not being tried at the present time, but instead were pleading guilty for the multiple charges of drug trafficking for they had been charged. They all looked so old and world weary, but my mom said they were all likely in their mid 20’s, maybe just ten years older than me – wow!  My curiosity soon filled with dread as they sat down right in-front and beside my mother and me. We were surrounded! About halfway through the trial, one of the alleged criminals turned around and got my attention. “Could I borrow your pen?” he asked. After staring at him in shock for what seemed like forever, I slowly handed him my pen with one shaky hand. “Thanks” he said. After getting my pen back…eventually…, we soon decide to get the heck out of there and looked at the list of trials for our second visit.

Trail #2 took us to a small courtroom in the basement of the Old City Hall. These courts were more oriented for the down-and-out and mentally challenged individuals of society. As we came in and sat down, the man sitting in the glass box was crying. The 71-year-old, having spent the last 20 days in jail, was being charged with assault after getting into a fight with a “friend” of his. His lawyer told the sad story of how due to his various addictions, he had lost his house, family and everything he had, having no other choice but to live on the streets for the last 3 decades, even when he was suffering from mental illness. Having no money and no more hope left in the world, the only thing the judge could do was give him a ten dollar fine and send him on his way with a stern warning. What might have been a drop in the bucket for most was a fine that he had no hopes of paying, and he looked completely dejected. As he walked down the aisle towards the courtroom door, I could see his saddened and hopeless eyes drift around the room and then, miraculously, a stranger handed him a 5-dollar note on his way out. What a day! All in all, I saw the best and worst of humanity play out in front of me and am thinking, those lawyers have one tough job…

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