Courtroom ethnography assignment part 1
Queens County Courthouse
Queens County Courthouse is located on Sutphin Boulevard at 89th Avenue. The courthouse is approximately a quarter mile from the hillside Avenue intersection. The building housing the courthouse is defined by neo-classic architecture because Corinthian columns characterize it with seven types of marble adorning the interior lobby of the building. At the entrance, there is a grand staircase, which welcomes visitors into the building. Upon completion often staircase is a wide corridor leading to different offices and courts. The main lobby, the walls, floor, and columns are decorated with varieties of marbles as the remaining corridors are paved with terrazzo. The seven-story building has the garden jury room and court clerk offices opening into the main lobby. The chambers and offices of the judges are located on the third and fifth floors while seven Supreme Court rooms are located on the fourth floor. The sixth floor houses the Supreme Court library and four supreme courtrooms including surrogate offices. The seventh floor houses public offices for courtrooms. There are two sets of elevators and stairs. Private stairs and elevators are reserved for the judges.
Upon entry into Queens County courtroom, judge’s bench is positioned at the far end of the court. Immediately after the judge’s bench, there are seats for courtroom deputy, the court reporter, and the witness stand, which is located on the far right hand side of the court. The jury also sits on the right side of the court. The defendant sits on the left side of the court while the prosecution sits on the right side. A bar separates the court from the gallery of the courtroom. This is where the public and the press sit.
As an official of the court, the role of the judge is to engage in the interpretation of the law, asses the evidence presented in the court, control the unfolding of the hearing and trials in court and make impartial decisions in purist for justice. The judge also has the responsbility of giving the jury instructions before it begins its deliberations. This is often including of the legal instructions that apply to the specific cases including the standards that they must apply in the making decisions about the case. Upon making decisions on the case, the judge has the responsbility of sentencing convicted criminals while considering the legal aspects of the case relative to the type of sentence. The courtroom deputy often sits next to the judge to administer oaths to witnesses, marking exhibits and help the judge in controlling court proceedings. The courtroom reporter sits next to the witness stand to documents the official record of the proceedings on a stenographic machine. The court reporter also has the responsbility of producing a written transcript of the proceedings in situations where any of the concerned parties appeals the case upon request for the review of the transcript
Lawyers also form part of the offices of the court. The lawyers of both parties participate in the court by speaking to the jury, the judge of the witnesses. Their responsbility is to generate facts that put their clients in the most favorable light using approved legal procedures.
In terms of dress code, the judge wears a humble black robe over a formal suit. Formal judges tend to accessories the robe with a white collar. All the other court officials and employees are expected to wear formal suits. As a way of harmonizing dress codes, the general perception is that the males wear long pants, shirts with collars, and shoes. All shirts worn by males must be tucked and in the case of male juror, it is a requirement to wear a court. For the females, dresses, skirts, pants with blouses and shirts are considered as requirements. There are restrictions on the length and the degree of exposure allowed in courtrooms hence the need to maintain decency.
Facial expression characterized by smiles and frowns form an essenatil aspect in the determination of the relationship between members of the audience and the defendants. During the court proceedings as evidence is presented against the defendant, close family members express frowning faces an indication of their unhappiness. However, in situations where the lawyers present evidence aimed at proving freedom to the defendant jubilant smiles can be witnessed among the audience an indication that they are optimistic that the eventual ruling will favor the defendant.
After hearing from all the parties in the involved in the case, the judge assesses the evidence presented in relation to the requirements of the law. The judge speaks to the defendant and reads the findings of the case. In the process of reading the findings of this case, the judge explains to the defendant the extent to which he or she abides by the law and the extent to which he has contravened the law. The sentence is read to the defendant and given an opportunity to appeal the case later.
The court proceeding began with an announcement from the Marshall that the judge was entering the courtroom and that everyone present in the courtroom was expected arise and remain standing until the robed judge was seated as part of the ritual of the court. The court hearing that I attended was a civil case about a car accident. The layout of the courtroom was such that three were a series of raised layers with the highest being that of the judge’s bench. The preceding judge was a middle-aged white female. The public was seated at the back of the courtroom. In the case, there were claims from one party and counter claims from another party. According to the claims, the defendant failed to see the plaintiff’s car approaching s as to evade and prevent the possibility of an accident. The counter claim presented by the defendant was of personal injury considering that the defendant sustained leg and back injuries after colliding with the plaintiff’s car. To ensure that he was able to save time, the judge decided to examine both claims simultaneously. Legally as observed in other cases it is the ritual of the court to examine claims and counterclaims separately but it is often the judges’ discretion to decide the process of handling cases depending on the situation of the case and the possible complication that may characterize the case.
When I entered the courtroom, I sat at the back in the public gallery facing the judge’s bench at the other end of the courtroom. In front of me on the right side, there was the plaintiff and her lawyer on the left side there was the defendant and his lawyer. Upon entry, the judge began by reading the case in summary before requesting the plaintiff and his lawyer to present their claims before the court. Upon completion of the presentation, the defendant and his lawyer with permission from the judge presented the counter claim. The plaintiff was the fest one to be called on the witness stand to be cross-examined by both parties. The plaintiff explained how after parking on the left side of the road to purchase some products from the nearby shops. Later she went back to her car and tried to get to the right side of the road she did not notice the oncoming defendant’s car on time to minimize the possibility of an accident. After explaining the occurrence, she was cross-examined by the two lawyers using several questions. The defendant took the witness stand and explained how as he driving on the road the plaintiff’s car was appeared on his side without any indication. He tried to avoid the accident but it was too late and this explains why he suffered injuries. While cross-examining the defendant the plaintiffs’ lawyer insisted that the defendant was negligent of the road signs considering that he had illegally passed the pelican sign just a few meters for the accidents scene. The defendant denied this claim. Another area of argument during the court proceeding was that while recording the initial statements the defendant claimed that he had broken his led but later, according to the doctor’s report there were also injuries in his lower back.
After the cross examination of the defendant by both lawyers, the defendant’s father in aw was called to the witness stand because he was the core driver at the time when the accident occurred. After cross-examination by both parties, it was time for the judge to make a ruling. The judge began by summarizing all the evidence and facts presented by both parties and provided the basis of his final judgments while referring to the evidence presented and the interpretation of the law. According to the judge, the cost of the incident was to be shared equally by the concerned parties while the defendant was expected to pay all the trial costs.
From the courthouse proceedings, I observed that there were limited claims made to the court because they were characterized by a plethora of questions and cross-examinations. The terminologies used in the county court can be comprehensible to lay persons. The role of the lawyers was to rephrase and paraphrase questions that were not understood. A surprising element is that by the time a claim cases comes to the county court there are no questions on statutory interpretations but the case is based on facts. The role of both lawyers is to present facts in the perspective of their clients and in accordance with the law. While cross-examining a witness, the lawyers have the right to object to questions or explanations presented by the opposing lawyer. The judge has the right of rejecting or sustaining an objection depending on the type of question posed or the relevance of the response in provision additional evidence to the case. In all the cases that were observed, the judge had the right of adjourning a case or referring it to a further date depending on the prevailing circumstances and the nature of evidence gathered.
Courtroom Ethnography Assignment Part II
Marshall: All rise. The court is now in session. Justice Ann will be ruling. You can have your seats.
J: This is the case of the people of the State of New York versus Tom. The defendant and the plaintiff teams ready?
PL: Yes your Honor.
DL: Yes your Honor
J: Can the prosecution and the defense present their claims?
PL: Your Honor and members of the jury, the defendant has been charged with the crime of driving a car belonging to someone else, minus the consent of the owner. Existing evidence will show that the car was reported missing the night of March 20, 2016. After two days the defendant was arrested with the car. His fingerprints were present on the car keys. This evidence is sufficient proof that the defendant is guilty as charged.
DL: Your Honor esteemed members of the jury, from a legal perspective, my client is recognized as blameless until confirmed guilty. In this court proceeding, you will hear constructed proof against my client. However, the truth will be revealed that my client was just riding in a car after a Good Samaritan offered him a lift. Upon realizing that the car was stolen, my client was just trying to act according to the law by returning the car to its owner. This is an indication that my client is not guilty.
J: Can the prosecution call the first witness.
PL: The prosecution calls the owner of the car.
PL: Where do you work?
Car Owner: I am the owner of Martinu Cars.
PL: Can you tell this court your business address?
Car Owner: 105 Main Street, New York.
PL: Where were you on March 20, 2016?
Car Owner: I was at work.
PL: Can you confirm whether a 2004 red Mercedes Benz license number 5AZW249 was for sale?
Car Owner: Yes it was.
PL: Was the car present in your garage on March 20th?
Car Owner: Yes.
PL: What about on March 21st?
Car Owner: No. when I got to my business premise that morning it was missing
PL: Where you left your business premise on the night of March20th, where were the keys to the mentioned Mercedes Benz?
Car Owner: I locked them in the sales office.
PL: When you reported to work in the morning where were the keys?
Car Owner: They were still in the sales office.
PL: Upon realizing that the car was missing what did you do?
Car Owner: I filed a stolen car report with the police.
PL: By any chance did you anyone consent to take or drive the Mercedes?
Car Owner: I did not.
PL: No further questions.
J: Are there any questions from the defense team?
DL: No your Honor.
J: The witness may leave the stand and may the prosecuting team call the next witness
PL: The prosecution calls the arresting officer.
PL: Were you on duty on 9th? The night of March 20th?
Officer: Yes. I was on patrol
Deputy DA: Was there a report that a red Mercedes Benz had been stolen and do you recall the registration number?
Officer: Yes, there was a report that a red Mercedes Benz registration number 5AZW249 had been stolen from Martinu Cars.
PL: How did you respond?
Officer: we began investigations and after two days were arrested a man driving a car fitting the description of the stolen car.
PL: Do you see that man in court today.
Officer: Yes, he is seated on the defense desk .
PL: No further questions.
J: Are there any questions from the defense team?
DL: No your Honor
J: Witness is excused. Does the prosecution have any other witnesses?
PL: No your Honor
J: Is the defense ready for this case?
DL: Yes your Honor. The defense calls the defendant
DL: Where were you on the night of March 22?
D: I was shopping at the 321 Store on North Main Street in New York
DL: Did you see a red Mercedes Benz in your location?
D: Yes. There was man who pulled over and requested to give me a ride.
DL: what happened next
D: He drove down the streets at a fast pace but upon hearing police sirens, he stopped and ran out of the car. I was left on the co-driver seat and later arrested for car theft.
DL: Thank you.no further questions
J: Does the prosecution have any questions for the defendant?
PL: Yes Your Honor
PL: According to your statement, you just got into a car with a stranger and drove down the street. Is that true?
D: Yes I needed to get to my destination fast
PL: No further questions
J: The witness is excused. Does the defense have any other witnesses?
DL: No your honor
J: In proving the criminal charges against the defendant, the prosecution ha the responsbility of proving that that the defendant was driving someone else’s car. Second that the car owner had not given consent for the accused take the car. Thirdly, the accused intended to temporarily or permanently take away the right of the owner to possess a car. I believe that the prosecution has been able to prove all these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. This court finds the defendant guilty.
How power is constructed in the courtroom
Being a constitutional office, the justice system is considered as a powerful institution. This is an indication that membership to the justice system is an essential mark of power. The role of power in any context is to ensure that the leadership has the ability of influencing the decision of the subjects (Hale 12). However, in a courtroom power is exercised as tool that enables the participants involved to present and win cases based on accessible evidence and the requirements of the law. When embraced in a reputable manner, the courtroom provides a platform on which participants can develop an understanding of their position within the room and develop techniques of using their positions to influence the decision-making process (Williams 80). The main function of the court is to make decisions on different matters presented with reference to the law. This makes the court room a specific setting with participants who play different roles that are essenatil in the realization of their constitutional mandate. Power in a courtroom can be demonstrated by the verbal activities of participants such as lawyers and witnesses. There are also power positions established by virtue of holding a constitutional office as in the case of the judge (Hale 20). In some cases, the type of clothing that participants in the courtroom adorn demonstrates power in courtroom. For instance, in the courtroom the judge is considered to be holding legitimate power by virtue of the black robe that he wears on top of the formal suit. There are other members of the courtroom who despite remaining silent during court proceeding are considered powerful because of their ability to make the final ruling on a case (Mutambwa 100).
The construction of power in a courtroom can also be understood from the physical layout of the courtroom. The courtroom is designed in rising layers with the judge acquiring the central and dominant position in the courtroom at the far end of the courtroom (Hale 14). This establishes his position as the legitimate and final decision maker in the courtroom. The rest of the participants in the courtroom sit facing the judge. The layout of the court presents a figurative comparison of s battle field that is fought using verbal activities (Mutambwa 103). Other than the officials of the court, the public are considered as the least powerful participants in the courtroom. This is because unlike the jury, which remains silent during the proceeding but has the power of deliberating on the sentencing process (Williams 89). The public is separated from the rest of the court by a bar in a place designated as the public gallery. Their role is to observe and accept the final judgment as presented by the court. Any communication from the public to the court must be done through recognized employees or participants of the court such as lawyers (Hale 18).
The adversarial system that characterizes court proceeding in the United States can also be considered as a technique through which power is constructed in the courtroom. This is because in this process, the two opposing sides of the defense and the prosecution present their versions of the case in question with the objective of influencing the decision of the judge and that of the jury (Mutambwa 108). The main objective of this approach to court proceedings is to not to establish the truth but to convince the judge and the jury that that one version of the case in question is more believable compared to the other. In the process of wielding such power in the courtroom requires the use of persuasion and performance. The approach that the lawyers use in proving innocence or guilt beyond reasonable doubt is crucial for the success of the cases (Williams 90). Reasonable doubt and the burden of proof are crucial terminologies associated with the adversarial system of the court process. The prosecution has the responsbility of presenting a case that fulfills the burden of proof, while the defense team has the responsbility of developing explanations of events with the aim of proving to the court the imperfections present in the evidence presented by the prosecution (Mutambwa 109). This is an indication that in the process of exercising power of influence within the courtroom the defense aims at creating reasonable doubt (Hale 22). In a courtroom, there are more listeners than speakers. This is an indication that the roles and positions of different participants in the courtroom are defined by their academic qualification, their relationship with the case and their constitutional role (Hale 23).
The judge’s bench is considered as the most powerful position in the courthouse. This is considered as legitimate power because the authority is not accorded to the office bearer but to the office of the judge. The power of the judge emanates from his a role as the representative of the law. In addition, the judge also has the power of controlling and moderating all the talks that happen in the courtroom (Hale 19). Unlike other participants in the courtroom, the judge does not have any linguistic restrictions considering that he can address all members present during a court proceeding. In addition, the judge also has the ability of adjourning cases or holding different participants in contempt whenever he considers necessary (Mutambwa 109). The judge plays a passive role during proceedings considering that most of the utterances he makes are monologic. An additional role of the judge in demonstrating his power in the courtroom is to instruct the jury on the constitutional requirements before formulating their verdict. The judge also has the power of producing a powerful monologue related to the sentencing of the freedom of the defendant (Williams 93).
Despite possessing limited control compared to the judges, lawyers still possess power over the conversations that occur in the courtroom. Through their monologic performances in their opening and closing arguments and the dialogues that they create while interacting with witnesses, lawyers establish their power in the courtrooms (Mutambwa 111). An asymmetric interaction created by the turn-taking process between lawyers can be perceived as a strategic approach to engaging in persuasion of the jury on the guilty or the innocence of the defendant. In addition, through the asymmetric interaction process, the lawyers also attempt to convince the judge on the legality of the evidence presented by either party in the hearing (Williams 101). The verbal contest that defines the power battle between the defense and the prosecution also presents the lawyers with a platform of coercing witnesses into answering questions through a specific approach (Mutambwa 112). Manipulation of witnesses and the evidence presented by either side define the power relations among lawyers in a courtroom. By using specialist language lawyers demonstrates power since they exclude others from the specialist group (Hale 34).
Multiple audiences in the courtroom also play an essential role in the distribution of power in the courtroom. The most powerful entity among members of multiple audiences is the jury, which does majority of the talk (Hale 22). The jury is selected from members of the public to assess evidence as presented by witnesses and lawyers. This is followed by a decision-making on the extent to which a defendant is guilty or innocent with legal advice from the judge. It is notable that the audience does not only comprise of the jury but also press correspondents, public audience, and the transcribers appointed by the court (Mutambwa 112). Other than the jury, the rest of the audience is expected by the court to remain silent during court proceedings and they are not expected to play any active role during the proceedings. The symbolic role of the public audience is to act as the representatives of the people (Williams 96).
The distribution of power in the courtroom is designed in an asymmetric manner and the institutional speaker possesses power and control. Lawyers have an understanding of the effect of their choice of words whereas a lay participant feels excluded because of his inability to understand the chosen vocabulary (Williams 99). The use of linguistic indicators of power such as addressing the witnesses and the jury with coherence, fluency, varied pitch range, interruption, repetition, silence, pauses, and loudness can be used as elect of exercising and demonstrating power (Mutambwa 121).