Summary of Courtroom Observations
On October 8, 2009 I attended a general sessions court at the Lexington County Courthouse.At this time the Judge was hearing guilty pleas.There were many people in the rather large courtroom that day.
The courtroom was much larger than the one I had visited during drug court here in Spartanburg. Before the day’s session began I could see many defense attorneys going over their cases with their clients, some of whom were wearing bright orange jumpsuits that told me they were held in jail prior to their court hearing. Some of the defense lawyers appeared to have more than one client.
I noticed that there were two gentlemen seated at the state solicitor’s table and another, younger, gentleman would periodically walk up to them and hand them some documents. The two state solicitors already had a large stack of papers next to them. Seated down and to the left of where the judge would sit, once he arrived, was a woman at a computer, the court reporter and a little further to the left of her was the clerk of court. Stationed at a door to the left and behind the large raised desk that was the judge’s desk was a bailiff.
There was another bailiff stationed at the rear door of the courthouse where I walked in through while entering. The judge walked in and before he did so we were told of his approaching and were asked to raise. The judge was a tall older man with gray hair. He looked very bored with what was about to fill up his day; ready to get it over with. Before he gave his instructions to the prosecution to begin with their first plea bargain, he took his time going over some of the paperwork placed on his desk by the clerk of court.
Then finally he was ready to begin the day’s court session. When given the nod of approval, the prosecution stood up and called out their first case. The first defendant that was called forth was a young woman who had pled guilty to check fraud. I do not remember the exact amount, but I do remember that it was not very much money. She was given two years on probation with a suspended sentence on top of that. Another case that was called a little bit later was for armed robbery of a convenience store.
This case stuck out to me because the store that was robbed was one I had been to many times. The young man who pled guilty to this crime received much more time than the check fraud woman. He was also one of those individuals dressed in bright orange and they took him away immediately. I noticed for the most part there were not very many family members of the individuals there. There seemed to be a small group of students from USC Columbia doing the same thing I was, observing court proceedings.
They appeared to be a little older than me and could have been law students. To all of the people who were the normal courtroom players I could tell that the day’s proceeding were nothing new to them. The judge would ask the defendant how he or she pled and they would say guilty. The prosecution would then tell the judge what they felt the punishment should be as determined by the plea bargain that they had made and the judge would agree with it and would sentence the offender. The whole process seemed very repetitive and scripted.
There was seldom a deviation from the way that one trail was conducted to the way the next was conducted. I defiantly knew that all of the courtroom dramas on television would never last if they showed plea bargains instead of full jury trails. The plea bargains seemed like little more than a official ritual that needed to take place just to get a paper signed. There is probably a much faster way to conduct plea bargains but I’m sure it probably would conflict with an offender’s due process laws.