my day in court
This is something I've debated for a long time whether to blog about or not, but being it's over now, I guess the time is right to write this up.
Last year I was mugged at gunpoint at close to 4 in the morning. I was doing the nerd insomniac thing, ran to 7-Eleven to grab some quick eats and soda, and on return to the parking lot a guy walked right up to me, pointed a gun in my face and told me to give him everything. I did.
He was then caught about 20-ish minutes later. The police station is literally just 2 miles from me, and I'm pretty sure he probably didn't know that. Can't exactly run too far when the cops are like, y'know, right there.
After he was caught the officer who was interviewing me in the parking lot said they caught the guy and asked if I wanted to go ID him. I said yes, and did.
One or two days later (don't remember exactly), I amazingly got almost all the stuff back that mattered. Got all my cards but not my wallet, which made me mad because I had that wallet since my teen years, and got the GPS back. All my stuff was coated with fingerprint dust, which the police dept. just left there and didn't bother to wash off.
At the police station where I was interviewed (again), I was asked if I wanted to participate in testifying against him to put him away. I didn't need to do this because I got all the stuff back that mattered, and what I probably should have done is said, "No thanks, see ya", but I didn't and said yes.
That was 10 months ago.
Today was the trial. I get in my suit and tie and drive over to the courthouse. Traffic wasn't too bad and I smartly decided to go there using no highways. On one of the roads leading towards downtown Tampa you can see the highway, and oh yeah, it was chock full of stopped traffic, so I definitely made the right decision there.
At the courthouse, I sit outside the courtroom and waited for about 20 minutes. Then the prosecutor came out, takes me in the courtroom (which is empty at this point), and tells me all the questions I'll be asked and whatnot.
After a small while the courtroom fills up. The case I'm testifying in is not the first as there were something like close to a dozen other quickie cases to get out of the way first. Mostly plea-bargaining stuff. A whole truckload of prisoners in FL standard issue orange suits are brought in, chains and all. It was a mix of men and women. I still find it weird to see women in prisoner suits. I mean, yeah, girls break the law just like guys do, but seeing female prisoners in a courtroom isn't something you see every day.
The judge, gotta say, was a cool guy. He was stern and you knew not to mess with him, but could crack a joke here and there and made a stressful day slightly less stressful. I enjoyed watching him hash it out with the attorneys, and the guy commanded a good ship, or at least I thought so.
The case I'm going to testify in comes up and I'm taken out of the courtroom and into the smaller witness room. This was so I wouldn't hear anything that would otherwise cloud up my testimony, as the court only wanted to hear my words that weren't accidentally influenced by anything said in the courtroom before that point. Fair enough.
What was seriously frickin' annoying however is that I sat there, in the little silent witness room, by myself, with nothing to do but wait. I think I was in there 30 to 45 minutes, but it felt like days.
Time passes and a bailiff retrieves me from the witness room. I walk in, the judge says good morning to me, I reply in kind, he tells me to only give honest testimony and for anything else to say I don't know or I don't remember if I can't answer a question for whatever reason. In other words, the judge didn't want me to fudge any answers for any questions asked of me. Again, fair enough.
Now comes the part which is pretty much like everything you've seen on TV, except not as exciting.
Remember, this is a full trial, jury and all. No small claims crap here.
I'm sworn in and take the witness stand. The prosecutor does her thing and asks me a bunch of questions. I'm then cross-examined by the defender who does her thing (both attorneys were women). The only exciting part is that there was one objection just like you see on TV. It wasn't anything earth-shattering, but totally surreal, as in "Geez, just like it happens on TV!"
I was nervous, yet not nervous. Don't know how to explain it. For whatever amazing miraculous reason I wasn't sweating - and I thought for sure I would be, but didn't. I guess I just wanted this whole thing done and was too frustrated to care about getting truly nervous. After my testimony I was given the option to stay to see how everything panned out. I didn't care and wanted to leave, and made that very clear to the prosecutor. I was so done with all this. The prosecutor then said I would have to stay on call just in case they needed me again.. sigh.. but if I didn't receive a call before 5pm, everything was OK and I was done.
I leave at noon and pay almost 5 frickin' dollars for parking in the garage, which I won't be paid back for. Lovely. Granted, that's not a lot, but hey, 5 bucks is 5 bucks.
Traffic was somewhat-okay on the drive back. I get back home, get undressed, put the cell phone on the nightstand just in case I get a call to go back, then went straight to bed. After a few hours I woke up. Checked the phone, no calls. It wasn't 5 o'clock yet, but when that time on the clock passed, I was happy because it means this whole thing is done.
The good of it all
Going through the court system as a victim is an experience that if anything was educational. Now granted, you don't have to be a victim just to see all this. You could simply attend a public trial at your local courthouse to see how everything works.
What I learned is that:
- I know where all the courtrooms are for Tampa - of which there are quite a few because of the high population.
- I now know what the inside of a Tampa courtroom looks like.
- The system works, even if it takes a long time for it to get the wheels rolling, so to speak. However once said wheels are rolling, things get done pretty fast, all things considered.
- Jurors don't exactly dress up for the occasion.
- My standard suit-and-tie getup can easily get me mistaken for being an attorney. Yes, really. It's still true that clothes make the man.
- The court system has a lot less paperwork than I thought. A lot of it is computerized now, but done so in a way that's a hybrid of paper and digital. I don't consider this a bad thing however because there are many instances where paper is still required in the legal system.
- The judge was one of the few people out of this entire process that completely understood I was the victim here, and talked very straight to me which I sincerely appreciated.
The guy who was on trial did get life in prison with no parole, by the way (there was a lot of other stuff this guy did to get that sentence other than mugging me that I probably can't talk about). I was informed of this by email from the prosecutor. Said very honestly, the only joy I felt out of that was the the case is now absolutely 100% over.
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