My Day in Court

I was scheduled to appear in county circuit court on the morning March 16 at 9 a.m.

My husband and I arrived at 8:30 and went upstairs to the courtroom.

It seems that the Atlanta courthouse shooting of last week has given these small town Alabama cops and court personnel “beefed up security fever.”

It is difficult for me to imagine anyone in my small city losing their mind and opening fire in the courtroom. Then again, when I think about how badly people get screwed over in the Alabama court system…

There was a new metal detector outside the door to the courtroom and the line backed up to the stairs. Everyone who went through the metal detector set it off. They were then given the wand treatment.

The lady deputy finally decided that the machine was set too sensitive because everyone was triggering it and the male deputy proceeds to dink around with it. He didn’t appear to know what he was doing so he just pushed buttons and pretended he did.

What is the point of having these things in courthouses if you are not going to train personnel on how to properly operate them?

When it got close to our turn to pass through I looked at my husband and asked him “Are you prepared to be violated?”

I passed my handbag to the female deputy and walked through the detector. It did not go off. It didn’t go off with my husband either.

I then knew my suspicions were correct about “Deputy Dink” not knowing what he was doing with the metal detector because my husband had on a metal belt buckle larger than his head. The deputy caught the fact that the machine didn’t go berserk and looked at my husband and said “Do you have a knife?”

As if a person actually trying to sneak a knife in the courtroom is going to answer yes to that question! We made our way in and found our seats.

I have always found court to be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I love watching the legal process. It fascinates me. I hate being the object that will suffer the outcome of said process.

It all seems so unbalanced. The poor, the ignorant and the minorities filled the benches in today’s court. Most of them looked too poor to even have a set of “Sunday clothes” to wear. Meanwhile, the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys were all dressed in power suits and carrying fine leather briefcases. It looked for all the world like the rich and educated vs. the poor and uneducated.

Apparently the metal detector decided to be unruly again because for the next half hour it beeped and buzzed and bonged relentlessly. The courtroom became packed. In fact, I have never seen that many people in court before. Pretty soon people had to stand in the back against the wall because there was nowhere to sit.

A deputy walked to the back and said "Sit Down!" "There will be no standing allowed in the courtroom." However there was nowhere to sit so people continued standing. This deputy continued to walk around and bellow at all of us in the courtroom like we were already inmates in his jail…never mind the fact that none of us had yet had a trial by jury. To him, we were already his prisoners.

After a few minutes of this pointless ordering about of people who had no way to follow the order it was decided that family members and witnesses had to wait outside the courtroom. So the same deputy said "EVEROBODY THAT HAS A CASE ON THE DOCKET TODAY RAISE YOUR HAND" (as if we were all in kindergarten) and then he ordered everyone else outside.

One girl sitting next to me was the girlfriend of a defendant and she decided she wasn't going anywhere and began the process of evading the detection of Deputy "Bullhorn" and his relentless pursuit of "family members and witnesses" to kick out of the courtroom. I was rooting for her. She was successful. I love a rebellious spirit.

By the time all of this was starting to settle down my coffee hit and I had to well…I had to pee. I looked at the door and saw that a female and male deputy guarded it. I asked the female if we were allowed to go out and use the restroom. She responded, "If you go outside the courtroom you will not be allowed back in and we will not come and get you when you are called."

I'll be honest here, which is likely to get me into some hot water, at least that has been the trend…but I really felt like smacking her. I thought "Can they really order you to hold your water for an indefinite period of time and, if you are unable to do so, can they make it so that you can't get back into the courtroom when you are called?" The thought that I was already being held against my will came to mind and it made me very angry. But I held my tongue though and my water too, for about 4 hours.

About 20 minutes later an old woman who appeared to be in her 70's approached the female deputy and asked to be let out to go to the restroom and was given the same line. I couldn't believe it. She turned around and obediently hobbled back to her seat. But then she got up again and went out anyway. I did not see her come back in.

Maybe it is just me but, all of the uniformed personnel today from the metal detector morons to Deputy "Bullhorn" to the "NO URINATING ALLOWED" female deputy seemed to me to be in that mode all the time. Controlling, commanding, and enjoying every last second of it.

That has to be a miserable way to live your life and I almost felt sorry for them. But not quite.

Finally the judge comes in. I had heard some good things about the Judge but after witnessing the way the deputies treated us all morning I did not have a lot of hope for the possibility of good outcomes for myself and my fellow accused.

However the judge just looked cool and laid back and the first thing he did was smile big say "Good Morning Y'all." I about fell off the bench. He had actually shown the accused in his courtroom respect by addressing them in a friendly manner. I answered back with a hearty "Good morning, Judge" and was surprised to find myself the only one to do so.

The judge began by telling us that today was our last chance to plea out and if we did not take a plea-bargain today we would not have the chance to change our minds later. Not only that but the prosecutor was making everyone do something called "Pleading Blind" with no offer of probation or parole if they refused his plea bargain offer.

The judge then went on to inform every one of their constitutional rights. That was the first time I had ever seen a judge do that. He told us all that when we came before the bench we would have to say that we either understood our rights or we did not. He then said that he would ask us what we did that landed us in court.

I got very excited at the sound of that prospect and began to anxiously await my chance to blurt out, "I wrote a letter to the editor of the Birmingham News disagreeing with current Alabama drug policy with regard to marijuana and apparently that did not sit too well with the County Narcotics Task Force and they obtained a warrant based on said letter and raided my home when no one was there and claim to have found .87 gram of marijuana."

But I never got that chance.

The judge decided to call the cases of the people currently in jail who were all sitting on the front row in their stripes and handcuffs. The first case was a 1st degree marijuana possession case and I almost fainted when the judge told the black male defendant "60 day suspended sentence and 2 years unsupervised probation…you can go home today" and from that point on he proceeded to release everyone who came before him on marijuana possession charges and give them much the same sentence as the first one. Some got supervised probation. Some did not.

Getting through all of the cases of people currently in jail took up the whole morning so near noon one of the deputies said, "If you are pleading not guilty then please form a line at the front of the room." So all of us who were demanding a jury trial (and I am pleased to report that there were a LOT of us doing just that) got up and got in line.

When it was my turn to go before the judge he smiled at me and said "What's your name and where is your lawyer?"

I said, "Your honor I am Loretta Nall and my attorney Charles Salvagio talked with you last week and…"

“Oh yes, Oh yes Mrs. Nall. Yes I did talk with your attorney. I believe the prosecution made you and offer of” (he looks over at the DA and says what was that offer again?), and the D.A. pipes up, "8 months prison no probation your honor" and the judge says, "8 MONTHS?" in a very surprised way.

He then looks at me and says "I assume you will be rejecting that offer Mrs. Nall?" and I said "Absolutely your Honor." Then he smiled again and said "I'll set the trial date for the week of April 11 and you are free to go."

More to come, but hope springs eternal.

March 18, 2005