Friday, October 8, 2010

A New Way to Look at a Courtroom- Raphael Golb, Dead Sea Scrolls

Prosecuting attorney Antoine Quentin Fouquier de Tinville,
 who had engineered the Terror, and who signed off
on Robespierre's execution, was within days
guillotined for engineering the Terror, in 1795,
"condemned by his own hand."

The District Attorney's office sought up to 4 years for Raphael Golb, upstate in Reikers Island State Penitentiary. And in fact after the sentencing, rather than let Raphael wait for the Appeals office to open in 2 hours, it was ruled that Raphael should be shackled immediately and sent upstate on the very next bus to Rikers Island State Penitentiary. I wonder what horrendous crimes they thought Raphael Golb might have committed in those 2 hours. 

I like to compare Raphael Golb's sentence to that of a man I once met who also served 4 years in the same State Penitentiary, for the rape of a woman he noticed jogging along the parkway. The rest was parole.

The system can be lopsided, capricious, arbitrary.

This was the first trial I ever saw, and it did indeed remind me of a game, with agreed-upon rules: 

What evidence is allowed, or not; who may speak, how, about what; forced to answer yes or no, even if the answer is nuanced; not allowed to add an afterthought; how the charges may be phrased; objection dismissed/ objection sustained, struck from the record.  

Yes the courtroom is run by "rules of engagement"- that's Democracy: fair to both sides (in theory), regardless of money or power.

On the other hand, "rules of engagement" has always been a paradox: people at war, who want to destroy each other- yet with rules. Gentlemen, with grenades.

A day in court can be capricious: 
So much depends on who is district attorney, who is judge, who is lawyer for the defense and prosecution; who are the witnesses, who is the jury, which day of the week, how late in the day, in which state; who didn't have lunch; or a siren goes by and they miss a crucial word.

Huge decisions resting on so many moving parts; tables being turned, by accidents and coincidences. As I said, capricious.

Like the French Revolution: one day king, the next day head in a bucket. But- wait a week, and they put another king back in. You've just got to hit it on the right week. Or a ball game: when the final whistle blows, the team that is ahead wins; but had the whistle been blown 2 minutes earlier or later, the other team might have won.

I had believed the system was infallible; I was naive. I see now, justice can be roulette- Raphael Golb's turn happened to get the bullet.

I am an English teacher; all my information and opinions come exclusively what I witnessed in court, or read in articles and blogs.