A Guilty Plea at D.C. Superior Court
by Jamison Koehler on September 18, 2012
A visit to Arlington was the occasion for this undeserved opportunity of mine to post. Originally, my Uncle Jamie had a jury trial scheduled. Knowing that I was considering law school, he thought it would be fun for me to see.
Unfortunately, the court date was postponed. Fortunately, he had a juvenile case that was also going to court later that week. Unfortunately, his client would decide to plead guilty so it would be a short day in court. Fortunately, I still got to see my uncle in action.
First came a stern side of his I’ve rarely seen, except perhaps when someone gets distracted during a hand of hearts and he needs to keep the game moving. Jamie’s client was to arrive in court at 9 a.m., but come 9:15, he and his mother had still not arrived. Getting a little nervous, Uncle Jamie was in and out of the courtroom trying to delay so as not to irritate the judge. When they finally arrived, he hustled them through the door, firmly reminding them that it was very important to be on time, especially with this particular judge.
This business-like demeanor soon softened, however. When the judge set the time for the trial, we had about an hour to wait, so Jamie told his client he could go to the cafeteria. His client (a rather adorable and skinny fourteen-year-old boy) turned to his mother and asked for some money for food. His mother shook her head, telling him she didn’t have any, at which point it seemed Jamie could not resist and self-consciously handed him some.
The two of us decided that we would also head down to the cafeteria so that Jamie could explain some of the case particulars he kept in a thick binder. He was still unsure if a key but uncooperative witness was going to show up, so we took the long way down to scope out the hallway scene. We did not find the witness, but we did run into about ten of my uncle’s colleagues. Each of them had some private business to relate, some of which I was privy to, but my favorite part was just that everyone seemed to like him so much. I was reminded of stories my mom told me about Jamie as a high schooler, as a football player. I think he might be embarrassed by it now, but I love the idea of my smart and gentle uncle as a tough, cool kid.
Our witness did eventually show up, but to our disadvantage as it turned out. After his arrival, my uncle’s client suddenly expressed an urgent desire to plead guilty. My uncle and his investigator Wayne tried everything to make him see that we had a case, that pleading not guilty would not worsen his punishment were he given one, that we might as well give it a shot. But he was just fourteen and had other pressures weighing on him. I felt the frustration of my uncle’s job—of fighting for people who don’t have to and often won’t take his advice, for people who may be have been dealt a tougher hand with limited and fleeting power to affect their lives.
And yet, my uncle did not seem disheartened. The day in court animated him. He was mildly irritated that he had put in weeks of work preparing for the case, but this quickly passed because he knew he had done what he could. More importantly, the sentence was not severe for his client—probation, drug testing, community service and a curfew. What was more, since the day of the offense, his client had been “doing well,” as my uncle kept reminding him, getting good grades and staying out of trouble. My uncle thought he would be okay. He respected him, I think, this young kid who seemed to be the leader of an older crowd.
After the guilty plea was entered, the day ended rather anticlimactically. The client and his mother left without much of a good bye or really much acknowledgement of us. Afterwards, my uncle and I talked a little bit about what could have been, but then we moved on to other topics. I wonder what he did with his big and intricate binder of notes.