City Paper is not for tourists
I am in arraignment court—C 10 to insiders!—to semi-live blog. The courtroom opens at 1 p.m. It is perhaps the saddest room to appear in on a Monday afternoon. It means that you did something to catch the attention of the police and got charged—open container, smoking weed, holding a crack pipe, fighting with a roommate, and so on. It means you have gotten intimate with a squad car, a cell, and ankle cuffs. In other words, your weekend really sucked.
C10 will be packed soon. It is ten minutes before 1. A few people gather by the door: a stern lawyer, a gray hair with hipster glasses, two kids jawing about whether or not being a police officer is a worthwhile job, and an ex-Marine waiting to see about a friend charged with assaulting a police officer.
“He was in rare form,” the ex-Marine, Kenny, says. The rare form means possibly drunk.
The door is unlocked with little fanfare. As we walk into the quiet, empty courtroom, one of the kids mumbles: “Into the motherfuckin’ dragon.”
C10 is not a Bruce Lee film. It is a lumbering, expensive operation. It is a film of despair.
There are clerks and lawyers. The microphone is on. All you hear is paper shuffling, a stapler and a few wordless whispers. It’s kind of cruel. This place is all about paper shuffling!
In the downtime before arraignment court gets rolling, I talk to Kenny. He says his friend got into a fight with his roommate. The roommate threw his friend’s clothes in the street (Irving and 14th Streets NW). He came over to help his friend. Next thing he knows there’s an officer, another resident in the building, and the officer won’t let his friend leave. They get to rumbling pretty good—something about the officer refusing to give his friend back his ID. It’s the kind of story you hear in this room: messy, complicated, a lot of back and forth, and one wrong decision (don’t ever swing at a cop even in self-defense).
“This is the crappiest courtroom I’ve ever seen,” Kenny says. Of his friend: “He’s no fool. He just had a bad day, I guess.”
It’s 1:05 p.m. “All I can do is pray,” Kenny says. “God is the only one you can call in the District.”
All Rise. The judge takes a seat. Cases start getting called. Defendants are supposed to say their name into the microphone. But either they are too ashamed or the microphone sucks—you can’t hear them at all. All you hear is their number or their charge. Defendants appear sleepy, in shackles.
1:07 p.m. Simple assault. No papered.
No. 67: Carrying a dangerous weapon. No papered.
No. 75: Simple assault. No papered.
No. 79: Simple assault. No papered.
No. 8: Poss. of cocaine Gets a court date in mid-November
Update 1:15 p.m.
No. 52: Unlawful entry. Prosecutor recommends defendant be placed in the “GPS Program.” Judge asks: “What’s that?” Defendant lives in North Carolina. He agrees to stay away from D.C. until his next court date. Amazing. The guy gets a stay-away order for the entire city.
There are too many cases that are no papered to mention. Some things do stick out. There are more than 10 lawyers in this room. Their work is easy and tedious. They are here to get a court date, meet their new client and then sit back down in the front row. They chat with each other. Two sit in the juror box and are told to leave the juror box by the judge. One lawyer walks around with his belt undone. It droops from his waist. They feel comfortable here. Everybody else does not.
No. 58: Unlawful Entry. The man is ordered to stay away from the Greyhound Station. The woman next to me later asks: Who’s going to make sure the man doesn’t go to the bus station?
Update 1:54 p.m. The judge sips from a big Starbucks cup. The white noise is flicked on. I turn to the woman sitting next to me. Her eyes are a little red. She’s a mom from Northern Virginia. Her name is Linda. Her son, who is in his early 20s, got charged yesterday with assault. She says the charges will be dropped. She’s here to see him. He doesn’t know she is here.
Linda describes a pretty bad night. She called friends and door knocked at a pretty scary, she says, address in the District. She was just trying to find her son.
This is Linda’s first time in C10. I ask her what she thinks. She says there are way too many no papered cases and way too many lawyers, marshals, and court employees for this operation. There’s a lot of taxes going to this room and for what? To dismiss a drug case. The only major drug case I saw in this first hour that was papered was a poss. of weed case.
(there may have been others but that one sticks out). All these people get arrested, Linda says, and “We just don’t mean it.”
Linda wonders if her son will get it, if this will make him change. The consequences, the real consequences are going to be up to her. “My son…he’ll probably make it to work on time. Unless I out him socially, it’s a big secret.”
I ask Linda if her son has ever been charged with a crime before. She says she doesn’t know. I tell her she can run his name on the fourth floor.