Once upon a time, I used to work as a kind of a junior, sub-lawyer with the Public Prosecutions Service of Canada, speaking in courtrooms, here and there, on whatever kinds of criminal matters I so chose. Perhaps most memorably, I even got to prosecute my very own possession (i.e., of controlled substances) charge. Though a long and uncertain couple of days, in the end, the trial went perfectly fine, in the sense that we all went home with at least our health.
But what’s important is that below are two little photos I took of the actual court transcripts, which I will attempt to put into context.
Basically, the story was that two officers on patrol spotted a kid acting in a way which they alleged was suspicious, so they followed him a bit, and then eventually saw him throw away a little baggie of crack, which they recovered. The kid, in his defence, claimed that not only was the baggie not his, but that the police had unlawfully surveilled him, having had—from the moment they first started following him—no reasonable and probable grounds to believe that he had committed, or was about to commit, an indictable offence.
It was my job, then, not only to put forth the Crown’s opening arguments, present the evidence, and make a closing summation, but—most interestingly—to both examine my two officer witnesses and cross-examine the accused. And, notably, prior to the trial, I’d had no courtroom experience whatsoever. (Also, similarly notably, it’s actually in fact kind of a rare thing to cross-examine an accused. Really, it certainly doesn’t happen to most criminal lawyers until even after their first few years.)
Now, the thing is, is that underlying my realist, or possibly even cynical, exterior, is a very naïve and hopeful, if not necessarily romantic, idealist. So, this should be fairly easy, I thought, you simply ask the accused a series of simple questions, which, upon his answering them, will lead to an admission of facts that support a finding of guilt. After all, I believed, the officers already told me what they saw, and they say saw him throw away the little package with the crack in it.
It didn’t turn out, of course, to be so simple. In particular, when I asked the accused whether he had had drugs on him that day, he said no. And I…well…I simply wasn’t prepared for that answer. As strange as it may be to say, the idea that someone could lie in court was to me kind of incomprehensible. (And that’s not to say that the accused, and not the officers, was the one lying, but certainly at least somebody must have been, and I’d already heard the officers’ side of the story.)
I suppose that I just kind of feel like it’s one thing to lie and to cheat to and steal in society, or just in general,, but then to dissemble in court? I don’t know…it’s kind of just, like, at that point, you’re really beyond the pale, for if we’ve not even the justice system, then we might as well just throw it the fuck all away: toasters, all kinds of polish, science, literature, not shitting on ourselves, everything—everything civilization has given us.
Part of me was even genuinely confused. If the officers told the truth, and the accused told the truth, then what the hell happened? I don’t know…to spend your time around people who lie to you doesn’t seem like a nice way of going about things.
I slept at work for that trial. I slept at work, and then I showered at work, and then when everyone else arrived in the morning, I felt so incredibly sick, I can’t even tell you. Have you ever seen After Hours, by Scorsese, where in the end—after a terrible, unending series of empty, meaningless ordeals—the man ends up just back where he started, as if nothing he’d gone through had been worth anything? Well, it was kind of almost my first cinematic experience. At least, I do feel as if it’s my earliest movie memory.
Anyway. Here we are.