This Week in the Courts: Troubled YouthJuly 15th, 2013 | Posted by in Uncategorized
In the practice of law, I see criminal defendants pass through various courts on a daily basis. For the vast majority of those appearances, defendants are efficiently brought before the Courts, and returned again to their holding cells. So efficient, in fact, are those appearances, that we often forget that these defendants may well be in the midst of personal crises.
Earlier this week, having just concluded an appearance before the Judge in the City of Poughkeepsie Court, I observed a young man of perhaps 18 years being brought forward. The defendant seemed calm enough, and the business before the bench was brief. As he was being led back out of the courtroom, however, he suddenly erupted in a fit of frustration, shouting out to someone in the gallery “Why are you doing this to me?” Security personnel quickly subdued him and wrestled him into a secure holding area out of sight of onlookers. But as I stood nearby to where he was being held, I could hear the defendant sobbing uncontrollably.
That sound, and the spectacle of this young man’s emotional outburst, brought home for me a realization of the profound sadness many defendant’s endure. I am not suggesting here that sadness should form the basis of an excuse, or that our system of criminal justice is somehow to blame for the plight of this young man. On the contrary, it has been my experience that the vast majority of criminal defendants have come to be where they are as the result of poor choices on their parts. But to see a young man, any young man, so emotionally distraught and in such obvious personal crisis is a very sad thing indeed. I do not know how that particular young man came to be where he is, or what harm he may have caused to others, but I do know that we can never forget the humanity the underlies our justice system. The criminal justice system deals with human vulnerability as much as human evil, and I cannot help but feel sorry for the vulnerable among us.
Upon leaving the courtroom that morning, I called my son just to say hello, and to remind him that I love him.
– Ron McGaw (July 15, 2013)