Jumping to Conclusions #5

One of the main requirements of a judge is impartiality. In our country, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As I sat in various courtrooms this summer and watched criminal cases, medical malpractice cases, divorces, custody cases and more, I realized that idea is easier said then done. With almost every case I watched, I had at the outset a notion of what party should win the case. It was hard to remain impartial and I did not want to make up my mind so early in the cases without knowing all the facts, but once I had my mind set on a particular side, I saw all the evidence differently.

During my internship with a criminal Judge in Brooklyn, I was able to watch one case nearly from start to finish. The case involved charges of possession of illegal drugs, illegal firearms, and endangering the welfare of a child. It only took me a couple of hours into the case, not even a full day of trial, to have my mind set that the defendants were guilty. From that moment on, I became much more receptive to what the prosecutor was arguing and became much more critical about what the defendant’s attorneys were arguing. It was frustrating because I wanted to be able to watch the trial with an open mind, but I already felt that the dots lined up leading to the defendant’s guilt.

Over the next two weeks I continued to watch the case and remained very critical of what the defendant’s attorneys were saying. There were two other interns who I worked with at the time and while in the Judges chambers, we talked frequently about the case. It seemed from what the other interns were saying that they were leaning in the same direction I was. Unfortunately before the verdict was announced, I had to leave this Judge and go intern with a different Judge. I did go back and ask the previous Judge if she could let me know what her verdict would be when she announced it. I moved on to the next Judge and almost forgot about the trial until I received a text message from the previous Judge. She told me that she found the defendants “Not Guilty”, and I was so surprised because I was so certain that they were going to be found guilty. The Judge explained her verdict to me and said that she felt the chain of custody did not add up, which was why she found them not guilty. When she told me this I tried to look back at the case to see if now knowing the verdict, I could see the case differently. This information still only changed my perception of the case a little bit.

This experience really showed me that not everything is so simple or black and white and it is important that I not make a final judgment until I see all the evidence that is presented and them come up with an opinion after that. This is something that won’t necessarily come easy to me because I am the type of person that takes sides in every circumstance and once I take a side I almost never waiver from it. I know this is something that with time and practice I will be better able to do.

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