Spent part of an otherwise lovely afternoon today watching arraignments over at Placer County Superior Court’s Department 13, located in the less than lovely Auburn Jail in Auburn, California. I was there to see if I could get an update on this kid, but as is typical in these types of criminal matters, all I ended up scrawling in my notebook was a new court date that’s more than a month away.
Getting that new court date took about three minutes–a tenth of the time I’d just spent watching more than a dozen of Placer County’s most recently accused listen to the charges against them and answer Judge J. Richard Couzens’ questions about whether they wanted him to appoint a Public Defender to handle their cases. The men were all clad in the same orange jumpsuits; the two women wearing dark red.
A few asked polite questions, but most were quiet as the judge mentioned drug abuse, assault, petty theft and drunken and disorderly conduct charges. One man said “thank you” a lot, even after the judge said he’d be alerting Contra Costa County as to his whereabouts, since that county’s justice system already had a warrant for him on another matter entirely. One woman, her shoulder-length hair now mostly gray, sat there silently with her eyes closed as Judge Couzens repeatedly asked her questions. Eventually he put her down as “non responsive” and postponed her arraignment.
It was while watching all this that a wave of depression washed over me. The few days beard growth, unkempt hair, fatigued faces and orange jumpsuits were all powerful images. Every last person getting arraigned looked guilty–guilty as all hell, even though I knew and respected the fact that they were all presumed innocent. Then I found myself imagining what it would be like to sit there with them, royally fucked, adding their names to a long list of clients already represented by the desperately overworked Public Defender’s office.
Once I was done, I hurried outside into the bright afternoon sunshine. For a moment I had the urge to run around and call every friend I had, just because I could. But then I remembered that I had no story update, so I’d now have to find something else to write about, and that feeling of giddy freedom evaporated again.