1st June 1998

Column 16

It has been a while since I have written anything. Sorry about that. I figured I would talk about the justice system, in this one. I have brushed on the topic a few times in the past and was accused of getting away from talking about Death Row. I suppose Death Row might be more interesting to read about, but you have to go through the justice system to get to Death Row, so it is only logical to talk about it. Besides, in the very beginning I said I would be talking about the legal system. You may not think the legal or criminal justice system is of interest to you, but jails and prisons are full of people who thought the same thing. Now they are sitting in a cell, scratching their head and wondering what in the hell happened. After all, this sort of thing is supposed to happen to other people, not to them. It is something that can very easily touch you, or someone that you care about, so it is good to be aware of what goes on.

I will try to be objective in what I say, but since I will be writing about things that I have seen and experienced while going through the system, it won't be easy to always be objective, so excuse me in advance for any lapses I may have. I don't intend to rant and rave about how unfair the system is and I will let you draw you own conclusions. Maybe you will learn something helpful and I sincerely hope that you will never have to deal with the legal system on a personal level.

A Death Penalty trial is different than a regular trial in many ways, but the process is basically the same. The process does vary from state to state, but there's much more similarities than there are differences. No matter what state you are in, if you are ever arrested and have to deal with the legal system, never talk to anyone about whatever it is that you are arrested for. If the police want you to talk to them, 'Just to clear things up' (as they tend to put it), don't talk to them except to say that you will only talk to them if you have an attorney there with you. The police will try to make you feel like an idiot for wanting a lawyer present 'just to clear up a few matters'. But the police are not questioning you in order to help you. They may try to intimidate you, they may try to trick you into saying things and they may even use force to try and make you say what they want to hear. Don't say anything until you have an attorney present. That is the only protection that you have and you had better use it. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to think that if they co-operate; the authorities will try to help you clear yourself. Well, you are not there being questioned, because they want to clear you. If you are innocent then it is even more in your interest to keep your mouth shut, if you are guilty, then I guess it is even more in your interest to have an attorney there to represent you.

When you are arrested, they put you in the county jail. The jail is not prison. Prison is where you will be send to if you are convicted of whatever you are arrested for. When you get to the county jail, they do the whole thing, fingerprints, mug shots and all that.

When you are put in the county jail you will usually end up staying in a dorm. This is where you will stay until you go to trial. County jails are always overcrowded and you will probably end up sleeping on the floor until you can get a bed. It is common to see fights over a bed that has just been vacated. Once you get into a jail, you will sit and wait until you go to court for your first appearance and you are formally charged with whatever it is they arrested you for. This is when the court will set your bail and tell you how much money you must pay to stay out of jail until you go to trial, if you can afford it (most people can't afford to pay bail). The court will want to know if you can pay for an Attorney and they will question you about your finances, as well as seeing if you have any property of value that they can take as payment for having a lawyer represent you. Since most defendants are what are called 'Indigent Defendants', the court will appoint a state lawyer to represent you. Then you will be assigned your next court date and will be sent back to the county jail to wait for your next court appearance.

When you are waiting in the county jail, you should do everything you can to prepare for defending yourself. Don't wait for your lawyer to come and see you, because you probably won't see them until the next time you go to court, unless you have a more serious case and a lawyer is specifically assigned to your case. (As opposed to the duty lawyers that handle the day to day cases in the courtroom). The chances are that you will have three or four different lawyers representing you before you start trial, then shortly before you are to begin your trial, a specific lawyer will be assigned to represent you during your trial.

In the county jail, one thing you must be very careful about is people that seem to be overly interested in you, or in your case. Some people are always looking for a way out and would betray their own mother to get out. (It seems that being a snitch is becoming the way of our time. People will betray anyone for whatever reason they have justified it in their mind) These people will try and get you to talk about yourself and your case. Then they will go to the prosecutor and claim that you told them all about your case and offer to testify against you in court, if the prosecutor will make a deal for them. It is usually in the more serious cases this happens though. The police and prosecutors also use their own snitches. They arrange for a snitch to be placed near you in the jail, or will go to court on the same day as you do. These snitches don't even have to talk to you, they are put near you for a short time and then are told what to say, and are provided with the necessary information to testify in court. They will get on the witness stand and testify under oath that you told them this and that about your case, when in reality you have never spoken to this person before. It hasn't happened to me, but it had been tried. I knew who they (the snitches) were and had them sign a paper saying that I never discussed my case with them. I have seen it happen to others, but I will talk about that later.

I will end it here for this time and hope to be back soon to talk with you some more. Thanks for your time and take good care.