By K. Hecht, A. Hosack, & P. Berman
Court resumed. Claire was seated back between the Carson’s. The other witnesses were heard. The waitress looked scared whenever she glanced towards Larry. He thought she must be crazy. He was the one facing jail time, not her. Larry didn’t think of himself as violent, and he couldn’t imagine why the waitress would be afraid of him just because she saw him punch Claire. Larry didn’t know it but it had taken support from the whole dinner staff to get her to testify. Everyone promised to take turns escorting her to her car after work, her boss had told her Larry would no longer be allowed in the diner. Her boss had driven her to court and was waiting to drive her back home. The other witnesses, who had seen Larry assault Claire, were less afraid than the waitress. They were a middle-aged couple who didn’t think Larry would be so fast to hit them as he had been to hit a young woman like Claire.
Larry would have been shocked and angered if he had known the witnesses thought he was dangerous. He had never hit anyone who hadn’t been begging for it. He was the victim here but none of these freaks from the restaurant recognized that! It should have been clear to them that everything was going great at the diner- he was spending his hard- earned money- and then Claire caused problems. The jury were acting just as stupidly as the witnesses. They all seemed to be on Claire’s side now.
The prosecutor had put on his case. Now It was now the time for Mr. Branister to present Larry’s side of events. Larry had been carefully coached to only answer with “yes” and “no” when he was on the stand testifying. When Branister started asking him questions, he highlighted how Larry had been honest about admitting to the police that he had punched Claire. He had also asked questions about Larry’s work experience. The jury had heard that Larry had worked part-time during high school and full time since graduation and had only lost his job due to the present court action. He also brought to the court’s attention that Larry had no parking violations, speeding tickets or adult criminal record of any kind prior to the events at issue.
Branister had worked hard to prepare Larry for court the day before and he had heard a few details of Larry’s past–in a moment of terror about perhaps going to prison, some of it had just spilled out. Branister had wanted to raise his history of child abuse as a mitigating factor for the jury and judge to consider at sentences. However, Larry insisted his history remain privileged information. Larry was not going to have anyone consider him the kind of weakling that had been victimized as a child. Larry couldn’t imagine the jury would view him more favorably if they understand his history of abuse; they would just think less of him as a man.
Like many poor defendants, Larry was convicted and got a heavier sentence than other men who could afford private attorneys and were more knowledgeable about the judicial system. Larry’s case is an example of how the “justice system” was really functioning as a “legal system.” How might things have gone differently for a wealthier Larry? If he had been able to afford a private attorney, he would have been out of jail on bail as he waited for his court hearing. He would have avoided the stresses and violence of the jail setting and would not have been in fights with other inmates that would end up as further evidence against him. Larry would have appeared before the judge as a first-time offender with a clean adult criminal record. There were a lot of other “what-ifs” such as his ability to wear professional clothes in court and to understand how the court system work that would have benefited Larry. However, none of these “what-ifs” happened.
However, this isn’t what happened. Larry had to stand up next to his attorney as he heard that the jury had found him guilty.
There is a movement to transform our legal system from its focus on retribution to a focus on restorative justice. If Larry had participated in a restorative justice process, he would have been first given resources, such as treatment for his history of victimization and social skill building. He would then have been expected to take actions to repair the harm he had caused Claire. Currently, there are eleven states in the USA that try to use principles of restorative justice within their court systems. The following three-minute video gives more information about how this might work.