Friday, May 21, 2010
Here Come The Judge
After being caged for simple assault and having to wait an extra day for arraignment because of the Martin Luther King holiday, I was finally taken to the Manchester district court Tuesday morning. Before I explain the craziness I experienced there let me touch on my refusal to process and not providing my name.
I was being held as John Doe. The reasoning behind this was strictly for legal reasons to pursue a theory I have. Most people who are arrested for a victimless offense, especially drug possession charges, have a difficult time in life after getting an arrest record.
I feel that if more people were to go through the entire court process as John or Jane Doe they would be less likely to have a conviction hinder their chances at obtaining a job or student loan. Once they're in the system these things become a lot more difficult.
Why should somebody that hasn't hurt another person or property not get a job or into college because they chose to demonstrate that they own their body? Many working people and students currently use drugs on a recreational basis and the world keeps turning. Is it really necessary to prevent somebody from going to college or getting a job because they use drugs?
In order to make a legal challenge to pursue this I had to refuse to identify myself by name, date of birth and social slave number and risk a contempt of court charge for not providing that information.
I was transported from Valley Street jail and taken to the basement of the Manchester district court where I waited to be taken in front of the judge. Normally when a liberty activist gets arrested other activists will show up to the court proceedings to show their support. When the court security lead me into the courtroom, it was practically empty.
Now I had not seen the video footage of the arrest and when I didn't see any of my friends in the room my immediate thought was whether the video made it look like I intentionally tried to initiate contact with the officer. I knew I didn't, but when you can't talk to anybody about what happened I found myself worrying about my reputation with other Free Staters. Fortunately my reputation was in good standing.
I found out a few days later that more than 20 people showed up to the court to support me. This worried the court security and the bureaucrats lying had begun. Everyone was told the room I was supposed to be arraigned in but, without telling anybody, I was secretly taken to a different court room one floor up. The paperwork I received said this was due to an overflow of court business, but I know that was just the court covering their ass.
When I was taken from the holding cell a court security officer mentioned to the guy transporting me that I was one of them...something, something, something. I couldn't hear the rest but I had assumed they were anticipating some kind of problem with me. Me? Problem?
We took the elevator ride upstairs and when we walked in the courtroom there were only two people sitting as spectators, the prosecutor and the judge's clerk. They wouldn't make any eye contact with me. In fact, it seemed the spectators did their best to focus looking straight forward. I suspected they were court bureaucrats asked to sit there to give the appearance of a public hearing. Trying to calm the mood I simply asked "What's going on guys?" with a big smile on my face. No answer. The prosecutor and bailiff wouldn't even look at me.
I sat down at the defendant table and the clerk asked me how I planned to plead. I said I wasn't sure, that I had just received the paperwork and noticed it didn't include the elements that needed to be proven in order to convict me and that I had a few questions before I answered.
The bailiff commanded everyone rise as the judge entered the room and I, of course, remained seated. Oh yes, they love that. Why people stand for another human being when commanded is beyond me. He's just a lawyer. I had jail guards tell me that by not standing for the judge you risk making him mad and he'll rule against you. Funny, I thought court was supposed to be about the facts of the case not how the lawyer in the robe personally feels about the defendant.
He sat at his throne looking down at everyone and asked me how I intended to plea. I told him the paperwork I have didn't explain what had to be proven to find me guilty and asked him what the elements for this offense consisted of, making sure I called him Mr. Lyons as I addressed him.
He told me he couldn't give me legal advice and I replied by telling him I wasn't looking for advice on what to do, I simply wanted to understand what was happening. He told me that he was there to hear the facts of the case and that if the prosecutor didn't know something he would refuse to explain it to him as well. He asked if I wanted the court to appoint me a lawyer.
Here's where I screwed up a little. I should have held off answering the lawyer question and boxed the judge in by getting him to reconfirm that he wouldn't help the prosecutor. Then I could have simply asked the prosecutor if there was evidence of a complaining party, which of course there isn't. I know the judge would have stepped in but I would have at least got him to contradict himself on the record. I could then move to dismiss the complaint based on the fact that the prosecutor couldn't prove he had a client, because if I showed up to represent a party that was suing someone and couldn't prove I had a client I'd go to jail. It's fun to demonstrate to them just how fair and just their system is.
I told him that I didn't think a lawyer was necessary. What I should have done was ask if I had the right to understand the proceedings and if he thought it was fair to proceed against somebody who didn't fully understand what was happening. He likely would have said that the court would appoint counsel to assist me and I could have then asked if he thought it was fair to force people into a position where they cannot defend themselves. Anyway, rookie mistakes that I learned from for next time.
When the prosecutor addressed bail he told the judge that I had failed to identify myself and that they had no idea who I could be. I explained to the judge that I did in fact provide the jail with my fingerprints and mugshot and prepared myself for the coming contempt charge. The judge got a puzzled look on his face and said he would have to think about bail over recess and then proceeded to set my trial for four months later. I was taken from the courtroom and back to jail where I would have to wait until the trial date.
A few nights later an inmate had apparently smuggled some tobacco into the medical unit where I was housed at and the guards were going to "shake down" the cells and strip search the inmates until they found the tobacco. Six guards came to my door anticipating a problem and one of them called me Mr. Tiner. I joked "Oh my God! You caught the tater! How did you figure it out?" He replied that they were correctional officers and all they did was sit around watching YouTube videos all day.
So the jail definitely knows who I am and a guard informs me that the judge said if I provided my information I would be released on personal recognizance. This was news to me as nobody provided me with any court papers that stated this. I thought it was a trick and asked to see the paperwork. When they got around to it three nights later I read for myself that I could either bail for $5k cash and go through the trial as John Doe (which would have been kind of cool) or identify myself and get out on PR. While it wasn't something that would be considered precedent to help my John Doe theory, I did have a written order signed by a judge that demonstrated it was possible to go through the proceedings as John Doe without being held in contempt. A little victory, not ideal but I made arrangements to identify myself and was out two weeks later.
The hearing to have me released went smoothly. The judge did a lot of "Yes Mr. Tiner, sir", "If you have any questions I'll answer them for you", being very polite. I found out later that my friends were calling the court continuously to inquire about my release and my roommate Jenn even told the clerk that she refused to get off the phone until she had confirmation that I was being released. Good friends here. Really good friends. I think the court was glad to get rid of me.