I wrote once before about Maricopa County’s policy regarding the benches in the gallery of each courtroom. They put prosecutors and victims on one side and defendants and their families on the other. They enforce the rules with an iron fist. This morning, I got to see a defendant challenge the system.
It must’ve been a heavy docket, as the defendants’ side was absolutely packed. There were so many people waiting for court that the benches outside of the courtroom door were full too. You couldn’t squeeze another person on the defense side. There wasn’t a single person sitting on the other side.
One defendant walked in and proudly took a seat on the empty side. He was one of those guys I can only assume was there for a meth charge. He had the trademark meth haircut. He wore a dirty, wrinkled T-Shirt, and he weighed maybe 100 pounds soaking wet. He was one of those guys who could be 20 years old, or he could be 60 years old. He looked like he’d just finished working on a car.
“Are you a victim, sir?” The MCSO deputy in the courtroom instantly recognized the man conspicuously seated on his own private bench with arms outstretched was likely neither a county attorney nor a victim. “Huh?” The deputy repeated herself. Getting the question the second time around, the guy defiantly explained he was there for court and no other seats were available. The deputy told him he had to move because he was not a victim or a prosecutor.
“I am a victim,” he proclaimed. I saw him get a few nods from the defendants’ side. Had the judge polled the courtroom, I suspect many on the defendants’ side would call themselves victims as well. The deputy asked him if he was there for his own hearing or if he was there as a victim in someone else’s case. The defendant explained, “I am here for my case, but I’m a victim. I’m a victim of the system.” More nods from the packed gallery.
The commissioner overheard the colloquy from the bench and offered his thoughts as the deputy took the poor guy out of the courtroom: “we’re all victims of the system, sir.”
I’m inclined to agree with the commissioner.