By C. J. Oakes
Most people are familiar with the expression “All Rise” even if they have never set foot in a courtroom. Generally, the phrase and ensuing action instill respect and awe for the presiding judge, but it could be viewed in another light.
The words and action can serve as a fitting symbol of unity for all present: All rise and sit in unison and all are there for the same reason: To see that justice is done. Of course, justice does not necessarily mean the same for all present, for in the courtroom there are two opposing sides and only one side emerges victorious.
Drama in the Court/Battle Lines are Drawn
The courts are often portrayed as a drama, its member’s players in the scene. Whereas this metaphor could be accurate, a better parallel exists. Because the adversarial concept arose from the Magna Carta alongside such judicial notions as Trial-by-ordeal, Trial-by-battle, and Trial-by-compurgation (Meyer & Grant, 2003) it is no wonder the system appears dramatic. The modern courtroom, when fully ablaze can be likened more to a battlefield.
When stepping out onto the battlefield, the first component any good soldier seeks is a good leader. In the courtroom, the leader is the Judge. He is the person all look to for guidance and direction. He is the final arbiter in the dispute at question and he is the referee. Judges are selected in various ways. Some are elected, some are appointed by a politician, and others are selected through legislative processes (Meyer & Grant, 2003). Regardless of how the position is attained, when all rise in the court, consequently sitting in unison rallied around their leader, all in attendance demonstrate the common goal: Justice and their commitment to follow the judges lead in this matter.
On this battlefield are found many other soldiers of justice. One of these is the prosecuting attorney. Generally an assistant, it is his job to see that the case brought before the court is valid and reasonable. As an Assistant District Attorney, this person is generally hired by the District Attorney, who is generally elected (Meyer & Grant, 2003). He must prove to the entire court that he is not wasting time with this particular pursuit. The case before the court must be worthy of the battle-to-be-waged. He is the first of two generals to appear.
The second general is the defense attorney. His arch-rival across the room watches and listens intently as this general outlines his strategy for defeating the first. This general was enlisted by the opposing side in this conflict and (it is hoped) believes in his cause. This attorney was either hired by the defendant or appointed by the court. It is his job to persuade the court that this is a waste of time for all because the case is invalid.
Central to this battle is the defendant. Without the defendant, there would be no battle, for the waging is done in the name of this defendant. The defendants name, reputation and liberty, that are at stake. Ironically, although this is the central figure in this battle, the defendant generally does nothing. Except in unusual circumstances, the defendant will not even speak other than to his attorney.
Not to be overlooked on this battlefield is the victim of the alleged crime. In some cases, there is a living person who has been wronged. This person has sought relief from the justice system and has representatively brought charges against the defendant. However, the victim can be living or dead or even nonexistent. If nonexistent, the case is tried as a crime against the state or society; it is a so-called victimless crime (Schur, 1965). Whereas the present two conditions are acceptable in any climate, the political climate for the later remains tenuous in America (Leef, 2008).
Spectators of the Battle/Judges of the Fight
To one side of this battlefield is a strange sight: A panel of 12 persons views the battle. In a sense of the word these people participate in the battle, but in reality they appear only as spectators. These people will fight as well, but their battle comes in Act II when the two generals have concluded their parries. This is the jury and when all arguments have been finalized, the jury will retire to deliberate on the victor. It is their determination of justice that matters. Once they return with the verdict, the judge will announce it to all, demonstrating his concurrence and set plans for sentencing if the verdict went against the defendant. If the verdict is in favor of the defendant, the judge will then announce his release and thank and dismiss the jury.
Present throughout this ordeal is the court reporter. While the Constitution does not require someone be present to record the proceedings, in the modern courtroom this person is generally present, especially during high-profile trials (Meyer & Grant, 2003). This is an important position for it requires speed and accuracy. Like the archers on battlefields of the past, a good court reporter can return devastating rounds of dialog if required. This person’s job is to see to it that every word uttered in the court is recorded accurately and reread when necessary for clarification. In the hands of a good general, the court reporter record can be a deadly weapon, especially when appealing a case.
Also present on this battlefield is the Bailiff. The Bailiff is often seen but little understood for many of his duties take place off the battlefield. Indeed, one duty is to provide security and ensure order and peace prevail during the trial, but behind-the-scenes he is often called upon to assist with paperwork or escorting jurors to their cars (Meyer & Grant, 2003).
Every battlefield has support players who seldom are called upon to wage the war on the frontlines and the modern courtroom is no different. Besides these visible players can be found Court Administrators, who create reports, maintain records, and assist with other administrative duties as needed. Court Clerks assist with scheduling, especially when it comes time to assemble a jury. Jury Commissioners are employed to ensure that the jury selection transpires smoothly and according to law.
Weapons for the Fight
Back on the battlefield, some players are only included in the battle as needed. Like secret weapons, witnesses of various sorts are brought to the stand to lobby volleys at the opposing force. These can be eye-witnesses (people who experienced the crime through their senses), expert witnesses (such as doctors, forensics examiners, or others who through their expertise have something to offer the case), or character witnesses (who can vouch for the good intentions of the defendant, similar to trial-by-compurgation). On occasion, an interpreter will be brought in to interpret when language barriers create unique problems for the court (Meyer & Grant, 2003).
Last are the spectators; all trials in the United States are public, meaning that the public is permitted to witness the proceedings. Participation is not permitted unless it holds bearing on the case and then only within certain parameters. This battle is orderly, not chaotic.
Wars are fought to establish the ultimate claim to right. Similarly, battles are waged in the modern courtroom. In every case, the goal is justice but justice does not necessarily mean that right won the day. Just as with any war, the losing side could have been the righteous claimant. Still, by battling out the matter, it can be settled. The goal of this modern battlefield is not justice, but victory: Victory in the sense that someone won, and the case is closed. Ideally, justice is served, but ultimately the field is simply cleared for another battle when all shall rise again. As long as injustice occurs, people will continue to All Rise.
- Leef, G. (2008). Reconsidering Victimless Crime. Regulation, 31(3), 54+.
- Meyer, J., & Grant, D. (2003). The Courts in Our Criminal Justice System. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentis-Hall.
- Schur, E. (1965). Crimes without victims. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentis-Hall.