All Rise


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.

Austin - Texas State Capitol: Supreme Court Co...
Austin – Texas State Capitol: Supreme Court Courtroom (Photo credit: wallyg)

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.


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References

  • 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.

4 thoughts on “All Rise

  1. The concept of “innocent until peovrn guilty” is indeed an important one, but not exactly applicable in this case. The question is not whether this person is guilty or not guilty, but of what crime he is guilty, of how many crimes he is guilty, and to what degree he is guilty of those crime(s). The only way to believe that this particular defendant is innocent is to strain the imagination beyond belief, to disregard his own version of events, a version that itself conflicts with previous accounts that he gave to the police. Best case scenario (if his most recent version is accurate) is that someone else raped and murdered this young woman (or that she mysteriously died, became naked, and was suspiciously forced off the bed in some other way) and that he exploited that compromised situation of her body for his own sexual pleasure unaware that she was dead. In that best-case scenario, he trespassed into her room uninvited and treated her as an object on the most extreme fashion—ejaculating on her body entirely indifferent as to whether she was animate or not, as to whether she was alive and breathing or deathly still and utterly unresponsive. That is something to be guilty of in terms of ethics, to be extremely guilty of, whatever it is in the law in any technical sense. It is also something all too common in the world today when women are thought to be most arousing sexually when they are least alive, least themselves, and least able to give consent. The main point in Mark’s initial post is sadly all too apt: EMU officials, in misinforming the community about this crime and indeed in denying the existence of any crime at all, were acting in the interest of the defense, squeezing the abundance of evidence to fit that implausible narrow angle at every opportunity. The ME for example was never in doubt as to whether this was murder; he only needed extra time to determine in which manner the murder was committed. EMU officials and the defense lawyer have each tried to exploit that understandable delay to draw the conclusion that there was no murder at all. Yet that conclusion does not at all follow—‘tis a red herring if there ever was one. The extra time doesn’t make the reality of the murder any less uncertain, especially since it turns out that the ME has determined that she died by a combination of suffocation and strangulation rather than by one or the other. Likewise, if this trial has been reported so much as to make the trial less fair, that is not the doing of the EMU officials, who tried to hush up this murder so long as to let the prime suspect walk around while everyone else was defenseless. Much like his own defense lawyer, these officials denied the very fact of a crime being committed while at the same time sheltering the person who committed it (whoever it was) from the severe punishment that it warrants.

  2. The defendant’s case is clrealy based on denying any culpability for violence; and that claim is barely credible, in my view, but it arises in the context of the no foul play position of the EMU administration for 10 weeks after the murder was discovered. This trial would not be headline news without the fact that EMU officials denied that there’d been a crime for over two months, and thedefendant’s case would be much weaker if not for that record of denial. Given the amount of evidence against him, hisonly strategy to avoid conviction is to raise doubts. Welch Hall officials back in December gave the actual killer a hugeassist by issuing the no foul play statement, as it can be used to suggest that there is some reason to doubt that a crime occurred.Likewise, the elaborate effort after Feb. 23 of multiple EMU officials to defend the validity of their handling of the crimeand the blameless nature of those who stood by the no foul play statement now provide aid to the defendant. The defense will probably put forth evidence, taken directly from statements made by University VP Jim Vick and a DPS officer in which in which they tried to convince EMU students that there was reason to doubt that a murder had taken place. Those statements were incredible to students who heard them, but all the defense needs now is to raise doubt about guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Officials on the EMU payroll sought to defend their own positions against charges of incompetene and dishonesty by asseting that reasonable perople could doubt whether a crime had even been committed. Indeed, the first DPS officer on the scene, in her comments tostudents, implied that it was not obviously the scene of a crime. Those officials were wrong to deny that it was a crime back in the winter, they did so for narrow selfish reasons, and I hope the jury won’t be taken in by the defense’s use of them in court. The accused now of course faces the possibility of a life time in prison, and no doubt his lawyer would be pleased with a lesser senetence. His best allies in seeking that goal will be the words and actions expressed last winter by EMU officials. Shame on them.

  3. Professor Higbee, I have to respectfully dgsriaee with you. This case would most certainly still be news, especially in the local media where it is being most often covered. This is the first murder in an EMU dorm and the trial is now in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings. Campus safety is a buzzword across all media outlets right now and it has little to do with EMU. Furthermore, I seriously doubt that the miscommunication that caused the Clery Act violation will help further the Defendant’s case. In fact, I could certainly understand it to be the other way around. These scandals revolved around the determination of this being a murder, which is an ultimate issue to be determined by the trier of fact in this case. The overwhelming amount of press regarding this as a murder and referring to Mr. Taylor will have a much more prejudicial effect on a jury than statements that there was no foul play, especially considering the fact that the press regarding the violation circulated about how obviously incorrect that statement was. I’m also a little concerned with some of the sentiment addressed toward Mr. Taylor. Your assertion that his claim is barely credible worries me. Until a jury reaches a verdict, we are still operating under an assumption of innocence. While circumstances certainly seem to point to this individual, everyone has seemed to rule out the possibility that Mr. Taylor may actually be innocent. I concede that this does not look likely considering the circumstances, but I think we ought to leave that as well for the trier of fact to determine. It’s amazing how irresponsible some of the members of the media have been in handling coverage of this case. I remember this summer I was speaking with a network news correspondent and she continued to refer to Mr. Taylor as the student who did it until I corrected her. I’m certainly not defending Mr. Taylor here, but the structure of our legal system is purposeful and I believe we ought to restrain our condemnations and reserve judgment until all of the facts have been presented and the jury has made a determination.

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