I apologize for my unplanned hiatus. I really did let many things slip the past couple of weeks, as summer has been quite hectic for me. One of the highlights of my summer vacation has been my internship at my county circuit court. Now, I’d always planned to be a lawyer. I wanted to deal with international trade and commerce, to travel the world in business class and leave economy far behind me. I wanted to learn about different cultures through their economy and utilize the fair and just law that my father and his father had always spoke so highly of. Recently I decided that I wanted to take this farther and become a judge. The prestige of the position was just so overwhelming for me. I’d seen many trials before during my frequent visits to the court and I’d often find myself observing the judge more closely than the attorneys themselves.
These judges use the law and they literally hold the fate of a person’s life in their hands. They show poise and grace, eloquence and intelligence. It’s really amazing to just see them take in information and ask unprecedented questions. I’ve always wanted to be that smart. Who wouldn’t want to achieve that level, let’s be honest.
But today, the golden image of judges shattered. You see, every day during my internship I am allotted an hour to attend trials that are occurring in the court. I simply sit down in the corner with a notepad and I take notes, purely for a learning experience. I was told that I would be observing a family case. These usually consist of custody battles or nasty divorces.
But today’s case was much different from what I expected.
Two years ago, two young boys were driving at the ungodly hour of 3am. They were both 19, too young to be considered actual adults but too old to be treated as children. The driver, “Samuel”, was drunk. Already, I’m sure many of us know how this is going to end. Samuel and his friend “Ted” were speeding down the wrong side of the road and soon they crashed. Ted was declared dead at the scene, and Samuel was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. This story has been heard many times before. There are always consequences and no one walks away unscathed.
This judge, from what I’d heard from the other attorneys who were aggressively whispering to one another, was considered one of the nice ones. Samuel was sentenced to 6 years of prison with indefinite probation. However, all of his prison time was suspended except for 18 months, meaning that he had to serve 18 months in prison and then proceed to probation. if he broke his probation, he’d have to go back to prison and serve his full sentence. The maximum sentence for a involuntary manslaughter due to negligence is 10 years. So to many, Samuel got off easy.
What I didn’t realize, though, was that I was sitting next to Samuel’s parents. His father was sitting stiffly with his arm around his wife. His eyes remained squinted throughout the duration of the sentencing and his mouth was a straight line. Not once did I ever see him look devastated. He remained stoic. His wife, however, was completely different. She was sobbing into a soaked tissue and she was shaking violently. How does it feel to see your 21 year old son go to prison? At the end of the sentencing, Samuel was turned around and the sheriff handcuffed him. Before he walked out of the room, he looked back at his parents. His father simply nodded, and then Samuel turned around to leave.
I know that Samuel made a mistake. I know that no matter what the court does to punish him, Ted will not come back. Ted’s family will never be able to have him sit at the dinner table and he will miss every holiday that he would’ve otherwise spent with them. I know that Samuel should’ve been punished, and it wasn’t a mistake that he was sent to prison.
But at this age, at this moment in my life, I do not think I would’ve been strong enough to send a young man off to prison away from his family. I think I would’ve been too soft-hearted and I would’ve wanted to appease both sides. I realize now that the law does not work that way. It is always fair and just, even if it may not emotionally feel that way. I wonder now if I am strong enough to be a judge. I wonder if my moral compass is close enough to north and if I will ever be comfortable having that much power, enough power to send a man to jail and take him away from his family.
These are questions that I know I will have to answer soon enough, just not now. There are things I will never be able to understand and things I will never be capable of. I find comfort in law because I know that this system is meant to help the good people and punish the bad.
Often, it just doesn’t seem that way.