Monday, February 23, 2015

Non-existent after-hours courthouse security

My current work-in-progress [manuscript I hope is published one day, see query blurb linked on the left side] is almost finished, and includes modifications of several of the "real life" scenes I've written on this blog.  Here's another one:


My favorite class in law school was Trial Practice, taught at the courthouse by three judges on Tuesday nights. They invited prominent attorneys from each area of practice to talk about what they liked and didn't like about what they did for a living, and then we conducted a mock trial in that area of practice. The judges divided the class into teams. They gave two teams a factual scenario, called a fact pattern, and we had a week to organize our assigned side of the case. Members of the other teams would be our witnesses.

I specifically remember our criminal law assignment. We heard from a criminal defense attorney one week, and the following week we conducted a mock trial. I was assigned to the defense team, and the fact pattern was a gas station robbery. For the first hour, the prosecution team presented its case. I'd been chosen to cross-examine the gas station attendant, a fellow student who sat in the witness box and referred often to the fact pattern so he gave "accurate" testimony.

Me:  “Mr. Attendant, you testified earlier that Defendant here pointed a gun at you.”

Witness:  “Yes.”

Me:  “You said it was a pistol, is that correct?”

Witness, checking the papers in front of him:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Would you recognize the pistol again if you saw it?”

Witness, flipping through the papers and not finding anything to help him, then apparently deciding he could wing it:  “Sure.”

Me:  “I'm going to show you what has been marked as Exhibit One.”

I reached down into my backpack and removed the gun I'd smuggled into the courthouse.

Student from prosecution team:  “Hey, that's not fair!”

Judge:  “Counsel!”

Me:  “Yes, Your Honor?”

Judge, pointing at gun:  “What is that?”

Me, glancing down at the fact pattern:  “It's a 22 caliber pistol.”

Judge:  “No, counsel, WHAT is that?”

Me, a bit sheepishly:  “It's a pellet gun I borrowed from my friend Bill.”

Judge:  “How did you get it past weapon screening?”

Me:  “There was no one at security when I got here.”

Judge:  “Is it loaded?”

Me:  “No.”

Judge:  “Do you know PERSONALLY, by your own PERSONAL observation, that it is NOT loaded?”

Me:  “No, Your Honor. Bill said he didn't want me to shoot myself, so he said he checked it and made sure it wasn't loaded.”

At that point the judges decided to teach all of us how to handle a gun during a trial. It was a fascinating discussion and demonstration. They showed us how to check in the gun with court staff (be sure PERSONALLY that it wasn't loaded), how to inspect it to determine if it was loaded (be doubly sure PERSONALLY that it wasn't loaded), how to unload it (outside the courtroom, without discharging it, no oops allowed), how to hold the gun during trial (always unloaded, always pointed up), where to point the barrel while holding it during trial (never-with-a-capital-N pointed at anyone, including opposing counsel, always pointed up), and especially what NOT to do during trial (just about anything else).

Much to my relief, the gun was in fact NOT loaded.

And the following Tuesday evening, two Sheriff Deputies staffed the weapon screening station when I arrived at the courthouse for class.