So far, this internship has involved a lot of court observation. Every morning I have my morning commute from Jackson to Ann Arbor and I start the day with a couple of hours in court. I’ve come to loathe the hard wood court benches and I still have not mastered quickly getting up when the referee/judge enters/exits (due to heels/pencil skirts/my general lack of coordination) but I have seen things and learned things that have helped me to shape my own opinions of the criminal justice system. Namely, I’ve noticed that it’s incredibly easy to judge someone for their actions when you aren’t made aware of the whole picture. I won’t divulge any specific information/stories in order to respect our clients’ privacy but I will say that in the majority of the cases I have witnessed, any alleged crime perpetrated has been linked to some sort of environmental factor. Sometimes the parents are neglecting their children, which allows them to wander around a dangerous community, increasing the risk of their involvement in criminal activity. Sometimes the children have mental conditions. Sometimes they put their trust in the wrong people. This is not to say that a crime committed by a juvenile is always a result of environmental factors or that the crime is not the juvenile’s fault- I am only saying that the blame normally cannot be placed entirely on the perpetrator, the child.
In short, I’ve learned to challenge first impressions- one could easily be repulsed by a crime committed by a juvenile. While this is a completely natural reaction, I’ve learned that it is important to dig deeper and to try to understand the potential catalysts of the criminal action. In addition, I have grown to respect certain aspects of our criminal justice system, such as probation or the ability to get a charge dismissed, because they are in a way a testament to my observation- you can’t simply label a person “good” or “bad” based on their action. You must give them the opportunity to prove you (or, rather, your initial gut reaction, your initial revulsion) wrong, to show that they able to change for the good. Our legal system is certainly not without its issues; however, I have come to respect the fact that here in the United States, everyone has the right to a trial, attorney, etc. It is important to look past stigmas and always attempt to better understand an individual’s situation.