I was wearing a suit and tie and sitting in what was apparently a courtroom. A man (probably in his early 20s) was brought in and seated in a seat next to me to my left. I was informed he was the defendant in a murder trial. I realized I was a lawyer in the case and I was going to have to question him. It was my first contact with the man or the case. I had no idea of any of the facts of the case and I had in no way prepared for it. However, I didn't feel nervous and I thought it perfectly natural for the trial to be beginning without my having readied myself in any way for it.
I was told the defendant's name was Steve. I introduced myself to him and told him I was the prosecutor and I was going to ask him some questions. He seemed rather helpless and I tried to sound friendly and gain his confidence, all the while knowing that my intent was to prove him guilty of murder.
He was thin and had light-colored hair. He seemed bewildered by what was taking place.
After I had asked about five preliminary questions to find out a little about his background, a young man stood up in the room and said something. As I looked toward the man, I realized the seats in the room were arranged in rows from front to back such as might be found in a classroom. I was sitting in a seat about halfway back in one of the rows and Steve was no longer sitting next to me; instead he was sitting in a seat in front of the classroom facing everyone.
The man who had spoken and interrupted my questioning was seated in a row to my right toward the back. I gradually realized he was the opposing lawyer and that he was objecting to the questions I was asking. He said something about getting to the actual incident in question and he seemed to think my questions were irrelevant. He seemed to want to rush through the case as quickly as possible as if he were in a hurry.
A woman judge was sitting at a bench in front of the room not far from the defendant. She said something to the other lawyer. It sounded as if she were overruling his objection, but I couldn't hear her and I said, "I did not hear the judge's response."
She repeated what she had said to the other lawyer and she said something about the defense lawyer. The judge (probably in her mid 30s) was thin, had brown crinkly hair and was wearing a black robe. I had the feeling she was a fair judge; I noticed she was writing down the responses to my questions and I thought she was concerned about learning the facts of the case as thoroughly as possible.
It was gradually becoming clear to me that I wasn't entirely sure whether I was actually the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney and I was beginning to think I might be the defense attorney. I felt slightly embarrassed because I realized it was important to know which I was, but I thought the questions I had been asking were questions which either side might ask, so it wasn't extremely important that I know at the moment which side I represented. I would, however, need to decide as quickly as possible.
I continued with my questioning, "What year of education did you complete?"
The defendant said he had gone to school to the seventh grade. I probed further and he asserted that he had dropped out of the seventh grade and had actually completed the sixth grade. I asked, "So you completed the sixth grade?"
He replied that that was correct. I asked, "How old were you when you quit school?"
We established that he had been quite young when he had quit school. I asked a few questions about what he had done after leaving school, then jumped to another subject and asked, "Steve, have you ever been arrested before?"
I realized I was getting into risky area since I didn't know whether I was the prosecution or the defense, and especially since I was increasingly beginning to believe I was the defense attorney, but I decided that regardless of which side I represented, the facts would still need to come out and so I might as well go into them.
Steve didn't directly answer my question and he seemed to be trying to avoid it. So I asked in a different way, "When was the first time you were arrested?"
Finally he admitted he had been arrested once before and we went into the details. Apparently the arrest had been several years ago and had involved his failure to pay $29 for some food, part of which included some jelly-filled doughnuts. It was unclear whether he had had to spend any time in jail. He told me the arrest had taken place in Tennessee. That seemed important to me because I realized we were in Quebec, Canada.
I continued with my questioning, "Now, Steve, this is very important. Were you ever arrested again?"
Again he didn't seem to directly answer the question, but it appeared he had never been arrested again. Certainly it seemed he had never been arrested in Quebec. It seemed very important to me, especially since I had finally concluded I was actually the defense attorney. I thought in final argument I was going to be able to point to the fact that Steve wasn't a hardened criminal and that the only time he had ever been arrested was for not having paid for some food.
The judge seemed to want to make sure of the point and she herself asked, "Did you ever get any tickets?"
She was obviously referring to traffic tickets. Steve answered that he hadn't received any tickets.
At one point a policeman sitting in the row to my right began talking. I immediately jumped to my feet, objected, turned to the policeman and told him to "shut up." I at once realized what I had said was both uncouth and improper in the courtroom procedure since I was supposed to only address the judge with my objections. The judge ordered the policeman to be quiet and we proceeded.
I was becoming more and more curious to know exactly whom Steve was accused of killing, but I thought it was best to let the facts unfold slowly. I wanted next to find out how long Steve had been in Quebec. I questioned him about it and he told me he had been in Quebec for five years. I asked where he lived and he said, "We live in the National Group."
I was unsure what the "National Group" was, but I thought it might be some kind of housing project or perhaps a trailer park. I was also beginning to have the feeling he had been living with a woman and I thought she might have been the one killed. I was becoming increasingly sympathetic for Steve: he just didn't seem like the type of person who would kill someone. I wondered if the woman with whom he had been living had been the one killed. I didn't know, but I did feel as if I needed to start having a better focus if I were going to successfully defend him.
Suddenly a woman in a row to my left began asking some questions. I jumped up, objected and the judge made her be quiet. Steve, however, had become increasingly nervous. Somehow he had gotten hold of what appeared to be a metal bread pan and he began pounding it on something in front of him making a deafening racket. I walked up to him, put my hand on his arm and said reassuringly, "Just calm down."
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