Hurry Up and Wait – It’s Not Just for Interns

Thursday was an interesting day. It was supposed to be the day for the preliminary hearing (see “Guilty” for an explanation of what that means) for a high profile sex abuse case. The hearing was scheduled for 9:00 am. Shortly after 9:00, we found out that the defendant wasn’t at the courthouse. He decided to refuse transport. (When defendants are in custody, we have to ask the detention center/jail/prison to transport them to the courthouse. Usually that goes off without a hitch. Sometimes there’s a miscommunication, and sometimes the defendant just says “No, I refuse.”) Defendants are allowed to refuse transport. Because there are some things that defendants must be physically present for, there has to be a way to compel their attendance after they’ve refused. (There are lots of rules about when defendants and/or their attorneys do or do not need to be present at court. They’re complicated, and I’m not going to get sidetracked this time.)

The answer to a defendant refusing transport is a court order. The order basically states “This person will be transported by any means necessary.” That essentially authorizes the use of force to get the defendant into court if necessary. In the case on Thursday, the attorneys asked the judge for an order that same day, and the order was granted. At this point, it was about noon, so I left to go eat lunch, and a couple of other hearings that had been severely delayed were put on instead. At about 1:00, another intern let us all know that the defendant would be present. Shortly after that, we discovered that the defendant would be stipulating to the most serious charges – basically, waiving his right to a prelim, and instead those charges would go straight to the higher-level court that handles felonies. (This bit wasn’t explained in “Guilty.” Basically, the court that handles prelims only has jurisdiction over misdemeanor charges. It can handle the prelim on felonies, but once it finds probable cause, the case has to go to a higher court (the case “gets bound over” to district court). That’s not particularly important here).

A little bit later, probably around 1:30 or 2:00, we found out that the defendant decided to waive the prelim in its entirety. He kept two prosecutors, his own attorney, the judge, the news media, at least five interns, and a bunch (it looked like maybe 6 or so) of witnesses, along with any other spectators waiting for about 5 hours. Not only that, but he managed to make a sex abuse prelim an hour or so delayed, and I don’t know what happened to the misdemeanor trial that was scheduled for Thursday morning. I can only imagine it happened that afternoon.

The comforting part of all this is that at least my experiences with prelims and sentencing (get all the preparation done, and then find out nothing is happening) is excellent preparation for what my life will actually be like. Even the real attorneys prepare and get everything in order only to have last minute changes meaning that everything gets put on hold.

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