Oftentimes, clients come in who have been charged with a crime and have as many questions about “how court works” as they do about what they have been charged with. This is fine. It’s normal. Many, many people have no frame of reference other than what they see on TV.
Think about some of the most popular movies and television shows. A lot of them are about arrests, court, a law firm, a DA’s office, or some other component of the criminal justice system. Most of the time, within an hour (counting the commercials), there is time for a crime to be committed; an investigation to take place; the jury gets picked; and, the trial begins and ends. This is not reality. Most of the people you see on the screen are entertainers, not attorneys.
You are going to be hard pressed to find a crime lab full of neon and black lights, wall-to-wall TV’s, and worldwide databases where investigators can examine a piece of clothing or a wrapper and not only identify, but locate the suspect.
Court takes time. There are rules attorneys and judges must follow. Discovery (information each side has about the case) needs to be exchanged and discussed. Witnesses may need to be interviewed. Court dockets are full. If you ask for a trial today, there are some jurisdictions where you may not get your trial for six or eight months or even longer. TV courtrooms are full of theatrics. In the real world, much of the theatrics, bickering and yelling would not be tolerated.
Several years ago, I tried a jury trial in Nashville in front of the Honorable Joe Binkley. He very fine judge who I still enjoy appearing in front of. Right before the trial started, Judge Binkley was talking to the jury about what to expect over the course of the next few days. He reminded them to not expect anything like what they have seen on TV. He told them, “what you see on TV is entertainment; this is business.” As a trial attorney, I could not agree more. Court procedure is a process and it takes patience. While the process can be frustrating, it is important to remember this criminal case is your life and not a TV drama.
Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Parkerson Santel PLLC. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.
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