Fieldwork for Sociology

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James Marshall

A Glimpse Into Our Judicial System: Observations of Municipal and Superior Courts

The Suffolk Superior Courthouse and Edward W. Brooke Courthouse provided two distinct views into the judicial system. At the Suffolk Superior Court the defendant, Donald Williams, was on trial on charges of assault with intent to murder and aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, both felonies. Contrastingly, I viewed a number of arraignments at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse where, among the charges, were larceny and assault and battery on an officer, both felonies. The Suffolk Superior Courthouse, being a superior criminal court, dealt with more serious crimes than that of the Edward W. Brooke courthouse, a municipal court. In addition to the differing severity of the alleged crimes, there were also a number of glaring disparities between the two courthouses; namely buildings themselves, the conduct of the personnel, and procedures taken. The Suffolk Superior Courthouse is an older courthouse, built in 1893, and it’s aged showed, especially when compared to the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse. The exterior of the Suffolk Superior Courthouse was plain, red brick that looked weathered and worn. Likewise, the interior showed equal wear, with the benches inside the courtroom being scratched, chipped, and generally beat up from use. The courtroom itself was relatively long and narrow, with the audience far away from the judge. The room was adorned with wood paneling that, again, appeared old and worn. The Edward W. Brooke Courthouse appeared drastically different. Built in 2000, the exterior was a large, white-gray, stone building with an enormously tall slab of stone hanging over the entrance. Inside the courthouse appeared much different than Suffolk Superior Courthouse as well. The colors were much brighter, the furniture much newer, and generally seemed better maintained, understandably so as it is 107 years newer. The courtroom itself was opposite of the other one, instead it was short and wide. Here, the audience was much closer to the judge.

The personnel involved and their conduct also differed greatly between the two courthouses. The judge at the Suffolk Superior Courthouse was an early 50s white male, presumably of middle class or higher. (I will assume all lawyers and judges to be at least middle-class and educated as they have to have attended undergraduate and law schools). He seemed genuinely disinterested in the case, as he was slumped in his chair. Additionally, he sat with his head resting on his hand and slouched forward. It was difficult to hear the majority of what he said because he was mumbling, so much that the prosecutor asked him to repeat his words a number of times. The judge at the Brooke Courthouse provided a much different view of a judge. She was black and in her mid-50s. She appeared much stricter, repeatedly correcting people for talking, cellphones, and approaching the gate. Insomuch she appeared callous and rude. While it is necessary to maintain professionalism, her inflection in voice and phrasing appeared condescending and unprofessional. The two judges proved to be two extremes, one seemingly inattentive and the other overly strict.

The prosecutor at Suffolk Superior Courthouse was an Assistant District Attorney (ADA). A white female in her mid-to-late 30s, she was dressed in a gray business suit and had her hair styled conservatively. She spoke in a soft, deliberate tone for the period I was able to observe. She carried herself professionally and seemed confident in her abilities, likely from experiences. The prosecution at the Brooke Courthouse consisted of four personnel, 3 females and one male. All were white and appeared to be in their late 20s to early 30s, and were dressed in business suits. The male appeared to be the one in charge, as he was standing next to the microphone and addressing the judge through the...
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