Did you ever get nostalgic for the ‘20s or ‘30s. I was thinking back how things were done back then. Do you remember carbon paper? If you wanted to copy a letter you’d put this flimsy piece of inked paper between two pieces of bond paper and type. Typing was done on a manual typewriter and at the end of a line you’d manually move the carriage back. Make a mistake and you’d have to start all over again. Remember mimeograph machines and pens with ink? 3” x 5” index cards in wooden or metal cabinets hopefully filed in order. If you wanted to look something up you’d have to go to where it was stored.
You probably think those are part of the distant past. In one sense you would be right because they are rarely used nowadays. In another sense you would be wrong because even though they disappeared the system that existed when they flourished still exists.
If you ever feel like seeing what it was like during those days you only have to go to one of our state courts and go into a criminal session. Much of what goes on in the courthouses is no different than the way things were done back then even though the carbon paper, mimeograph, index files and ink are gone.
One thing that always bothered me about the criminal justice system is the inability or lack of interest by anyone to do something about the most basic things that could improve it. I think rather than saying bothered I should say astonished. Nothing has happened in at least the last seventy or more years to improve the basic operation of that system.
Why is this? I suppose the reason for it is most of us are not caught up in it so we don’t really care about it. Out of sight, out of mind as we’ve heard.
Another is the lack of interest by the district attorneys. I don’t recall them ever doing anything to bring about substantial changes in the way things are done. I read that they want more crimes (like the new crimes Annie Dookhan is charged with),the punishment for some crime or another made more severe (like the new mandatory minimums) or they want to make it easier for them to do wiretaps. They never seem to address themselves to fundamental things that should be changed in our system.
I’d mention the judges but they really have no interest in influencing the way things are done. Most of them want to put in their seven or so hours a day and escape from the confines of the court. (At one time when the work was over they could go home but now they have to hang around the courthouse until four pm. because the media might be watching them.) Judges enjoy the title and the little prestige the position has among the law profession. Some recognize the importance of their position and give consideration to how it impacts the lives of the people before them. But mostly they handle the cases which appear assembly line-like fashion and complain that they should be paid more; but beyond that they really have little interest in the way the system operates.
The defense lawyers too aren’t too involved in considering making any changes. They have their handful of clients. They adjust to whatever new forms they have to fill out or time standards they have to meet knowing that nothing has really changed since they began practicing. They are happy to go along with what exists, actually, more than happy.
You could take a judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer of today and put them back into a courtroom of the ’30s and they would not know the difference. Everything would appear about the same and they’d fit in quite easily. I’m sure few would suggest otherwise.
I’m not sure there is any other field that exists today that you could say that about. Yet no one seems bothered that this aspect of our society which has the potential to affect all of us is stuck back in the old days when the milk man delivered his product with horse and buggy.
I’ll be more specific about things tomorrow.