A morning in Justice Court was enlightening

Published 9:32 pm Saturday, February 20, 2016

If you’ve never been to Justice Court, you’re missing a fascinating and up-close view of the local justice system.

I recently was subpeonaed as a witness in an alleged assault and gathered with the masses to pack into the tiny courtroom of Judge Joe Portrey.

When I say up-close I mean it. I sat directly behind the prosecutor’s table and alongside those accused of various crimes. Some were serious, others were not.

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One man was accused of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He represented himself, questioned the officer who arrested him and testified on his own behalf. He did a pretty good job, too. His argument was simple: He claims he didn’t resist being placed in handcuffs, so why was he charged with a crime? The arresting officer testified that he was disorderly and argumentative when the officer tried to speak with him but didn’t resist being put in handcuffs.

I can understand his frustration, but the accused’s demeanor in court didn’t help his case. He was argumentative and disrespectful.

A relative of his, who allegedly had a cellphone video that could shed light on the case, was present in court. At one point the prosecutor demanded that the relative turn over his cellphone as evidence in the case. The relative refused and was placed in handcuffs.

He also was argumentative and disrespectful to the judge, but had a good point. His cellphone was personal property, and the court had no right to examine it. Without a court order, I doubt anyone can be required to turn over a cellphone and have it searched. That seems to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In the end he was taken out of handcuffs and asked to leave the courtroom without being charged with a crime.

The suspect in the resisting arrest case was also accused of threatening the life of a relative, who testified against him. The judge, after hearing this testimony, recommended that he get a real attorney since the charge was so serious.

In another case, a man was accused of hunting over corn on the ground and killing a deer illegally. The man testified that he thought a change in state law allowed him to hunt over corn. According to the officer in the case, the law allows the corn to be in a feeder and spread on the ground but not dumped on the ground in a pile.

How did the officer know the man had hunted over corn? He posted a photo to Facebook, and the corn was visible in the photo.

The court had some leniency on him and only fined him the minimum on one of the charges. In my opinion, he shouldn’t have been fined at all. It appeared to be an honest mistake following much confusion over the change in state laws regarding hunting over bait.

I suspect if he’d had a lawyer, he would have gotten off. But he represented himself and was a bit unsure how the court process works.

I left the courtroom after not being called as a witness in the assault case, but not before being treated to an entertaining and informative hour in court. I now know why all those court TV programs are so popular. Most of us are fascinated by the trials and tribulations of others, and court provides a chance to see it up close. It’s sort of like having the arrest record in the newspaper acted out in front of you.

I’m not belittling the importance of Justice Court. It’s an extremely valuable part of our justice system. But if it was televised, I know they’d have at least one dedicated viewer.


Luke Horton is the publisher of The Daily Leader.