By Katherine (Kate) Mortensen • June 25, 2008•Internships and Clerkships
Went to prison again yesterday. This was quite different than the last time. TP had assigned me to an appeal matter regarding armed robbery. There were two accused who had both been convicted and sentenced to the minimum which was 15 years in prison. I had done the research and read through the record and the judgment and in my opinion there was reasonable doubt. The judge agreed with me and hence the granting of an appeal. Basically the case set up two alternate realities and it came down to a matter of which one was true. The accused claimed that the story by the complainants was entirely fabricated for numerous reasons. I found this highly likely.
We arrived at the prison and waited for a while, which is standard protocol. We moved to a large room where there was a number of administrative offices. We got shuffled into an office where they kept the death certificates. It was kind of creepy. There was only one chair so TP sat down, the prisoners squatted on the floor and I leaned on the desk behind TP trying desperately not to have to touch any of the death certificates. Apparently a lot of people die in this prison- it is large.
One of the accused immediately said that he did not want to appeal. “My life is fucked, my family is fucked, everything is fucked,” he said. He basically felt that his life was ruined and there was nothing he could do about it. The other prisoner did want to appeal originally. TP basically talked him out of it because he changed his story. In these cases where there is no physical evidence, their credibility is all that they have. Had the story stayed consistent with the original testimony- he wasn’t there- he might have had a chance. But this time he said that he was there but that it was the other guy that actually committed the crime. Well, there goes his credibility. His appeal didn’t have a chance and TP explained to me that out of respect for the court, and in the interest of not wasting the prisoner’s time, it wasn’t worth it. He did still want to appeal his sentence, though, despite the fact that a judge can increase a sentence on appeal. I thought the smart decision was made by all. I’m not optimistic that his sentence will be reduced, because he would have to show extraordinary circumstances to get less than the minimum, which I don’t think are present here. But I will still try my hardest to get him off.
I had some personal feelings on the judgment of the case itself. There were continuous mentions of how “heinous” the crime was. While I agree that armed robbery is horrible, nobody was hurt and less than $300 was stolen. There was also mention that less than the minimum sentence could result in people taking justice into their own hands because they would be so outraged that the sentencing was not severe enough. I just think that these were great exaggerations of the situation. I am by no stretch of the imagination downplaying the seriousness of the crime, however I think this was my first time seeing emotion in a magistrate’s ruling. I mentioned these things to TP and I think we will end up having a discussion about them next week. Again, I know it sounds like I am being critical of their system, but I am just asking these questions to better understand the pros and cons of our different systems.
Today was International Refugee Day. Went to an event at City Hall. Got to hear speakers about refugees and xenophobia. It was a nice event, but nothing in particular to speak of. Going clubbing with the office tonight- it will be the first real chance to cut loose with some of our co-workers. Then tomorrow it is off to Cape Town for a long weekend!