By Scott Ballard District Attorney
March 2, 2014
If I invited you to come to a gathering where about 100 criminals would be, would you want to come? What if I gave you the additional information that among the criminals would be drug dealers, burglars, and child molesters? What would you expect that gathering to be like?
That’s what happens when we hold court.
And it is amazing how well-behaved everybody acts.
Last week I stood in front of the courtroom in Spalding County. We were waiting for the judge to come onto the bench. The audience was packed with criminal defendants.
And you could hear a pin drop.
How does that happen? My most honest answer would be, “I don’t have a clue.” But, I do have some ideas.
First, there are armed deputies in the room. It is remarkable how effective they are. The mere presence of law enforcement officers in a group commands respect and promotes safety.
Another reason could be the environment. The defendants didn’t break the law early in the morning while sober and in a place where reverence is encouraged. The trappings of the court—the décor, the judge, the rules—can be quite powerful.
In a courtroom there is a sense of impending judgment. These defendants weren’t conscious of that when they broke into a house or attacked somebody or sold drugs. But, sitting in the courtroom, moments before a gavel slams and the judge enters the room, everything is different. There are twelve empty chairs in the jury box, but soon there will be jurors. And judgment. And accountability.
For all but the most brazen of criminals, that impacts behavior.
It makes me wish we could duplicate that moment BEFORE people break the law.
If society could figure out how to capture the subduing forces that cause criminals to behave in the courtroom and transfer those forces to the scene of the crime, we would all be much safer.
And I would have a lot more free time.