Behind the Glass Door


I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

Jail arraignments are a hoot and a half.

On one side of what looks like bulletproof glass is a sleepy-eyed bailiff, a couple public defenders, and two rows of men and sometimes a woman who look like they’ve all seen better days, and they have.

Today they’re waiting to see if their lawyers will find the words to persuade the judge to let them go home till trial, or to the cardboard box they’re living in on the street, or if not back to the forty-eight square feet with cot, sink, and toilet they share with their celly.

On the other side are family and friends of the prisoners, looking more than a little like boosters at a pep rally. A private lawyer or two.

Not much pep among the prisoners. Lot of morose going on there. One giant with a red mohawk looks like maybe he’s doing a Lyndon Baines Johnson impression, till you realize those monster loopy earlobes flopping against his jaws are what happens when the guards confiscate your gauges for your own protection.

Mostly mixed races in there today, but because this is Boulder, Colorado, there are actually a few white dudes, trying to keep their eyes pointed toward the floor.

One guy on the free side of the door flexes a few tattoos menacingly until you realize he’s the other lawyer there.

On the client side, after about ten minutes of point-free waiting, a guard mumbles slackly, “I’ll start the movie.” This is the film advising everyone of their rights. Nobody watches it; most have seen it before.

A lanky public defender natty as hell in bow tie, pocket square and vest, ambles over to talk with the prisoners, assess their cases, tell them how to plead. He’s never seen any of them before. Each gets about fifteen seconds of his time. It’s okay; no one’s going home today anyway. They’ll get another fifteen seconds next month.

The district attorneys are late: “Where are those DAs, man?” a deputy grumbles.

If you listen closely, and take care not to look in his direction, you might hear a guard talk about the fish they humiliated the other day. College kid picked up on suspicion of being a smart-ass. Gets to jail holding where another deputy confuses him with a sex offender just got released. Ain’t you him? No, no, I’m not. Sure, you are.

They strip him, three deputies, take all his clothes, throw him a jail smock that doesn’t quite cover him, play a little grab-cock, bend him over to search for drugs, keep him bent over a while just to be sure. Laughing, Lot of laughing.

They leave him, alone, shivering in the cell. He calls to a guard, asks for some pants. Guard ignores him. For four hours. He begs to go to the bathroom. Ignore him. He pisses himself. They send a woman in to see if he might be suicidal; I’d be suicidal. He says he isn’t. He just wants some pants.

Later they give him his own clothes. Release him. Mistaken identity. Get out of here, kid. Never happened.

The judge comes in and calls the first case.


Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

3 Responses to Behind the Glass Door

  1. g sheehan 30 November 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    Are you sure that isn’t a sit-com?

  2. Bruce Luyendyk 30 November 2016 at 11:45 am #

    Who would want to be a jail guard? Not just anyone. Anger management.

  3. James A Bordonaro 30 November 2016 at 10:44 am #

    I haven’t thought the issue through much but I tend to disagree with your assessment of the futility of a First Appearance hearing. For example, if the kid who was mistaken as a sex offender was not released prior to court then it would have been very beneficial for him to have a First Appearance and discuss mistaken identity. And, even though most of our clients waive their right not to speak to police when Mirandized and fail to ask for a lawyer upon arrest, it certainly is preferable that they receive similar warnings again which may have a reinforcing effect on the prior warnings. In some cases this may be the first time that a person is given any warnings because not all arrests result in subsequent questioning triggering Miranda.

Leave a Reply