When called for jury duty, most people have expectations as to what the principals in the trial will look like. Thus, the one in the robe is the judge, the ones in the suits are the lawyers, the ones dressed as they were when they took part in the investigation are the police, the one in the handcuffs is the one on trial, and the ones in their “Sunday go to meeting clothes” are their fellow prospective jurors. Thus, when anyone shows up not dressed for the role he is playing, his legitimacy is in doubt.
Rather than have them sit around in the witness room waiting to be called, I usually arranged my witness list so that police officers were given a specific time that they would be called so that they lost very little time sitting around the courthouse when they could be out fighting crime.
I arrived at that point once and when told to call my next witness, the bailiff opened the courtroom door and called the arresting officer to come in. I hadn’t seen him that morning, so I was absolutely astonished when he came through the door in painter’s white coveralls looking exactly like house painters look.
I had no choice but to put him on the stand “in costume.” Exactly what effect his appearance had on the jury’s judgment of his credibility and professional competence I can’t say, but he was certainly no asset. Following that trial, I had a meeting with Chief Bill Davenport, and we came to an understanding that all officers who participated in the investigation in uniform would appear that way when called as a witness; “showered, shined and ship-shape.”
Some months later, I was trying a case in front of the same judge. When the time came, I called for my uniformed officer witness. He came through the door of the courtroom, and he made a dazzling appearance. He was a very handsome young man, and he was in full uniform, “shaved, showered, and ship-shape.” His belt held a holstered gun, handcuffs and other “tools of the trade.”
The trial judge never met a policeman or prosecutor he had any use for, and at the sight of the officer, in all his splendor, he immediately began to berate him. He accused him of trying to frighten him and the jurors by carrying a gun into the courtroom where it was unnecessary and an insult. He said that carrying a gun into a courtroom was outrageous. He ordered the officer to leave the gun outside the courtroom and come back without it.
Everyone has to do what the judge says. He returned shortly without his “tool belt,” gave his testimony and departed after the trial. His testimony was well received, and the defendant was convicted. I went back to the Chief of Police, and we made arrangements to have officers leave guns outside the courtroom in all future trials before this judge.
It wasn’t long until the exact situation arose again. I called a uniformed officer as a witness in a case. He entered the courtroom, unarmed and without a “tool belt,” was sworn in, and the same judge immediately began to berate him as follows:
“There is a statute in this state which requires sworn police officers to go about at all times, armed and prepared to protect the citizens and enforce the law, whether or not they are in uniform. Are you aware of that?”
The officer said that he was. When asked, he said that he was instructed not to because the judge did not want armed officers in his courtroom. The judge ordered a recess, told the officer to get himself properly armed and return. He returned shortly “packing,” the trial went on and a guilty verdict resulted.
I later had a meeting with the judge and told him that we would follow his latest instructions, and all officers would appear in court armed and ready, unless he issued a written order to the contrary. After that, the judge never made any comments about how police officers were dressed or equipped when they appeared to testify in his courtroom.
He was the only judge I ever appeared before who didn’t look like one. He never wore a robe and frequently didn’t look or act like a judge. Even Judge Judy of TV fame wears a robe, and she’s not even a judge anymore.
Moral of the Story: Even judges can’t have it both ways.
Lawrence S. Huffman is an attorney in Lima and a guest columnist in The Lima News.