Drug Courts – part 1

Prosecutor Lara Saffo begins telling the judge what police found when they searched Jim White’s room.

“Marijuana, a spoon with white residue, two white pills, two orange pills, two needles. . .”  Police had found all of it in a tool box in White’s bedroom, after he’d run away from them during a stop for a simple traffic violation.

The list goes on for a while, and by the time Saffo finishes there is enough for two felony charges worth seven years in the state prison each.  White is going to plead guilty to both on this cloudy November morning.

Now Saffo moves on to White’s criminal record.  Marijuana when he was 15, criminal mischief at 16.  Since then, a marijuana arrest in Concord, along with more charges here in Grafton County for receiving stolen property and being a habitual offender.

“I’ve been here a lot,” White admits to Judge Timothy Vaughan.  Vaughan, who is a tall, imposing man, looks down from his raised bench and replies, “Let’s hope it’s the last time.”

From the back row of the courtroom a young man whispers, as if he has secret for White, “You’ll be here every week.”

This is one of the most modern courtrooms in the state.  Where hard, pew-like benches are standard elsewhere, here spectators sit in cushioned chairs rising in an amphitheater.  Except for that one whisper, all of the spectators focus intently on Vaughan, Saffo and White.  One woman holds a hand to her mouth, a young man leans forward.

The right half of the amphitheater holds 16 people, almost all of them in their 20s or early 30s.  Another set of spectators sit motionless, as well – two men and a woman who are shackled hand and foot, next to the semi-circular attorneys’ tables, with a row of bailiffs in tan blazers behind them.

The only movement in the room comes from the back row, where the whispering young man presses his legs together, swinging them  back and forth, back and forth, like an anxious child.

Vaughan reads the sentence for each charge.  “Not more than four years and not less than two years.”  Then a moment comes that everyone expected.

Vaughan calls upon the courtroom to applaud.

“Most people don’t get a round of applause when pleading guilty to a felony,” Vaughan says, “but you do.  You’re entering drug court.”


(Creative Commons photo: “publik15″)

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