My appearance date is set two months out, so I will be expected to appear and, of course, plead “not guilty” on the appointed date in May. I count the days, make sure I know where to go (remember I have lived in Tucson for less than a year), check on everything I can find about DUI on the web, ask everybody I know about what to expect, and schedule a vacation day for that date. The one thing I don’t do is get an attorney. Attorneys are making bank on DUI and DWI laws across the country. I don’t want to contribute just yet. If I am held over for trial, I will deal with the court-appointed version.
As the date approaches I get more and more nervous about what is going to happen to me and less and less comfortable with my decision not to enlist the help of a capable attorney. I have watched enough TV to know how this process works, but I have no direct experience with the criminal justice system. A man who defends himself has a fool for a client, right? We would see.
On the appointed date, I head down into the bowels of the city of Tucson, find the Municipal Court Complex and wait outside the door for the building to open, with a handful of other unhappy-looking people. I am told I will find my docket number, assigned courtroom and judge on a bulletin board just inside the door. I find the board with a list of close to 75 people, just inside the door on the left. I crowd to the front, get the information and write it down on the legal pad I have lifted from work. Let’s just say I borrowed it. Have to have a legal pad, right?
I now have two hours to kill before court is in session. Judge William McCoy. Court Room number 575. “I wonder if he’s a ‘real McCoy?’” I think, smiling to myself, trying, again, to make light of my current situation.
I head for the court building and sit in the courtyard wondering how I had landed myself in the dregs of society. You know what I mean, there is a certain segment of the group milling about the courtyard that is familiar with the system, and then there is that other small group that looks, worried, upset, lost and totally out-of-place. I was definitely in the latter. I read for a while, having thought to bring a paperback I was reading at the time, and then watched the people. I’m intrigued by a girl standing on the corner of the courtyard yelling up three stories to some guy who is leaning out the window of the detention center.
“They’re not letting me out, Maria,” he screams down to the street.
“What am I supposed to do?” Maria says. She looks around to see who is watching. I avert my eyes to the sidewalk. “I don’t have enough money to get bail. I don’t know what to do.”
“You have to get me outta here,” he pleads. I’m surprised that they are not speaking in Spanish, as most of the others in courtyard. “Please get me outta here. Go talk to (I can’t make out the name.) She’ll help you.”
“I don’t know what to do,” she repeats. “Miguel, what I’m supposed to do.”
Almost instantly he turns ugly. “Get the f*** outta of here,” he screams, “Useless f****** b****! Just get the f*** outta of here!” he pauses for effect. “Puta! What the f*** good are you?” and he disappears into the building. She looks around the courtyard again to see who might be watching. The entire courtyard is watching.
She screams up, “Miguel!” No one comes to the window. The windows are slender, tall, and tinted very dark, with the bottom foot or so, folding out. He had to stick his head out the window to talk to Maria, but he doesn’t reemerge.
I immediately feel sorry for her, but know there is nothing I can or will do to help. She waits a few minutes then walks out of the courtyard and down the street. I think she’s probably more worried about him getting out, and I wonder just how much she did to facilitate his release. She almost seemed to skip down the street when she was leaving. We, the dregs of society, look at each other for a moment and then go on with what we were doing, reading the paper, reading a book, or smoking a cigarette, waiting for our appointed hour to arrive.
“Can I bum a smoke?” A horrible foul smell reaches my nostrils. I look up to see a guy in a tattered brown blazer standing very near to me, but not in front of me, so I didn’t see him approach. He’s wearing a straw cowboy hat. There’s a pretty large hole in the crown. His front teeth, bottom and top, are missing. He’s not carrying anything, but is obviously a member of the homeless society. There are a lot of them in Tucson because it’s warm most of the year. I don’t want to give him a smoke, cigarettes cost too much these days. We used to hand them out whenever asked, now we think how much they cost. I want him to get a job. I realize that’s not realistic. I tell him instead it’s my last one.
He sees the pack in my shirt pocket, so he doesn’t believe me.
“Come on man, I need a smoke.”
I reach in my pocket and pull out the pack intending to give him one. He snatches the pack out of my hands before I have a chance to react, and is sprinting out of the courtyard at a pretty good clip. I can imagine the satisfaction on his face. It pisses me off, but there is nothing I can do about it. I’m not chasing some homeless person through the streets of downtown Tucson for a half-empty pack of cigarettes. I note how I think it’s half-empty instead of half-full.
I check my watch and see that it’s now 9:30 and I’m to be in the courtroom by 10:00. I start for the door and the metal detectors, and I notice several others are moving in the same direction. Someone else presses my floor on the elevator buttons, and I watch the numbers. We stop on every floor. When five lights up on the board I get out. Four others get off on this floor as well. I’m struck by how much this reminds me of a college classroom building. I find 575 and go inside. There are two guys in suits, one girl in a yellow pantsuit, and a uniformed person, walking around the front of the room, behind the railing and in front of the bench. The suits, all three of them, are stacking files, pulling stuff out of briefcases, preparing. I instinctively flip-up a page on my legal pad. There is, of course, nothing written there.
I take a seat in the middle row close to the aisle. The room is starting to fill up. I sit there staring at the “suits,” my hands clasped to the paperback book and the legal pad. I want a cigarette, but I know I don’t have them anymore and I can’t smoke in here anyway. One of the attorneys from the Tucson Prosecutor’s Office starts calling off names. I’m pretty sure I heard my name. pretty sure, so I listen up.
“Those people I just called, please come down to the front row and take a seat,” he says.
Yellow pantsuit smiles at us as we shuffle into the front row. There are six of us; four guys and two girls. We range in age from, say, 24ish to 50ish, I’m guessing.
The attorney reads the names again. Now I’m sure I’m in the right place. I heard my name clearly. One of us is missing. His name is called twice, then the file returned to the desk stack, the remaining manila folders, he holds between his hands, and looks directly at us.
“You all tested below the legal limit,” he says, “charges are being dropped. You are all free to go.”
We look at each other in relief and disbelief, and then he adds, “You will have no arrest or arraignment record.”
The bunch of us get up almost at the same instant, file out of the bench, and head out the door of the courtroom. The door emits a loud squeak and everyone, it seems, turns to look. None of us speak as we wait for the elevator. Inside the elevator, on the ride down, I’m convinced the guy in the corner suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. The string of obscenities he is vocalizing bounces around the car making me nervous.
Within a few minutes I’m back out in the courtyard. I’m angry that I had to take a vacation day for this and wonder what I should do with the rest of the day. Maybe I”ll spend some time looking for that vagrant, and see if he has an extra smoke.