s-28 - CHAPTER TWO The Criminal Court Community ORIGINS OF...

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CHAPTER TWO The Criminal Court Community ORIGINS OF THE METAPHOR: COURTS AS COMMUNITIES Criminal courts command interest principally because of what happens to defendants there. Hence, focusing on the outcomes of defendants' cases was a natural starting point for our efforts to understand criminal courts. As we began conducting interviews and strolling through courthouse corridors, simple curiosity expanded the list of the phenomena that called for understanding. How (and why) did techniques for scheduling cases, arriving at plea bargains, and engaging in other chores associated with disposing of cases differ among our counties? What significance did the variations have? Why did we find ourselves discussing the personalities and policy goals of chief judges and head prosecutors? This broader focus to the challenge of understanding criminal courts has served us well. We cannot abandon examining case outcomes as a major theme. Looking just at outcomes, however, fails to provide general insights into the dynamics of the disposition process, factors that determine how all defendants who come to court fare. And it helps little in the vital task of assessing the effects of reform proposals undertaken in Chapter Eleven. In this chapter we describe the metaphor that evolved to achieve this broader understanding of criminal courts. We had emphatically rejected the legal metaphor described in Chapter One when we began our field research. In its place we relied upon a variety of concepts drawn from each of the three approaches employed in previous 22 The Notion of Community 23 research on courts. J But we lacked a unifying metaphor that could help us assemble the individual pieces of the puzzle these concepts provided. The metaphor of courts as communities evolved as we informally discussed our experiences at the end of a day of interviewing. We would share tidbits of information, offer pieces of the puzzle, and try to fit them together. Perhaps knowing that the jurisdictions had fewer active participants than those we had previously studied and
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read about nudged us toward applying unarticulated conceptions of community to the task. Some of the people we interviewed either used the word "community" or described things that brought it to mind. Regardless of its origins, the end result was the metaphor that guides our descriptions of criminal courts. In the following pages we present the principal components of the metaphor of courts as communities. THE NOTION OF COMMUNITY Our initial understanding of the concept of community lacked specificity and rigor. In refining it, we turned for help to discussions of it by sociologists. We quickly found that its use in sociology was, as two authors described it, amorphous and malleable.' and that it carried strong emotional overtones. Our task was to forge from its components a conception that would prove useful in understanding courts.' The concept of culture is so intertwined with community 'These concepts (some of the principal ones) included "courtroom workgroups,"
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s-28 - CHAPTER TWO The Criminal Court Community ORIGINS OF...

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