We Are America

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True crime and the court system have fascinated me for a long time.  When I was 14 years old, I watched Legally Blonde. Soon after I became infatuated with true crime stories in middle school. Watching documentaries, podcasts, videos, and looking at analyses of investigation rooms engulfed my free time. I started watching criminal lawyers present real court cases, how they started narrating the situations fascinated me. The art of persuasion and questioning kept me engaged while watching court cases. I was fascinated seeing how lawyers could sway a jury, or defend their client till the very end. 

Though I also found myself frequently frustrated. I was hearing about some lawyers who were not passionate about their work, who seemed to have no empathy for their clients or confidence in their case. I was frustrated also seeing people who were up against a really good lawyer,  but did not have one who was as good a lawyer themselves. It frustrated me because it did not seem fair that if you are low income you had a greater chance of not great representation. 

As a freshman in high school, I started thinking about being a lawyer when I grew up. I envied the hours that lawyers poured into building an incredible statement. But I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to be one, since I had had thoughts of becoming an animator since I was younger. I was contemplating these two professions. 

Then, In 2021, when I was 16 years old, I watched close by as one of my family members participated in Zoom court--it was not in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I knew the family member’s lawyer was state-appointed and I worried that this could really put them at a disadvantage against the other person who had a lawyer they were paying for. I also worried about the language barrier, the lawyer didn’t speak Portuguese and my family member was less confident in describing their situation in English. And I worried about the poor communication between my family member and their lawyer. I remember too, some Zoom conversations my family member had had to take with the other person’s lawyer, but without their lawyer present.  It was a setup that was difficult to bear witness to. 

While I sat by them at the kitchen table and overheard the case, I thought about wanting to represent them myself, even though I knew I couldn’t. I felt really bad for my family member, and I could not imagine the stresses of not being able to get their side fully analyzed, dissected, and defended. I was also angry. I was listening to the other lawyer and their argument and I heard points that they made that I knew we had evidence to counter, but my family member’s lawyer had never asked for that evidence and so they did not share it in court.  I watched my family member and saw how stressed they were during the case and also how sad they were about the outcome.

As I dove further into learning more about different court cases, I have begun to notice there are many common themes regarding how well people are represented in court. How much money one has, how much time one has lived in the country, how comfortable one is with English, all can contribute to having a lower chance of being properly represented in court, but it shouldn’t be this way. My outrage and exasperation in seeing these cases, and being reminded of my family member’s situation, made me more passionate to want to become a lawyer, with the desire to make sure that in the future, when one of the next people gets appointed representation, they will not be in the same position as my family member. 

© Julia Cogo. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.