The Courtroom at the Samut Prakan Criminal Court
The first witness was called to testify and he was sworn in. The prosecutor then proceeded to ask him pertinent questions regarding the day the alleged crime took place. The first witness was the arresting officer. In the movies, what would happen next is that the court clerk would be typing up the entire interaction. However, this wasn’t the case in this Thai court.
When the two judges first entered the courtroom they were carrying what I at first thought to be small laptops. They placed these on the bench in front of them. I thought to myself, very hi-tech. They then hunted around for a place to plug them in. There were no sockets available so the court clerk unwound one of those cheap power extensions that you can buy at Big C for 120 baht. She then passed up to the judge a tray of cassette tapes. So, the hi-tech laptop turned out to be a very low-tech cassette tape recorder!
Now came the interesting part that I found to be so curious. After the policeman answered each question, the judge then spoke into the microphone, paraphrasing what the policeman had just said. Sometimes he wasn’t clear what the witness had just said so asked questions to clarify. What was even more interesting was that the judge was choosing to be selective. The judge didn’t record some of the things that the policemen said. So, some things were therefore not entered into the record.
After the prosecutor had finished, it was time for the cross-examination by the defense lawyers. As there were two defendants, there were two lawyers. They were going into a lot of detail, which I couldn’t see the sense of. For example, the exact details of the events leading up to the alleged crime and also the route taken on the motorcycle that eventful evening. The judge entered most of this into the record but sometimes not. I am not sure if the defense lawyers were annoyed or not when the judge did not record the answer. Before the defense lawyer asked the next question he often paused to make sure the judge was keeping up. Sometimes he would wait for the judge to speak into the microphone. Other times the judge was doing it at the same time as new questions were being answered. Very bizarre.
Whilst this was going on, the other judge was lounging back in his comfy chair cutting his fingernails. Every now and then he would ask the witness his own questions, but mainly he left the proceedings up to the first judge. Once the cross-examination was over, the prosecutor then had a chance for redirect. Then the next witness was called. Another policeman who was also there at the scene. As he came in, defendant number one (my old student) leaned towards me and said “that was the policeman who beat me up in prison in order to get me to confess”.
The second policeman was then sworn in and asked similar questions by the prosecutor and then the two defense lawyers as before. By this time, the judge had already given his first cassette tapes to the court clerk who was now starting to type up the testimony. After she had printed them out, she passed them to the judges who checked them and then told each witness in turn to sign the documents. During the morning, three policemen were called to the witness stand to testify.
Before the break for lunch, the judge asked the parents of the two defendants to approach the bench. I couldn’t catch it all as the judge was talking quietly, but from what I could hear, he was telling them that the evidence was overwhelming and it looked almost certain that the two defendants would be serving a lengthy time in prison. He urged them to persuade their sons to change their plea to guilty. He said that if they did that, he would then be sympathetic and half the sentence. (It should be pointed out, that up to this point, the judge had only heard the testimony from one side. The defendants hadn’t yet entered the witness stand.) So much for innocent until proven guilty.
After the court clerk had finished typing up everything and the policeman signed the documents, a break for lunch was called and we were told to come back in 90 minutes. As the defendants were already out on bail, they were allowed to leave the courthouse as well. I went with defendant number two and his parents to a nearby restaurant to eat som tam. His lawyer came too and they discussed the case over lunch.
Back in court, the lawyer for defendant number two told the judge that they had decided to change his plea to guilty. However, defendant number one changed his mind and decided to proceed with the not-guilty verdict. He was then called to the witness stand and sworn in. This time, his defense lawyer asked the questions first. I think he was onto the second or third question when he realized that his second witness shouldn’t really be in court listening to this testimonial. He had actually been there all morning. So, he quickly told him to go and wait outside. The judge didn’t make any comment.
What happened next is that defendant number one proceeded to stab my old student in the back. He denied all knowledge of the alleged crime and said defendant number two was acting alone. His family, who knew the full story, were shocked and kept shaking their heads in disbelief. But, there wasn’t much they could do. After the defense lawyer finished, the prosecutor then asked her own questions. He was then asked to step down and the next witness was called.
The friend of defendant number one then came into the court. But, he wasn’t dressed properly and the defense lawyer told him to go back out and tuck his shirt in. As there was another case waiting, the judge decided to take this opportunity to switch cases. I guess his reasoning was that this new case was just a simple land dispute and wouldn’t take long. Then, for some reason, the prosecutor decided to leave. Maybe she needed to go to the bathroom or maybe she was just bored. I don’t know. But, she never did come back.
This switch in trials lasted about ten minutes and we were then soon back on track. The second witness was then called. The defense lawyer then asked him information about the day in question. However, he tripped up a few times and seemed to contradict the testimony of defendant number one. This was mainly because this guy was lying through his teeth. He was pretending to have been there at the time of the alleged crime and was trying to show that his friend knew no knowledge of what was happening.
As the prosecutor had already gone home for the day, this witness wasn’t cross-examined which is a shame. There were so many holes in his story. I just hoped that the judges could see that for themselves. As defendant number two had now changed his plea to guilty, he wasn’t called to the witness stand and so wasn’t able to say his side of the story.
By about 3 p.m., everything had been typed up and signed. The judge then checked his desktop calendar and told everyone to return in nine days time to hear his verdict and the sentencing. We were all under the impression that it would all be over in one day. Now, both defendants will have to wait nine days to find out whether they will be serving time or not. Their lawyers had told them that the maximum length of prison term would be 45 years! But, they were all hoping for a suspended sentence. As you can imagine, they didn’t sleep very well that week.