The Champion

June 2009 , Page 36 

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Misdemeanor Courts Are In Need of Repair

By Maureen Dimino

Upon entering the morning arraignment calendar in misdemeanor court in Florida, I was handed a rights waiver form. I received no explanation of what it was or my rights, but I was asked to sign it. The standardized form includes the caveat that one waives all her rights to counsel and trial.1 I was very tempted to sign the form and get called up while the court staff searched frenetically for my case number — but I had to maintain my undercover observer status.

No public defenders were in that courtroom. This was understandable, since they were not appointed to these morning arraignment cases. Although no attorney was appointed by the court to these defendants, several were taken into custody. Several more pled to crimes that would lead to the suspension of their driver’s license, restrictions from receiving federal benefits (like public housing or food stamps), and possible deportation. None of this was ever explained to the defendants by the judge.

Misdemeanor offenses are often viewed

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