Defendants Exposed in Courthouse Confessions

Via the New York Times, courtesy of Judicial Reports, a mesmerizing new blog called Courthouse Confessions.

So for the last few months Steven Hirsch, a freelance newspaper photographer, has been photographing and interviewing some of the unheralded defendants who pass through the court system and posting the results on a Web page, Courthouse Confessions.

Mr. Hirsch transcribes recorded interviews, deleting his own questions, so that his subjects’ words are presented to readers in an uninterrupted flow. They talk about what sent them to court and ruminate on the legal systems or their own lives. Many of the interviews have an intimate and confessional tone, as people describe the transgressions they are accused of.

Reading the words (sans Hirsch’s question), I can tell you that this is the real McCoy.  This is what they sound like.  This is how they think.  This is what they tell their lawyer.

What’s fascinating about this is not only what is included, but what is not.  As the Times story notes, some leave out the “unsavory” details that turn them from self-perceived victim of the system to something else, whether liar, animal, schemer or just plain stupid.

These “courthouse confessions” were taken at 100 Centre Street, the primary criminal courthouse in Manhattan.  It’s one of the busiest, ugliest, dirtiest, nastiest places you will ever see, but also one of the most fascinating.  The breadth of humanity walk through its doors, from the wealthiest to the poorest, the celebrity to the unknown. 

The fact that Hirsch got these people to talk to him, and to talk so openly, shows a remarkable need for catharsis, for validation, of humankind.  This need to talk, of course, is the same need that cops capitalize on daily when getting their statements and confessions.  But Hirsch’s photographs and stories are shockingly close to actually being there, seeing it and hearing it as it happens. 

This is a spectacular photo essay.  No doubt many will read the words and be totally unable to comprehend the world in which these defendants live.  But this is definitely life at 100 Centre Street.

10 comments on “Defendants Exposed in Courthouse Confessions

  1. Blonde Justice

    I wonder if he realizes that all of these confessions can come back to be used against these defendants – and if he cares.

    You can warn a client a million times not to talk to anyone but their lawyer but people have a natural instinct to want tell their side of the story.

    People like to be heard… that’s why we all have blogs.

  2. SHG

    These are people talking to a guy they don’t know with a camera outside the courthouse, spilling their guts.  I only hope that cops don’t figure this out, station someone outside with a camera and just collect confessions. 

    I don’t blame Hirsch.  He’s not making anyone talk.  Perhaps their lawyers, who may read this somebody, might consider advising their clients to keep it to themselves.

  3. Joel Rosenberg

    I’m sure that there is some criminal defense attorney, somewhere, who doesn’t make it a habit to tell his or her clients simply to STFU (Simply Talk Freely Undernocircumstances), but I’ve never met one who admitted it.

  4. Mike

    When I showed that site to some people outside of crim law, they all said the same thing, “You mean people dress like that to court?!”

    When you see people dress that way, you realize someone in their developing years failed them in a powerful way. I consider how they dress for court as a metaphor for the neglect they received in all areas of their lives. If they can’t even figure out how to dress for court, what else can’t they figure out?

    That said, I did good laugh at the governess. Hey, she just found a bracelet. She wanted to return it. Why would they arrest such a good Samaritan?

  5. SHG

    While Joel has a good point (after all, it’s not like they give you a chance to change into more appropriate clothing before they bust you), this is more an aspect of life in New York City.

    Other than dressing up a client for the jury, and other than a defendant who comes into court wearing something truly problematic (like his “I shoot judges for fun” T-shirt), this is how defendants dress in state court.  Not my clients, of course, but most.  The judges are used to it, and don’t hold it against anyone.  It doesn’t inure to their benefit, but it’s unlikely to cause them any harm either.  It’s just life in the big city.

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