She was a beautiful young woman. 19 or 20 years old, with a wonderful face and a Barbie Doll figure. As gorgeous as this young woman was, she did not flaunt her beauty.
The beautiful young woman approaches the bench and pleads guilty to no Minnesota driver’s license. I ask her what she needs to do to get her license, and she tells me. I offer to continue the case four to six weeks so she can get her license, and she tells me, “I don’t think I can, your Honor. I report to Marine Boot Camp the week after next.”
My heart sinks, and I want to cry. This plea is happening at the beginning of a troop surge in Iraq. I know that this beautiful young woman will likely be deployed to a war theater when she completes her training.
And I know that the odds are greater that she’ll be sexually assaulted by one of her comrades than be killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.
One in three of active duty women serving in the U.S. military have reported being the victim of sexual assault while serving. That is about double the rate for civilians.
So, I sat on the bench and told the beautiful young woman how grateful I was for her service to our country, all the while containing the urge to scream at her, “DON’T GO! PLEASE, DON’T GO! DON’T PUT YOURSELF IN THAT HORRIBLE AND DANGEROUS SITUATION!” But, I maintained my “Judicial demeanor”, keeping order in the courtroom and moving the calendar along.
As a judge, people pass in front of the bench day in and day out. They may spend 10 minutes before me, or they may be a party in a trial that takes several weeks. Then, they pass out of my life and back to their own.
In my 26 years on the bench, probably hundreds of thousands of people have appeared before me in court. Of that number, there are only a handful of people and situations that I wonder about days, weeks or years later.
That beautiful young woman is one of those. I hope and pray that she completed her service in the Marines whole in body and spirit and her honor intact.
But, no time for more reflection on that case. It’s another day, and another full courtroom of people that will be inextricably bound in my life for at least 15 minutes.
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Next Week: Prison Tours