real justice
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waiting to enter the courtroom
At a time when Americans are riveted by the weekly made-for-tv legal dramas, FRONTLINE's "Real Justice" offers an intimate look at the real life world of prosecutors and defense lawyers--going inside Boston's Suffolk County criminal courts where 50,000 cases a year are decided.

With rare access inside the deals, corridor tensions and jailhouse confidences shared with attorneys, the producers' cameras reveal the offers, counteroffers and compromises that keep the cases moving through the crowded system.

It's a criminal justice system that bears little resemblance to those tv courtroom dramas. Instead of being able to devote all their attention to a single case or client, or have their case decided on the strength of dramatic courtroom speeches, the lawyers in "Real Justice" spend their days shuttling back and forth between different courts and many different cases in a seemingly endless effort to keep the wheels of justice turning.

Part I follows prosecutors and defense attorneys through District Court, where minor crimes such as trespassing and car theft are dispensed swiftly; Part II examines Superior Court, where violent crimes such as manslaughter and murder are addressed. In both courts, time is at a premium.

The cameras follow supervising assistant district attorney Viktor Theiss through a typical day at District Court--tracking down victims, handling trials for drug dealing, car theft, and several charges of assault and battery, and settling many cases through quick plea bargains or handing some cases off to junior attorneys before rushing off to prosecute another one.

Meanwhile, public defender Lisa Medeiros wades through her daily roster of a dozen clients, some of whom she won't even meet until they are arraigned before a judge. And, many of her cases will be decided not in the courtroom but in the outside corridors, where attorneys for the prosecution and defense cut the deals that will settle most of the day's business.

For both attorneys, a significant amount of time is spent explaining the criminal justice process to victims, witnesses and defendants. Or, just trying to get people to participate in the system. And even when her clients do show up, Medeiros often finds herself trying to keep them from sabotaging their own defense. For example, when a judge asks a defendant a routine question as to whether he's under the influence of any drugs, he replies, "Yes," volunteering that he smoked marijuana the night before.

"Real Justice" shows how the overworked attorneys can easily become frustrated as hard-fought cases fall apart for lack of evidence, uncooperative witnesses, or inadmissible evidence. And yet, prosecutors and defense attorney agree on the necessity of an adversarial system. "Good defense lawyers really work the prosecutor, work the system, and work the judge they're in front of trying to get the lowest [sentence] possible," Superior Court prosecutor Josh Wall explains. "And it's up to me, professionally, to hold as firm as I can.

"It's a system of compromise," Wall concedes, after agreeing to a plea bargain that will send a teenager to prison for ten years in the beating death of a two year old. "You've got to make intelligent compromises."

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