Besides working at the Essen District Court, I am also able to see different aspects of the German legal system. For two days, I shadowed a Bewährungshelfer or probation officer. Unlike the Essen District Court, which has metal detectors and security staff, when I arrived at the probation office, I walked right in and met with Herr Wich.
The probation office and the probation officers were relaxed, as everyone used the informal du, instead of the formal Sie, in addressing each other. I spoke briefly with Herr Wich about his job and then accompanied him, ironically, to the Essen District Court, where he was appearing for a juvenile trial. The young man on trial was convicted of theft and mail fraud, as he been caught stealing DHL packages. The Office of the Prosecutor and the defense attorney each presented their suggested sentence for the young man, which were the exact same. However, the court must agree with the sentence for the trial to end.
While the judge (along with two Schöffen) deliberated, two gentleman entered and sat in the audience. The prosecutor informed the men, who said they were there for the second trial, that the first session was running late. However, the men decided to stay. Once the judge and Schöffen returned, the judge announced a sentence of one-and-half years in juvenile detention. Normally, the defendant is allowed to leave following the court session and is given instructions on when to report to serve the sentence. However, the young man on trial had an outstanding warrant and was promptly arrested by the two gentlemen sitting in the audience, who turned out to be undercover police officers. Following the trial, I spoke with Herr Wich, who said that everyone (except the defendant and me) knew that the men were police officers.
Following the trial, we drove back to the probation office, where Herr Wich had consultations with several probationers. During the discussions, many of the probationers were very friendly and had a great rapport with Herr Wich. Following the consultations, I was allowed to read the probationers’ files , all of whom had been convicted of either pedophilia or rape.