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Dear Matthew:

I've noticed something weird on our local TV news stories on courtroom appearances by alleged criminals. When the arrestee is standing up in front of the judge at arraignment, they often have their hands tucked into the waistband of their pants. Is this because they are embarrassed to be seen in handcuffs? How can it be less embarrassing to be seen with your hands stuffed down your pants? Is this something they are told to do or just some thug fashion thing?

-- Jenny, UCSD

Yeah, Jenny, it's a bitch when your 15 minutes of fame means everybody sees you on TV with your head fuzzed out in those little squares , like you're standing in a cloud of mosquitos, and worse yet, you're groping your own crotch. Must make you wonder if the crime was worth the humiliation. On the other hand, we groped around real thoroughly to answer your question, and I think we can clear up the mystery.

Regular visitors to Aliceland know that Ma Alice's family tree is full of felonious twigs so we can always get the insider's take on this kind of puzzlement. We checked around to see which uncle was out on the street and presented your inquiry. Than we double-checked with the sheriff's department. Here's the skinny.

So say you're locked up at, oh, Chula Vista, and you have a date with the judge in San Diego at 9a.m. They'll roust you from your rack about 4 and move you, unshackled, to the holding area where they're gonna put you on the bus with the window bars. They eventually line you up and start laying out the cuffs-on-waist-chains. You and the random perp next to you are linked together (a slow and cumbersome process) and the two of you share a seat on the ride downtown. Once the bus has pulled in through those big honkin' gates on the Front Street side of the Hall of Justice, they escort you to the court holding area, where everybody's slowly and cumbersomely unhooked. Unless you are some kind of notorious thug, you will remain unhooked through the rest of the ordeal, until they put you back on the bus to return to Chula.

If you're typical, you're a pretty low-risk type, and security in the courthouse and courtroom is tight. When your case is called, you're escorted by deputies down a short hall to the courtroom; you're in front of the judge for two, maybe three minutes; then you're escorted back to the holding area. On arraignment days, deputies might do this 30, 40 times. Since there's little security risk to the officers, judge, or public when the perp is out and about, deputies tell them to stick their hands into their pants and keep them there until they're back in the holding room. That saves deputies from all the hooking and unhooking to move each inmate and makes that inmate's day-long stint in the courthouse a little more comfortable. The hands-in-the-pants maneuver allows a deputy to keep an eye on where your hands are, or are supposed to be, should you decide you've had enough of the justice system and just want out.

One side note. There are occasions when an inmate with a little too much attitude or a heavier than usual rap will be cuffed for the trip to see the judge. In that case, deputies have been known to advise inmates to keep their hands deep in their pants in order to hide the cuffs and not prejudice their case.

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