Many of us involved in the “legal reform” movement have understood for most of twenty years that when a judge asks a defendant if “Do you understand the charges against you,” something “funny” is happening. We believe the judge isn’t merely asking if we comprehend the charges on an intellectual basis.
Instead, we suspect that, by using the word “understand” as a term of art, the judge is actually asking if we agree, consent, or even contract to be subject to the charges claimed by the plaintiff or prosecution. The implication of this suspicion is that we must agree to “understand” the charges before the judge can proceed. I.e., if we expressly refuse to “understand” the charges, the court might not be able to proceed against us.
However, even though we’ve “understood” that “somethin’ funny” is goin’ on whenever the court asks “Do you understand the charges?,” I, at least, have not precisly understood what the judge means when he asks that question.