Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beyond a reasonable doubt

Well, as you may or may not have inferred from my abrupt lack of blogging, shortly after my previous blog I was summoned for a jury panel. The following will be a not-so-brief recap of my jury experience.

15 names were called, including my own. We followed the bailiff down to the courtroom where we were led in in order, I was juror #9. We were introduced to the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney, then Voir Dire began. They needed to turn these 15 potential jurors into 6 that would be on the trial. The judge rattled off her series of simple, obviously well-recycled questions regarding if any jurors knew anyone in the courtroom, had any problems being on a jury, had ever served on a jury before, etc. Nothing too alarming there. Then the prosecutor began with his questions, which took a swift turn towards any jurors who were involved or had a close family member involved in domestic violence. Suddenly we knew where this case was headed... or so we thought. I tended not to have much of a reason to raise my hand for any of the questions, until the question came "who enjoys lawyer shows on TV?" Well now we're talking, several of us raised our hands, to which I was questioned
"Mr. Roberts, what's your favorite lawyer show?"
"I enjoy the original Law and Order."
"Why do you like it?"
I didn't have a really good answer for this, but said "I like it for the characters".

The questions moved on to other people, but several additional times, questions came back to me about Law and Order.

"Mr. Roberts, do you think Law and Order is an accurate portrayal?"
"Haha, absolutely not, I think it's highly exaggerated."
"How so?"
"I don't think there can possibly be that much drama in the real world."
"So you won't be dissapointed if during my closing arguments there's no thrilling music?"
"No, I don't think so."

The prosecutor looked like a nice guy, though from the way he was stumbling through things, I think he knew what he was doing, but couldn't have been with the city prosecutors office for a terribly long time. Then, however, we moved on to the defense attorney.

Now I have to admit, looking at this guy, he looked like a cross between a used-car salesman and Donald Trump. I thought to myself this guy looks like a slimy, sleazy defense attorney like you see on TV. Of course, this was all on first impression -- I later came to find out that my first impression was 100% on the button.

Despite this impression, it took me just a few moments to realize--after noticing that after receiving the list of potential juror names probably just 10 minutes prior he had already memorized the names of all 15 jurors and would proceed to call each of us by name--that he was astoundingly good at what he did, and that the prosecutor was sorely outmatched. The defender asked his barrage of questions to the juror panel, but it quickly became apparent that he was really targetting the women on the panel trying to determine exactly which ones would be sympathetic to the victim and thus he wanted to dismiss from the jury. You really do notice by the pattern of questions the attorneys ask what they are looking for (both in jurors they want, and in jurors they don't want). I guess that's the point, but I never realized it would be so obvious.

After the questioning was over, the judge asked for challenges for cause, of which there were none. Then the attorneys sidebarred with the judge to request their peremptory challenges, where they can eliminate any jurors they wish for no reason whatsoever. Now, the first 6 jurors would carryover to the trial, and I was juror #9. So presuming I was not eliminated, if any 3 jurors above me were eliminated I would be on the jury. Seeing the preponderance of women at the top and the line of questioning, I was fairly certain I would be bumped up, unless I said something one of the attorneys didn't like. Sure enough, the judge listed off the 6 jurors who would be on the case, jurors 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 10.

Without much ado, the other jurors returned to the pool, and the 6 of us took our seats in the jury box and the case began. This was the first we would hear the actual details of what this case was all about... the bizarreness of which we never would have expected.

The finer details of the case I will spare you, mainly because they are vastly irrelevant. But in summary, this crime was "violation of a no-contact order". The scene of the crime: the very courtroom where we were sitting, 4 months earlier. Apparently the defendant was in court for a similar violation brought on by his ex-wife. Immediately following the judges determination of "not guilty", he allegedly turned around toward his ex-wife sitting in the gallery and mouthed some not-so-nice words to her. If true, this would be a violation of the no-contact order between he and his ex-wife, which indeed was the question we were asked to consider.

Witnesses came forth, the prosecution attempted to prove a case based around inconsistent witness accounts, and just a lack of anything that could substantially prove the charge. Throughout the defense really didn't add much information in defense, but obfuscation was the order of the day. In later discussions with my fellow jurors, none of us really were swayed by this mess of confusion the defense was trying to cause, but I think it made him feel like he was doing something right.

Ultimately, after hearing the evidence and the arguments by the attorneys, we proceeded to deliberation. As much as I made it sound like there was no evidence, it wasn't quite as cut and dry as that. I think all 6 of us were doubtful who to believe, but I know as for myself, I came to the conclusion that I was pretty sure the defendant did what he was accused of... but there was definite doubt in my mind, enough so I couldn't reasonably consider him guilty of said crime. The one thing that was for certain to me was that this case was a collossal waste of the court's time, that probably never should have gone to trial. It wasn't a blatant disregard for the no-contact order, even if he did do what he was accused of... though the law may have dictated otherwise.

Regardless, it was definitely an interesting experience. I actually enjoyed it, but quickly realized that it was far more work than actually being at work. That's probably the one thing I wasn't expecting. It didn't feel like a waste of my time--quite the opposite, in fact, all 6 of us on the jury left making similar comments: everyone should serve on a jury, it's a valuable experience. Too bad the system tends to pick the same people over and over.

No comments: