Friday, March 26, 2010

Jury Duty - Episode IV - Conclusion

It was fortunate I was placed on such a short case.  After starting jury service on Monday, my service was completed by Wednesday afternoon, after completing an entire case.  A not-so-brief summary of the case follows:  

In May 2009, a 1994 Plymouth Voyager minivan was stolen from an apartment complex in Federal Way around 3am. There were no witnesses to the crime, however a (fairly useless) security camera caught the vehicle driving away from the complex, along with another vehicle, around that time.  No person was identifiable from the video.  

Around 3pm that same afternoon, the minivan was waiting for the light to change at an intersection in downtown Kent.  As is typical for a NW afternoon in May, rain was pouring down.  A Kent police officer happened to pull up along the right side of the minivan at the same light, and noticed the van had a broken out passenger-side window, with shards of broken glass still remaining around the edge of the window, and rain streaming into the vehicle through it.  The officer noticed one driver in the vehicle, who proceeded to look straight ahead and not look over to the police officer to his right.  The officer found this itself somewhat odd, as "most people will turn to look at me when I pull up next to them, simply out of curiosity."  After the light changed, she slowed and pulled up behind the van and began to follow him, while running the plates through the computer in her cruiser.  To not much surprise, the plates turned up a stolen vehicle, which she verified with dispatch and alerted nearby officers who soon joined her.  

She turned on her lights, and chirped her siren several times, instructing the van to pull over.  Instead of pulling over, he continued driving forward to the approaching red light, where a car was stopped in the right lane waiting for the light to change.  He proceeded to pull out to the inside lane, and without stopping executed a right turn around the stopped car and continued.  The officer continued pursuit, at this point firing up the siren.  Down the succeeding two-lane road, at a 4-way stop with another car stopped ahead of him at the stop sign, he proceeded to cut over into the oncoming lane around the stopped car, and run the stop sign, continuing down the street where he turned into a dead-end apartment complex.  As he was approaching the dead end, officer still in pursuit, with the van slowing but still moving, he bailed out of the driver-side door and headed into a swampy area down a ravine on foot.  

Other police units circled to the other side of the swampy area to cut him off, while the pursuing officer remained on the van-side of the swamp watching the suspect.  He proceeded to surrender to the police on the opposite side, now wet up to above his knees and having lost his shoes in the swamp.  He was taken into custody by the Kent police.  An inspection of items on his person included a bottle of prescription pain killers belonging to the owner of the vehicle who testified that the pills were in his backpack that was in the vehicle when it was stolen.  

The officers inspected and took pictures of the stolen minivan.  A variety of items were strewn about the vehicle, including a screwdriver (which the vehicle's owner admitted to also having been in the backpack).  The passenger window was busted in, and shattered glass was all over the area of the passenger seat, as well as plenty of water from the ensuing rainfall.  The ignition had been punched out and was sitting on the floor between the driver and passenger seats, and the car had obviously been started using the screwdriver.  

The defendant was charged with two counts:  (1) Possession of a Stolen Vehicle, and (2) Attempting to Elude a Pursuing Police Vehicle.  

Testimony came primarily from the victim (the owner of the vehicle) and the various police officers and detectives who had responded to the incident.  The detective who interrogated the suspect shortly after the arrest asked him several questions, paraphrased:  

Detective:  "Where did you get the car?"  
Suspect:  "I got it from a friend."
D:  "What's your friend's name?" 
S:  "I can't tell you."
D:  "Did you know the car was stolen?"
S:  "No."
D:  "Why did you run from the police?"
S:  "Because I had a warrant."

During the course of testimony, were were also made aware of a prior conviction for auto theft of a 1994 Plymouth Voyager minivan, similar method of starting using a screwdriver.  The jury was provided limiting instructions as to this evidence, that it may only be considered to establish whether or not the defendant had knowledge that the vehicle was stolen.  

Following the prosecution resting their case, the defense was provided as follows:  

"The defense waives opening, and rests."

No defense was provided for the case.  The question for the jury would be simply based on whether or not the State had proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

As to the first count, Possession of a Stolen Vehicle, the State needed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:  
(1) The defendant was in posession of the car.  
(2) The defendant acted with the knowledge that the car was stolen.  

The first was hard to argue with... he was caught in the vehicle... mostly.  The officer was not able to positively identify him within the vehicle, other than a profile view.  However, the officer could positively identify him in the swamp, and it is highly unlikely there was any sort of switcheroo pulled within the swamp itself.  Additionally, the stolen pills that were identified as being contained within the vehicle, were found in the pocket of the defendant after arrest.  12 members of the jury were satisfied with this.  

The second part was slightly more challenging.  There was no concrete evidence that the defendant knew the car was stolen.  Reasonable doubt had to be applied to consider whether a reasonable person who stepped into a car that had a busted out window, glass everywhere, a punched ignition, started by a screwdriver; would reasonably believe that the car was stolen.  11 jurors agreed that a reasonable person would, 1 juror was not satisfied.  Not because he didn't believe the defendant was guilty, but more that he didn't believe the prosecutor fully proved its case.  It seemed to the 11 of us in agreement that the 1 juror didn't have a firm grasp of "reasonable doubt".  After about an hour of "discussion", said juror finally agreed that he was probably over analyzing the jury instructions provided, and agreed that the defendant was guilty.  

Moving on to count 2, Attempting to Elude a Pursuing Police Vehicle, the State needed to establish a bit more:  
(1)  The defendant was in control of the vehicle.
(2)  The police were identifiable as police.
(3)  The police signaled the defendant to stop, either visually, verbally, or with siren or some other hand gesture.  
(4)  That the defendant, in an attempt to elude, was driving in a reckless manner. 

The first 3 were fairly well-established.  The only question was the matter of whether his actions constituted "driving in a reckless manner", of which on initial deliberation the jury was divided 8-4.  In this case, his actions were fairly well established, including the aforementioned illegal maneuvers, running lights and stop signs, and abandoning a moving vehicle; but it was up to the jury to determine if that indeed met the level of recklessness.  If not, we were also given the option of finding the defendant guilty of the lesser included charge of "Failure to Obey a Police Officer".  After a fair bit of deliberation, it was the jury's consensus that any one of his illegal maneuvers individually would probably not have constituted recklessness.  But the compounding of his multiple behaviors during the pursuit did meet the standard of driving in a reckless manner.  

After a total of 2 hours of deliberations, the defendant was found guilty on both counts.  

It took about an hour for the court to be reassembled (while in deliberations in the jury room, the court had already begun voir dire on another case, with different jurors and different counsel).  The defendant and both counsel were brought into the courtroom, and the jury returned where the verdict was given to the judge who gave it to the clerk to be read.  The clerk then polled each individual juror:  "Juror Number 1: Is this your verdict? ("Yes")  Is this the verdict of the jury? ("Yes")..."  The jury was dismissed to return to the jury room while the courtroom was cleared. (Throughout the entire trial, we were never present when the defendant was brought in or taken out of the courtroom.  Our only indication he was in custody was the King County Jailer who was always present in the corner of the room whenever the defendant was present.)  

Following the case, the judge stopped into the jury room to thank us for our time and service and asked if we had any questions about the case.  This was the only time we had been addressed by anyone other than the court bailiff outside of the recorded proceedings of the courtroom.  Following that we went out into the cleared courtroom where both the prosecutor and defense attorney were still packing up their things, and most of the jurors spent about a half hour just talking with the attorneys about the case.  We were curious what we weren't told about the case, specifically about the prior convictions of the defendant.  In fact, the defense attorney told us he had about 8 prior convictions for auto theft, 6 of which were concerning the exact same year and model of car that he was convicted of in this case.  At the age of nearly 23, they figured he's been out of jail for a total of about 6 months since he was 18.  He was not exactly a model citizen.  We were curious why the defense didn't present any case, and the defender goes "I had nothing!"  Apparently they had tried to get the defendant to take a plea, but he refused and wanted his day in court.  The defender told him "there's no way you're getting off on this one", and he was obviously right.  His only question to us was "what took you so long?!  I thought you'd be done in 20 minutes."  It was very interesting, both for us the jurors and for them the lawyers.  The prosecutor had mentioned that this is the most he has ever had a jury want to talk to him, and we were definitely the most interested about things after the case had been done.  Apparently most jurors just want to get their job done and get out.  We offered them both some tips that might help them in future cases.  (We all want a fair trial, of course, but if the bad guy's guilty, a little help getting the conviction doesn't hurt.)  

And so it goes.  Jury Duty experience #4.  Will next time be next year, or 20 years from now?  Hard to say, but if past experience is any indication, it won't be too long until my next summons.  

No comments: