Sunday, August 30, 2009

Juror No. 9

I served on a jury last week. Not the most comfortable experience due to the type of trial, although I did like each of the other jurors and enjoyed my conversations with them. There were three teachers, a journalist, a student, and me. This was my third time as a juror. The previous two experiences were a business dispute and a theft case. In the former dispute, there was a suit and a countersuit, and we didn't give either party anything. Case closed. In the second case, it was quite obvious that the guy was guilty and we convicted (after a lot of discussion convincing one holdout in the jury - she probably felt better afterward when we learned that he had done this sort of thing before). Some idiot went into a convenience store and left his keys in his car, and some kid took off with it.

This case last week was a DUI. Well, damn. There but for the grace of God, you know. DUI laws are really strict these days, and punishment is severe. I really did not want them to pick me. I answered the lawyers questions accurately, and was very surprised that they did not eliminate me based on one answer in particular. But there it was. I was on that jury. Trapped.

We sat through the lone witness's testimony (the officer who made the arrest) and saw the videotape. It was a long afternoon. We all took notes and paid careful attention to detail.

The trial stretched into a second day. I awoke that second day with dread. It really seemed that we would have to convict that young man. But after the conclusion of the trial and with careful consideration of the judge's instructions on both the law and the meaning of "reasonable doubt" we ended up with a not guilty verdict on the charge that counted the most. We discussed the details for a long time in the jury room. We tried the "field sobriety exercises" ourselves, with sometimes comical effect. We asked to watch the video a second time, and did - with extensive note taking. It was a razor thin margin, and could easily have gone the other way. There was just enough lacking in the state's case that failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We all agreed the kid should not have been driving. But that was not what we were asked to decide.

The prosecutor was no doubt disappointed in the outcome of this case. But if she was serious about her motivation to make the county a safer place, then she did accomplish something this week. After my experience with this trial, I will definitely alter my behavior regarding drinking and driving. I don't want to be the one in that defendant's chair. There but for the grace of God...

12 comments:

Dr Jenn said...

I have always managed to weasel out of jury duty. I don't think it is my civic obligation and I strongly feel that in most cases the jury is not picked as a jury of peers but as a very biased group of non-contenders for the case at hand. LOL. I am NOT implying that that applies to you.

I got pulled over for DUI once. I was humiliated. But the worse part was that the cop pulled me over for drinking a YooHoo. After the ordeal was said and done he confessed that he pulled me over because there was a case the week before and the only thing he didn't check was the yoohoo and the boy ended up going a mile down the road and had a fatal accident.

I on the other hand had to do a field sobriety test at 7 am in gray pumps,in NY, in January. I was stone cold sober and I was not happy.

Dr Jenn said...

**and I did not have on a coat.

Kathleen said...

Oh, crap. That reminds me. I got a jury questionnaire from the county which I haven't filled out. Everybody says if you fill it out, you'll get called, but even though you're supposed to fill it out and send it back in, they never do and never get caught. Do I risk it?

I was on a jury back in SF and just thinking about it still makes my blood boil - stupid lawyer chick went to the bar w/o her license and was told she could come in (it was an 18 and over bar), but couldn't drink. She got caught with a drink and gave the bouncer a ridiculously hard time. He kicked her out, she fought him the entire way, he fell on her, she citizen-arrested him for assault.

Yeah, we had one girl who argued with us, but we eventually convinced her that he was not guilty - she knew it, but didn't go against the sisterhood. *eyes rolling*

Every other time I've been called, it's been for the city where I live vs Wayne County-Detroit. I'm just scared that this time will be for Wayne County...

Kathleen said...

...didn't WANT to go against...

LL said...

Sounds like fun...

DUI is the new funding source out here too. Now nobody wants to see a drunk wipe out a family, but throwing the book at some kid who had a beer or glass of wine with dinner, well... c'mon...

Makes me proud of you fermi. Jury nullification at its finest!

Dave said...

I'm assuming that the guy wasn't charged with per se DUI based on a blood alcohol test, rather "less safe" based on the testimony and video. I related your post to one of the lawyers I practice with who does DUI defense. He wants you on his next jury. If he was charged with per se, the instructions given by the judge shouldn't have allowed you to kick him free without a little of LL's jury nullification.

(DUI officers practice the step test, finger pointing and ABC tests in the event the defense lawyer asks them to "demonstrate" the field sobriety tests.)

fermicat said...

Dr Jenn - not many people *want* to do jury duty, but it only works if there is a true cross section of the community present to serve. There were clearly some folks who were answering the lawyers' questions with a goal in mind.

Kat - PDM had a summons for today, but he had a high number and did not have to report. Good luck with yours - hope it is the place you prefer.

LL - we weren't trying to do him any favors. The state failed to meet the reasonable doubt standard. Sympathy aside, I would have voted to convict if this were supported by the evidence. We did find him guilty of a lesser charge.

Dave - yes, it was the "less safe" law that applied in this case (because the guy wisely refused to have further testing done that would have revealed his blood alcohol level). We wrangled with this law because it is subjective. In the end, there was just enough difference between what the officer said on the stand and what he and the defendant did on the videotape that none of us were comfortable with a guilty verdict on the less safe charge. And yes, we figured out that the officer would be very good at the field sobriety exercises. We ourselves were not.

Jeni said...

Two things here come to my mind. One is that I always thought I would like to serve on a jury but I never got called until last year and now, with some of the physical issues I have, I had to have my Doctor sign off for me as there is no way I can sit for long periods of time under the conditions that would be there in a jury box. Truthfully, I was rather disappointed and yet, relieved that my doctor understood my mixed feelings about this.
Second thing -the DUI stuff. My son got picked up back in March, ostensibly because one of the tail lights on his pickup truck was not functioning properly and it was 2:30 a.m., etc. He wasn't initially pulled over with a suspicion of driving under the influence. But, he had been drinking and his blood test came back as a .09 -the limit in PA is .08 under normal circumstances. However, because his occupation is that of a truck driver and he therefore has a CDL license, the limit is lower for them -.06. We're still not sure how this will end up for him -if he will lose his license (and livelihood) or not. According to the court report in the newspaper,at his hearing, he was given probation, community service and it said "no loss of license" but he says he will still lose his license for probably a month and that then will mean he will lose his job because his employer will then be notified, etc. He also got fines which will come to roughly $1,800.00 at least. Keep in mind too, it only takes two beers to register a .08 on a BAC and it really isn't worth the risk -financially and definitely not worth it if you get picked up after having been in an accident that is a really bad one. My daughter and I have been after my son for a long time before this happened to think before he does some of the stupid crap he does -like drink and drive. I don't know if this was a big enough wake-up call for him but I sure as hell do hope it was!

fermicat said...

Jeni - someone my size would be at .08 after one drink! And I believe that the legal limit for commercially licensed drivers is .04 in GA. It might have been mentioned at one point during the trial but I can't recall exactly.

Dianne said...

I would have probably been a pain in the butt in that juror room

I'm so sick of the lack of respect and care for other people that I want all cell phones confiscated and I want drivers to have to be as alcohol free as pilots before they drive to the Quick Mart

I have served as a juror twice
one was a nonsense case
the other was a horror, shaken baby death - it took me a long time to forget the details of that trial

fermicat said...

Dianne - I can't imagine being a juror on a gruesome trial. I know someone has to do it, but I am glad it has never been me.

Kathleen said...

I got pulled over once after 2:00 a.m. because a headlight was out...I knew perfectly well that they were really pulling me over to see if I had been drinking and had the reason to do so. Poor police, it was my turn to be DD, so I had had one drink at 9:00 p.m. and was stone cold sober. I was told to get the headlight fixed...no ticket.