Thursday, July 30

The Case III: Judgment Day

Back by popular demand. For those of you looking for closure on this anecdote.

As you recall, this was a trial for two counts of second degree murder, gang related. The prosecution presented several pieces of evidence that, taken together, could point toward the defendant as the shooter. But, there really was no direct evidence, literally no smoking gun that directly implicated the defendant.

We got the case given to us on a Wednesday afternoon. The judge reads through the detailed instructions about how to deliberate. Now remember, there were a total of 15 jurors selected, with three being alternates. Those alternates do not take part in the jury deliberations. But, the catch is, they don’t designate the alternates at the beginning of the trial! Three random numbers were drawn before the jury was excused from the courtroom. Those lucky three had the pleasure of sitting through the entire trial, hearing all the evidence, not being able to discuss anything about the case, and then being sent home without any further input. Gee, that last five weeks wasn’t a waste of time.

First order of business is, of course, choosing the foreperson. Throughout the trial, I had thought about that. I was quite willing to offer my services in that capacity. Since there was no one else chomping at the bit, I volunteered and got the assignment. Frankly, I felt like it made sense. I tend to be a good facilitator and I like everyone to participate and have an equal voice.

The jury has a tremendous amount of discretion for how it undertakes its deliberations. Essentially, we set our own schedule. But, deliberations can only take place when every member is in the room. And, we must tell the bailiff any time we start and stop deliberations for any period of time, including lunch break. Everyone in the court is basically sitting around on pins and needles, their fate hanging on our decision. So we began by going over some basic housekeeping details. By then it was near the 4pm cutoff for the day.

So we began our discussions in earnest on Thursday. We spent the day going through each witness’ testimony and trying to judge the general trustworthyness and credibility, as well as pick out any specific facts about the case that we could all agree to. We did not finish covering everyone that first day. By happenstance, the following week was scheduled to be no court. So oddly enough, we took an entire week off from deliberating. Hey, no rush. Not like anyone’s life hangs in the balance.

Get to the point!

Okay, okay. We return the following following Monday. Finish up our discussion of all the witnesses. Then we talk about where we are all at. When we do an initial poll, there are only two guilty votes. The rest are not guilty or not sure but leaning that way. I’ll admit, I was one of the guilty votes. Big surprise. But I was genuinely interested in the perspective of those leaning toward not guilty. And the reasoning was fairly universal. The biggest concern was the lack of something, anything, that can at least put the defendant in the car. That, plus the defense arguing a plausible alternative scenario that puts the driver as the shooter. In the end, those were two big hurdles too big to hurdle over.

The vote: Not Guilty on all counts.

Not to say innocent. There’s a very important distinction. The majority of us felt that in all probability he was more likely than not the shooter. There was a definite sense of frustration that we did not have more evidence we could work with. There was some discussion as to whether that was the fault of poor police work, but I think this was one of those cases where the evidence was just not there. The prosecution did the best with what it had. But, when you are dealing with a rigorous standard of guilt beyond all reasonable doubt, it makes it extremely difficult when you don’t have some direct evidence that can conclusively point to the defendant. In light of these circumstances, I was satisfied that we reached the proper conclusion.

Epilogue: What we didn’t know

Once the verdict is read in court, the judge excuses the jury and we are free to go with no restrictions on discussing the case with anyone. As part of the trial process, the attorneys for both sides often talk with the jurors afterwards to get some insights as to how the trial was presented. Sort of like an evaluation. We expressed our reservations about the lack of direct evidence.

Well, here’s what we found out. This trial was actually the second time around for this case. The first trial took place last fall and resulted in a hung jury. I wasn’t surprised. It actually made sense. It also tended to reinforce for me that we were right in acquitting. Then the state attorney asks us if it would have made a difference if we had known that the defendant had previously been charged with making threats to rival gang members by brandishing a gun. You know, kind of exactly like he was accused of doing in this case. Yeah, might have been helpful for us to know that. Certainly would have made for some interesting deliberations. Such is the nature of the law. You don’t always get to know everything up front when you make your decision.

So we will leave the rest to karma, cosmic justice, what have you. That pretty much wrapped it up for me. I headed home on the light rail. Back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now.

That’s my story. Hope it was reasonably entertaining. I won’t have any more jury stories for at least 24 months.

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