In 1989, my first tour of jury duty led to one case, a defendant who operated a vehicle after the Department of Motor Vehicles certified him as a habitual offender and revoked his license. In this state, jurors do not get transcripts of testimony, nor are they supposed to know the potential penalty in a finding of guilty.
The only problem was with one of the pieces of evidence. The habitual offender record of the 24 year old came to us, and the reverse side of the form gave the penalty: a mandatory year in prison. If we found him guilty, he was gone. That shocked most of us. Unfortunately, he clearly violated the provision, in a crazy way.
He attended a party at an apartment complex, one consisting of several buildings and a private road. Later, a sixteen year old wished to leave the party, and he offered her a ride. In his car, the drove through the apartment complex only to have another car arrive and run his car off the road. We heard testimony from the state officer who certified him a habitual offender, from the police officer who arrived on scene, from the young woman he transported, and from his girlfriend. It turned out the operator of the aggressive car was said girlfriend.
Forced off the road, he went onto the lawn of one apartment building, and as I recall, hit something. Someone called the police, who arrived on scene and started asking routine questions, ran his record, and…busted.
The first witness called – the state officer – walked toward the stand, only to have the defence attorney call out, “Objection!” A sidebar ensued and the judge ordered the jury to exit; we had no clue what the dispute was about.
We resumed the next day, to be at 9AM, but we waited, placed our lunch order, had lunch on the state, and resumed at 1PM. Our collective impression of the defendant was of an overgrown kid, immature, not evil. He needed guidance, he needed to grow up, but… damn; we knew what the penalty would be. In the end, we saw no way out to save him. After the trial, the judge came in to visit with the jurors, and told us the case was the first for the defence attorney and prosecutor. “Could you tell?” he rhetorically asked. My heart felt for the guy, because his defence was bloody awful.
Fast forward to 2007 and to jury duty again, this time in a different county. On juror day, after all 200 or so of us received jury instructions for our term, they began selecting for a trial that involved a man who shot and killed a police officer, although the trial was for a different charge. It felt surreal to sit some 30 feet from a guy all over the news for shooting this officer, who left two young children fatherless. I hoped they would not choose me, and they didn’t, phew.
One funny moment came when the judge speaking to us told of a case where the jury went on location. They filed into an apartment, where the prosecution would reconstruct the incident, the better for the jury to picture what happened. Well, the jury saw more when a woman, unaware she had a herd of legal houseguests, walked out of a bathroom absent a stitch of clothing.
Thrice in 2007 they drew my name for other trials; on the first selection one of the attorneys bounced me, probably because I wrote legal decisions requiring fact, not hearsay as the decision basis. The next two saw me selected, and both times I ended up foreman, err forewoman, err foreperson.
Juries are unpredictable. Jurors tend to go with instinct and likeability. As they did 18 years before, the state bought our lunch, subs from a nearby eatery. After our munchdown, we engaged in free form case discussion for forty minutes, then I polled everyone – 10-2 to convict someone of driving while under the influence. Next, I gave each juror a chance to make their case, and then shot holes through their arguments – see second sentence of this paragraph. The other vote with me was a corporate attorney. After three hours of showing why the ten put forth reasoning we two could drive our reasonable doubt trucks through, we acquitted.
The second was a civil with a threshold of a preponderance of the evidence. Still, jurors worked with perception, speculated, and went by whether they liked the plaintiff, and not fact. It took a while, but I prevailed with fact again.
Then there was the biggie for me, my own indictment in 2008, to which I pled guilty in 2009. I was guilty and so pled, and never intended to do anything but plead guilty. This all happened in my meltdown, early 2000s. By 2009, I had long since rebuilt my life and integrity; a remaining piece was standing up and accepting the consequences. After sentencing in May 2009, I had one month before reporting to the camp in June. Twenty-one months in a federal prison camp followed, which you know of if you read this blog regularly.
Why the jury and court talk in this post? Earlier this week, I received paperwork for me to report for jury duty in January. This time, I won’t serve; my conviction precludes me serving. In 2007, I advised the court on my response paperwork I would be indicted at some point in federal court; they didn’t care. They should this time.