Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#066 In which our hero does jury duty (pt. IV).

Did you think I was done? So did I.

At the beginning of jury duty we were told that even though we were required to be here the entire two weeks, if we served on one jury, we'd most likely be sent home afterwards. Besides, if you're not on a jury by Wednesday of the last week, apparently chances are slim that you'll get on a jury.

So, I was just waiting for my ticket home after the end of the first trial when I was told to go sit back down. Ugh! Then, a couple of hours later, my name was called again. A second jury? You're kidding! This isn't the way it was supposed to go.

I troop upstairs with the rest of my group and we go through voir dire again. However, this time it's clear that the case involves drug possession, and will be considerably shorter than the last trial. I know this, because the prosecuting lawyer asked each of us directly, "Since this is a short case, will you be able to focus and render a verdict?" Which is odd, since I would think that the shorter a trial, the easier to stay awake... but I guess if you doze off for a one day trial you've missed the majority of the evidence. Anyway, I was found acceptable and the trail began.

This case was very different, and didn't involve the death of anyone, thankfully. Here's the story that came out in evidence:
The accused went to a cheap motel to buy crack. This was no secret, his attorney came right out and said that his guy was there to buy crack. But, he wasn't accused of buying drugs, only of possessing drugs. Yeah, I know, just follow along, it will become clear.

He goes there and meets up with his dealer, but before the deal can go down, there's a bomb threat and the motel is evacuated. So the accused and his dealer are hanging around outside, waiting to get the all clear to go back in. The motel property is now swarming with cops, firemen, bomb-sniffing dogs, and the like. In other words, not your idea place to conduct a drug deal.

In the course of the evening, our guy and his dealer start chatting with the cops. It all sounds very friendly, and the dealer even asks, "Hey, what happened? Did those guys in room nine get drunk and call in a bomb threat?" Ha, ha, everyone laughs. The motel is cleared and people are allowed back inside.

Just about this time, the cop that was talking to the accused and his brain surgeon dealer says, "Hey, wait a minute. We didn't release the room number that the bomb threat originated from." He reports this to his boss (who I'm going to call The Chief), who tells him to fetch those two guys so he can talk to them.

Now, this sounds bad, but remember that the cops aren't there to look for drugs. Matter of fact, now that the building has been cleared, most of them are packing up to go.

So the first cop and his partner find our two guys on the second floor, heading back to their room. They politely ask them to come downstairs and talk to the chief. They do so.

Now, here's what the cops don't know: Mr. Drug Dealer has $600 worth of crack cocaine in this hand. I guess he was about to hand it over to the accused, and didn't get the chance to pocket it before the cops found them. Now, he's in an elevator with a death-grip on this baggie of drugs, a cop on either side.

They come out into the lobby. Let me set the scene: the lobby is where the cops have set up their command center; it is crawling with uniformed officers and dogs. It's in this environment where the dealer tries to slip the drugs to the accused.

So the accused takes the baggie, and of course the cop standing less than two feet away sees this happen. He says, "Hey, what's that?" and a month later the guy is in front of the jury I'm sitting on, waiting to see if he'll be found guilty of possession.
So, this is where the law is strange. The accused went there to buy drugs, but since he didn't get a chance to do it, that's no crime. And he had drugs on his person, no one questions that. But this doesn't satisfy the legal definition of "possession" in and of itself. The accused has to of had knowledge of the possession for it to stick. Which makes sense, if someone slips a joint in your pocket without your knowledge and you get arrested, you don't technically have possession. Sound hard to prove? You bet it is.

So the lawyer of the accused tried to prove that, yes, his client took the drugs from the dealer, but he didn't know what he was taking, so it doesn't count.

A word about the defense lawyer... actually, two words: clueless boob. He was a little runty and pudgy guy, wearing an ill-fitting suit and cowboy boots. COWBOY BOOTS! And he was just a terrible lawyer. To try to "prove" that his client didn't have possession, he brought in a series of "witnesses" that weren't there that night, and didn't have any real knowledge of the situation.. they were just there to say what a good, stand-up guy the accused was. But don't forget, the first thing we learned was that he was there to buy drugs. Needless to say, this tactic didn't really work for me.

But, it was an interesting insight into the law. It was possible that this guy - willing drug purchaser or not - really didn't know what he took from the dealer. Maybe he just wanted him to hold his sunglasses for a minute. Maybe it was his mom's recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. Was there any doubt as to his knowledge, and if so, was it reasonable doubt?

The testimony took all morning, then we retired for lunch. We came back and went directly into the jury room to deliberate (obviously, I wasn't an alternative to this jury, I was front and center).

Being in that jury room both left me feeling encouraged and disheartened with the American system of law. For the most part, the people on the jury were earnest, and really wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing. But, there was this one idiot who was inattentive and maybe, just maybe, retarded. Soon as we sit down, he says, "I think this is going to be a hung jury. 'Cuz I know you all are going to vote guilty but there's just no way I believe the guy is guilty." Naturally the rest of us sane jurors told him to not to say things like that, and to wait and just see how the discussion went.

We did a quick poll and found that it was about 45% guilty, 10% guilty, and 45% undecided. If I remember correctly, I fell into the undecided category. I mean, there was no doubt that the guy had drugs, but did his actions meet the legal definition? That was my hang-up.

So we discussed all the elements of the case, and even did some role playing. Frankly, that's what damned him for me, the role playing. I played the accused, another guy played the dealer, and two other people played the cops. We wanted to see exactly how the hand-off went.

And here's the thing: it wasn't like the dealer just reached out his hand and gave the accused a bag of drugs. The accused was holding a folded newspaper, fold-side up, and the dealer casually slid the drugs into the paper, then the accused sorta clamped it shut. It was a pretty clever thing, actually, and would have made one hell of a story if they hadn't been caught.

But they were. And the accused acted way too deliberately in concealing the drugs to not know what was going on. Once we walked through it, I was guilty all the way. Pretty much everyone else was, too.

And the inattentive retard? He finally said, "Oh well, if you all think he's guilty, I'll say guilty, too." Again, we all encouraged him to make up his own mind, and if he really thought the guy was innocent to explain his thinking to us, try to change our minds. Well, a "12 Angry Men" moment this was not, and he just rolled over and went with the crowd.

Afterwards, we discovered that this wasn't his first trial, it was actually the appeal. The first jury found him guilty, too. I have to wonder what his lawyer's strategy was the first go around, and if he adjusted it at all the second time. I can't imagine he could have sucked any more the first time.

Thus ends my time with the American trial system. What did I learn?

There is no way in hell I ever want to face a jury for any crime. Even when the jury is made up of honest, attentive people that are looking to do the right thing, you can still be found guilty without any real physical evidence, and your chances are at least 1-in-12 of getting some moron on your jury that doesn't care enough to make up his own mind.

Plus, it really struck me how important a good lawyer is. In both of these cases, especially the second, I really think a better lawyer would have generated an innocent verdict.

Oh, and I learned that when buying crack, keep your mouth shut!


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