Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jury Duty (Summer of 2009)

This is my original, very personal, journal entry I wrote immediately after my unjust experience as a juror.  I am sharing this now to preface my next blog post, but also because it is still to this day a very troubling part of my past.  Having re-read it before posting, I have tears in my eyes once again.  I hope that by writing about it and my following analysis, future jurors can avoid the mistakes that I saw played out.
Count 1:  We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant... on the charge of 'Molestation of a Child' as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
Count 2: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant… on the charge of 'Sexual Conduct With a Minor' (penile vaginal intercourse occurred in van) as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
Count 3: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant... on the charge of 'Sexual Conduct With a Minor' (penile vaginal intercourse in victim’s bedroom) as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
Count 4: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant... on the charge of 'Sexual Conduct With a Minor' (oral sex) as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
The jurors reply that these are their true verdicts.
The jury is polled at the request of counsel for the Defense. Each juror replies that these
are his/her true verdicts.
With each additional announcement of a guilty verdict, shrieks and sobs spiked up over the already intensely emotional crying from behind the Defendant.  A large group of family and friends had come to support him, few of them looked any less intimidating than the Defendant himself.  One young woman, possibly a girlfriend or a sister, couldn't handle it, and darted out the door.  After several more weeks of filings and hearings, the case was finally closed with a prison sentence of 16 years, and the Defendant was ordered to register as a sex offender.   At least eleven people in the courtroom felt that justice was served.  I was not one of them.

I had received a juror summons before, and when I had called in the night before to determine if I would have to show up, my group had been dismissed.  This time around, my group was required to show up.  I let my manager know I'd be gone for a day, but that I was optimistic that I could get out of it.  I wasn't entirely sincere with that sentiment, part of me wanted to sit on a jury just to see what it was like.  And it was decent timing for me, I didn't have anything else going on in the next few weeks, and work had been slow.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to sit on a jury for a few days.

My GPS brought me to the parking structure for jurors, and I presented my badge and was allowed through the gates.  I found a spot near the elevator on the fourth floor, and made my way down the stairs to the shuttle stop, where we boarded a bus that brought us to the court.  We went through a small security line, similar to that of an airport, and were directed towards a juror gathering area. 

I was glad I brought my laptop, because I was able to log on to work and e-mail and keep up with some of my normal activities.  They questioned our availability for a month-long case, which I turned down since I would be leaving the country in a few weeks.  After filling out a few pieces of paper and turning them in, the morning passed and I was never called for jury selection.  We were dismissed for lunch, after which I still was not called for a few hours.  Shortly before dismissing us for the day, they made one more call, and I was in that group.  I gathered my things and lined up with the fifty others potentially assigned to our case, and we were brought upstairs.  We filled out some information about ourselves and answered questions about our personal lives and opinions.  We were brought back down to the gathering area to await a decision.  The rest of the unselected jurors were dismissed and would not have to return for two years.  Within another hour, we were ushered back upstairs, but this time to a court room, where the lawyers, defendant and a handful of others sat to observe the juror selection process. 

We had juror numbers to respond by, and were asked to verbally answer questions about where we worked, if we were married, how many kids we had, etc.  Then we were asked if we had opinions or experiences that would skew our fair judgment of the case.  We were asked if we knew anyone in the courtroom, be it the defendant or lawyers, or other jurors.  Two of the jurors did, in fact, know each other: one had been a student at the high school where the other was a security guard.

Some of the potential jurors clearly did not want to be selected, and made claims that ranged from slightly unbelievable to outrageous, and the judge called each and every one of them out on it.  He was tough, but not mean.  He made a reasonable case for every situation, and spoke with great authority, but still came off as a kind and good man.  He clearly believed in the values of the justice system and that jury duty was a responsibility of citizenship.  It was actually refreshing to see that, in a society of so much negativity towards our country's politics and systems, someone actually believed in the values that our country was formed on.  I was feeling patriotic, but somewhat indifferent about getting picked.  I really just wanted to know one way or another.

My anxiety was met with sheer disappointment, when we were neither selected nor rejected.  Instead, we were instructed to come back the following afternoon to continue the jury selection process.  Brutal, I thought, two days wasted without even being assigned to a case. 

I went into work that morning, and let my manager know that I should have an answer that afternoon.  We went through another question and answer session, then were dismissed for a break.  Our group had been combined with another group of fifty people, and we were all lined up in the hallway outside the courtroom to hear the final selections.  I had met a few interesting people by this time, and thought that it would actually be cool to spend more time with them, even if that meant serving on a jury. 

I was one of the last jurors to be selected, and by the time the fourteen seats were filled (we had two extra jurors that would sit through the case as alternates), none of the interesting people I looked forward to spending more time with had joined me.  I wasn't here to meet exciting people, I reminded myself, and I convinced myself that a few people on the jury were probably pretty nice. 

It dawned on me now, seeing the 86 people that were not selected, that we didn't exactly have the cream of the crop seated there.  Many bright, reasonable people were probably not selected because they had done or said something during the selection process to intentionally avoid being selected.  I was filled with more anxiety about how the case would go, but I didn't have much time to ponder those thoughts, as we were immediately given instructions and dismissed shortly thereafter. 

We didn't begin until about 10:30 am, so I was able to pull a few hours of work each morning before donning my juror badge once more.  Even while I acknowledged the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, it seemed to me that this would be a relatively clear-cut case; I already guessed that he would likely be found guilty.  I pushed down my thoughts and assumptions, however, and contemplated the lawyers' opening arguments seriously, and weighed the evidence as it was presented by both sides.  Both lawyers, in their opening arguments, admitted weaknesses and holes in their cases, but spoke with confidence that they would convince us of their respective positions.  This was not a case of rape, for example, the girl was consensual in all four alleged acts, but her age made the acts a crime, nonetheless.

When it came to evidence, we were told upfront that we would have little more than testimonies from each side.  It would be a case of whose story is more believable, a chubby girl with low self-esteem who couldn't remember any relevant details, or a man convicted of at least one DUI.  The case turned out to be much more difficult to decide than I expected.

Through the two weeks we spent together, I got to know several of the jurors more personally, and we all got along very well.  Since we held a standing admonition not to discuss the case, our lunch breaks were spent discussing personal lives and telling jokes.  There were some things that happened during the case that were difficult to ignore on our breaks, and we would comment generically about such events, but quickly try to change the subject without being rude to one another.  We never led on to what side we were leaning towards, so it was a complete surprise when it came to decision time that we were initially split straight down the middle!  But I'm jumping ahead. 

The girl certainly did have holes in her testimony, as we were promised.  She couldn't remember dates, times or places, even months or seasons of when the acts occurred.  She said summer, then corrected herself to say fall, then denied she had ever said summer.  It would be easy to believe someone who said, "No, I'm sorry I made a mistake, it was fall actually." But instead, she continued denying that she ever said summer, even when the lawyer pointed out that they had a court record of her saying it.  It was unbelievable how shaky her case was.  Even without the defense side being presented, I was swaying towards innocent on all four counts. 

Some of the questions that were asked of her were clearly foreshadowing future questions and evidence to be presented.  For example, was the defendant circumcised?  She confidently said yes, he was.  He later said he was not, as did a detective who had examined him.  Did he have any tattoos, birthmarks or scars around his genital area?  She said no, again with confidence.  He admitted to a smiley face tattoo on the head of his penis, where she would clearly have seen it had it been there during the alleged acts, and he claimed he got it when he was much younger at a party.  A witness in hand cuffs later claimed he had watched the defendant tattoo his penis in prison, just before the trial in order to falsify evidence.  Lucky us, we even got to examine photographs of his penis to decide for ourselves on the circumcision and tattoo.

There was another piece that seemed to have a backstory.  The girl was asked what color shirt he was wearing in each incident and what time they occurred.  She couldn't seem to remember, colors, places, times, days, months, or anything around the events, so she was useless.  Later, a detective that had pulled the defendant over one night in the same period of one of the alleged incidents was asked about the color of the defendant's shirt, what time he was pulled over, who was with him, if he had a dog with him, what vehicle he was driving, etc.  It never came full circle to a resolution, but it appeared that the defense suspected the state would claim one of the incidents happened the same night he was pulled over for a DUI.  But since that claim was never made, that counter-evidence seemed a little silly.

One of the strangest and most controversial parts of the trial was a testimony from a criminal who was currently serving a prison sentence for all sorts of child pornography related charges.  He sat before us, with chains around his ankles and handcuffs on his wrists, traditional black and white stripes, and Sheriff Joe's famous pink underwear and pink socks.  He wasn't the only witness in handcuffs we saw on the stand during this trial, but he was peculiarly uncooperative and disobedient.  He would answer questions in unexpected ways and eventually blatantly refuse to answer questions, and the questions became more and more conclusive.  Specifically, a transcript of a conversation with a detective was presented to him, and he acknowledged it, but then denied the accuracy of the transcript, even with the threat of an audio recording confirmation.  The transcript reported that he had described a conversation with the defendant about the victim that went something like this:

Witness: "Why'd ya do it man?  You know she's underage!" 

Defendant: "She's old enough to know what she's doing."

The disobedient witness denied this conversation took place and denied telling the detective of it.  After the jury had been dismissed and brought back in multiple times, the witness was finally excused and his testimony was ordered to be stricken from the record.  We were ordered to consider nothing of his testimony, but the damage was done.  We believed what we heard, and it was hard to wipe the likelihood of such a conversation occurring from our minds.  This specific witness was later sentenced to a further punishment for behaving the way he did in the courtroom.  I was a little amused by the ordeal, as much as I could be at least, because I didn't think much of the State Attorney, and he made such a big bravado about the fact that he had not even spoken with the witness, just to prove that no agreement or deal had been made.  Clearly, the State Attorney was not expecting his behavior, and thought that his testimony would be a significant boost to the evidence in his case.  It made me amuse to myself that maybe he should have spoken with the witness prior to trial. 

The trial followed with similarly weak testimonies from various other people, none of whom ever admitted to being aware of any sexual contact or any relationship between the defendant and the girl.  Credentials of all detectives involved were called into question, showing that nobody was really competent in their careers.  Other than the photographs of the defendant's body, we had no physical evidence, and we couldn't even get access to transcripts used in the trial.  The case truly was a matter of who and what we believed to be true, based on demeanor, likelihood of knowing what was going on, motives, etc. 

What I saw was a very real possibility that any or all of these four acts occurred, but no sufficient evidence of any of them.  Therefore, based on our justice system, the defendant should be innocent, because he was not sufficiently proven guilty.  Actually, I didn't even think the girl was being entirely truthful, and I had doubts that anything happened at all, but I can't say that they didn't happen.  I hypothesized, based on the drama revealed to us during the trial, that her mom, an actress, had wanted revenge on the family, and knew that her daughter liked the guy, and figured they had a good story.  The whole thing felt very concocted by the mother, and I had no doubt that, with her close relationship to her daughter, the girl would simply obey orders as best she could.  Regardless, I didn't believe anyone on the witness stand, and therefore had no evidence to sway me one way or another, so my initial verdict was not guilty.

When the presentation part of the trial was over, it was about a quarter to five, so we knew we'd probably have to come back the following day to deliberate.  We thought, however, that if we all agreed immediately, we could be released from jury duty that much quicker, so we took an initial vote.  We first discussed the fact that there were four counts, and discussed how to deal with them.  We decided that there was nothing in the case to prove one over the other, all four would have the same decision one way or the other.  Then we took the vote semi-unanimously using slips of paper handed into the foreperson.  The vote was split down the middle: 6 for not guilty and 6 for guilty.  So we agreed not to talk about it anymore that day and to come back the following morning to start discussing the case.

After thinking it over that night, we decided to take another vote, this time we agreed we didn't care if it was unanimous, so we just raised our hands.  This time the vote had been swayed by one: 7 for not guilty and 5 for guilty.  We started discussing the case and the reasons we felt the way we did.

I was quite outspoken from the beginning, making the point that there is just no evidence at all, therefore the law says we have to find him not guilty.  I even swayed one juror from the "dark side".  I was happy to see that I could talk sense into them, and seeing the vote go my direction. 

Conversation continued relentlessly until lunch, at which point we took another vote.  It was 8 to 4 this time.  I figured we'd come back with fresh minds and new arguing points, and we'd be at a consensus of not guilty by mid-afternoon.  Boy, was I wrong. 

We started weighing the qualities of each speaker, what makes them believable and not, what we think they lied about and what we think they told the truth about, etc.  We decided that the defendant had lied about a number of things, including the tattoo on his penis.  The fact that the girl didn't know he was not circumcised was thrown out, since she clearly had no idea and no other experience with boys/men.  But there were things that weren't right about her story, like how she described one thing to the lawyer and then said it completely differently another time.  Did he knock on her window or call her?  Did he come in through the window or through the front door?  Did he drop her off or come inside to play video games with her brother?  None of it made sense, none of it was useful. 

For some people in our group, it came down to factors external to the case.  We knew the defendant's girlfriend had been pregnant with what he thought was his child, and some of the jurors did the math to discover that she, too, was underage.  Therefore, he was technically admitting to a crime by admitting he thought it was his child.  The thing for me is that there is strict instructions in our jury packet that I felt they were ignoring: namely, guilt of other crimes is not evidence of guilt in this trial. 

There were also other factors, like how some testimonies and questions which were supposed to be stricken from the record hinted at gang involvement.  At least two men on the jury declared the guy is an awful guy and should be punished either way, regardless of whether or not he was guilty of this specific crime, therefore their verdicts was guilty.  One of those guys had previously said not guilty, and had been another more vocal supporter of the not guilty vote. 

I felt like I was swimming against a current; I had been so close and now I was being pushed further and further out to sea.  Nobody seemed to recognize my voice of reason anymore, and I felt like they were turning against me.  It never got personal, not really, but I became more and more offended and defensive.  We called it quits for the day, and returned the next morning with yet another vote going in the wrong direction.  It was now something like 3 for not guilty and 9 for guilty. 

I was being stubborn.  I was pissed and unhappy, not in the least because I was outnumbered but because I thought they were making a terrible mistake: they were blatantly ignoring our laws and what makes our justice system great, or even fair.  I didn't want to be the last one holding out and causing a hung jury.  I feared our judge, who I suspected would push us for a decision even if we said we could not come to a consensus.  I didn't want to draw this out.  Heck, by now, it was nearing the time for me to leave the country on vacation, I couldn't let this go on too long. 

We talked about the stricken testimony of the criminal who refused to say anything useful.  It wasn't what he said that was interesting, but what he was asked.  Those pointed, leading questions, especially the one about that conversation he reported to the detective, that alone was convincing to us.  In that light, I started edging to the point of believing it was likely the events happened, but I was doing so with evidence that we were supposed to be ignoring, which isn't right. 

The jurors made it such a subjective, personal feeling.  Do we believe him or do we believe her?  My latest argument was that he didn't HAVE to prove his innocence, he was already innocent UNTIL proven guilty.  The burden of proof is on the state, and they presented no evidence.  If anything, the defendant's apparent lies about his tattoo made him seem more guilty.  Had we gone solely off the girl's story alone, we would have no feelings at all about it. 

I didn't like the girl.  I didn't like how she carried herself, how she lied, how she seemed to be faking tears.  There were times during her testimony that I swear she was acting like she was having a meltdown because she couldn't remember the story she was supposed to tell - like she was reciting what her mom or her lawyer had coached her to say.  It was very evident she didn't know what she was talking about, concerning anything, and I felt no sympathy for her at all.  Maybe that makes me cold-hearted, but when my fellow jurors seemed to feel bad for her, I was immediately alarmed.  We're going to believe her story because she's a girl?  Because she's a child?  Why would we believe her based on those characteristics alone?  She had no redeeming qualities.  Girls and young women claim they were raped all the time when it didn't happen.  It could have been a fantasy of hers, and maybe she made up a great story and thought she could get away with it.  I just don't see her being a reliable source.

The jurors pointed to the fact that she was confused and foggy on the details as evidence that the story wasn't concocted.  I couldn't believe my ears!  What I know about truth and lies is that it's easier to remember details of things that actually happened, not about stories.  They went on to say that if her stories were mere fantasies she played out, that she would have made it more romantic, citing that the defendant never kissed her as evidence that it was so bizarre she couldn't have possibly come up with the story.  I cried B.S. in vain, I myself was a curious little girl and I imagined much worse fantasies, and even wrote about them and blew the minds of those who read my stories.  The jurors brushed off my argument, saying I'm smarter than her and therefore I can't compare my childhood to hers.  So now we're going to believe her because she's too stupid to come up with a good story?  Really?  REALLY? 

I was far from swayed now, and I started to get huffy.  It was ridiculous.  We had to call it quits again, and we chose not to take a vote that evening.  I'm pretty sure it would have been 1 to 11, but my peers, while they disagreed with me, cared about me as much as newly acquainted strangers could, and I think they were sparing me from the anxiety of being the only one holding out. 

I went to karate that night and beat the heck out of my partners, much more violently than usual for me.  I was very emotional; I did not want to see a man be sentenced based on unfair, unjust arguments.  We had no evidence, the girl being stupid and childish was not evidence.  It ate me up all night.  I put a few notes in my phone, arguments that I would use, almost a speech that I would read the next morning in hopes of throwing one more dagger in the face of injustice.  I didn't even go in to work the next morning, I just went straight to the court when it was time.   

I had rehearsed my argument so many times I had it memorized, but my eyes still swelled up with tears as I spoke the words.  I told them that I sincerely hoped we weren't siding with the girl because we felt sorry for her.  She has a miserable life, we all agreed, but that is not sufficient evidence to convict a man as a sex offender.  I looked around the room as I asked them if they truly believed her story, if they truly believe that he did the crime, and finally, if they truly believed we had sufficient evidence to say he did.  They all agreed that they did.  Not one hesitated.  Not one admitted it was a gut feeling more than an evident realization.  Not one admitted they were using evidence that had been stricken from the record.  Not one admitted they thought he was guilty on the basis of him being a bad guy in general, or that they wanted to punish him for sleeping with his underage girlfriend, a different crime altogether.  They all sat, convinced of their decisions, and knowing that they had each other for strength.

I finally conceded, saying that I did not want to be the one person holding up a trial.  I told them that I thought it was a very real possibility, that it was likely those things happened, and if they believed it, then I would go with their decision.  A few of them pushed back, wanting to ensure that I was comfortable with the decision.  I didn't want to talk about it anymore, I just wanted it to be over. 

The emotions invested in the trial were much more overwhelming than I would have ever guessed.  I was expecting a case that showed he did it beyond a reasonable doubt, and instead was convinced that there was not enough legal evidence to prove his guilt.  Nevertheless, I shamefully allowed the foreperson to turn in our decision of guilty on all four accounts.  We broke for lunch, knowing that all that was left to do was sit through the final proceedings in the court room as the verdict is read, and then we'd be free to go back to our normal lives. 

Even though we weren't supposed to discuss the case, there was still communication, verbal and non-verbal.  I cried a lot, but did my best to hold it together.  I got a lot of hugs.  I got a lot of sympathetic gestures, like, "I see where you're coming from" and "I thought so too, but…"  None of it helped.  I lost respect for a lot of my fellow jurors.  I thoroughly disagreed with them, thinking to myself that they were naive and illogical.  Humans are emotional creatures, that is why we have the laws stated as they are.  We had no proof, but he would be found guilty nonetheless. 

We took our seats in the courtroom, and the judge opened the verdict and looked them over.  We weren't supposed to guess by his reaction whether or not he agreed, but we all felt he disagreed.  He looked surprised, like he didn't know what to do.  I thought he might consider overturning the decision somehow, if there was a way.  I wondered if he would ask to speak just to us privately.  I thought about what our justifications would be, if we were asked.  We were not asked, of course, that is not part of the legal process.  I couldn't look at the defendant, I couldn't look at anyone behind him, or the lawyers, or even my fellow jurors.  I looked straight ahead for the most part, reading and re-reading a sign in front of the judge's stand.  I probably read it three hundred times in the minutes that passed. 

The judge finally read the verdicts, one after another.  Each time he pronounced the word "guilty" a sharp dagger went through me.  Sobs were coming from behind the defendant, but I saw no physical motion from him out of the corner of my eye.  I continued to look straight ahead at the sign, trying to push the room and situation out of my mind.  My outward emotions were still in check, my heart was racing but I looked calm and indifferent.  No tears filled my eyes.  Maybe, I thought, I had cried them all out over the last 24 hours.  The judge finished, and asked if the lawyers wanted each juror to be polled on the verdict.  They did, of course, and we went through one by one saying that we agree to the verdicts.  My eyes starting tearing up as I was called on, but I spoke firmly and loudly, so that I wouldn't have to be asked again or questioned.  We were dismissed very quickly after, and before I could make it out of the court, I had tears running down my face.  I did my best not to let anyone see, but I'm sure if someone had been watching me, they probably would have been able to tell I was emotionally shaken. 

There had been a huge group gathered in support of the defendant, and many of them were intimidating-looking.  With our assumption of gang involvement, we asked to be escorted by security to our cars.  The bailiff seemed surprised, but granted our request without question.  Within minutes, several large security men came to escort us down a private elevator, and walked us through security.  They stood by as we waited for the shuttle, and we saw a young woman run from the court in tears.  I was sure I had seen her upstairs, prior to the verdict reading.  Two of the security guards boarded the shuttle and watched us all the way to our cars.

I got in my car, locked the doors and started driving.  I was crying by the time I cleared the court room, and I was shaking and sobbing almost the whole way home.  As I pulled off the freeway, I started to calm down.  I pulled into the garage, closed the garage door before getting out of the car, and then made my way into the house. 

I was greeted by swarms of thousands of flies.  I didn't know where they had come from or what would have brought them, but I seriously contemplated that god was punishing me for giving in.  I screamed bloody murder as I opened the sliding glass door and tried to get the flies out, and I finally couldn't take it anymore.  I closed the door, grabbed my keys and darted out of the house.  I got in my car and started driving, not knowing where I should go.  I ended up at my karate studio, and I meditated in the back for several minutes, trying to calm my nerves.  I called a friend and talked to him about what had happened, and he lectured me on giving in to the peer pressure. 

I meditated for another hour or so, periodically being asked by my Senseis if I was okay.  One of them sent a few kids into the room to cheer me up, and they did a little, but I was still stressed.  I had a professional meeting that night, so I relented and went to the meeting.  I was about an hour early, so I hit the bar and had at least three drinks in me before anyone found me.  I was joined by a few older men in the group, and chose not to share what was on my mind.  I let them cheer me up and then walked with them to the meeting.  I stayed pretty drunk throughout the meeting and went to bed as soon as I got home.  I definitely don't think I could have slept without alcohol that night. 

The damage was done, but it stayed on my mind for weeks.  We were now allowed to do research on the case, so I familiarized myself with the online records and starting scanning the case minutes regularly.  I saw when that one controversial witness was further sentenced for misbehaving in the courtroom.  I saw when the defense moved for all sorts of things, delaying the sentencing and hoping to have the trial re-tried.  I started praying for a re-trial, and was hopeful that the next jury would do better without having stricken testimonies.  Even if he was found guilty then, maybe I'd feel less guilty.  But the judge denied it all, and eventually ordered him to register as a sex offender.  The defendant was sentenced to 16 years in prison, and I'm still not okay with that. 

He may very well have done it, I can say that I think he probably did it, not as a criminal act but because he was a stupid teenager and so was she, and he just happened to be 18.  But according to law, he is innocent until proven guilty, and my belief stems from evidence that was stricken from the record and not to be considered.  So I don't believe justice was served.  I had once thought it would be interesting to be a juror and see the justice system at work, but the justice system was not employed here.  Justice was not served, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive myself for letting it happen. 

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