yduJ Serves on a Trial Jury

Six years after my experience with the grand jury, I finally got called for the regular jury. It was in Nowheresville, so it was a small courthouse. It started with a bunch of sitting around, and then we all filed up to the courtroom where we engaged in the juror selection process. I had been confused because there were only about 20 people in the waiting room, and it seemed like that was too few if they were going to be selecting a 12-person jury, but it turns out that in Massachusetts sometimes there is only a six-person jury, and 20 people is plenty to have to succeed in selecting one of those.

The judge had each of the potential witnesses, the lawyers, and the defendant stand up as their names were called, and any potential juror who recognized one of these people was to raise their hand, and then go have a little chat with the judge and the lawyers to decide whether or not that recognition would be grounds for partiality and thus dismissal. And the judge asked the assembled potential jurors questions such as "are you a member of mothers against drunk driving" (it was a drunk driving case), and a few people raised their hands, and had little chats with the judge and either were excused, or had their impartiality vetted. (The defense dismissed all of these people anyway.) Another question that was asked was "would you tend to believe or disbelieve the testimony of a police officer simply because of the fact that they are a police officer". Eventually the clerk called out juror numbers (which we had been assigned as we came in), and seven people were seated. Now the lawyers both must have had some kind of biographical data on each of us, because they would ask for individuals to be called up to the sidebar, and then either those people would be dismissed or not (one person lived in the town in which the alleged offense took place, and it was decided that it did not affect his impartiality, and so he stayed). Then people from the pool would be called to fill the new vacancies, and I was one of those people.

The sidebar conferences were interesting -- because they are supposed to be private, other people in the courtroom aren't supposed to listen. However, you're also supposed to be quiet in the courtroom, so what they do is to turn on a little white noise generator, which makes it impossible to hear if you are in the juror box, and pretty hard to hear if you are on the other side of the courtroom in the audience.

The remaining potential jurors were sent home (I kind of wanted to be sent home), and they started right in with a little bit of preamble from the judge, and then the opening arguments from the lawyers. It's interesting, because neither the opening or closing arguments from the lawyers can be considered as evidence, yet they allow them to try to persuade you to vote in their direction. The charges against the defendant were "failure to stop for a police officer", and "operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor". The prosecution said that it intended to introduce evidence from various police officer testimony, and the defense said that it intended to introduce evidence that this was all some sort of a conspiracy and set-up because the defendant had received a threatening note from the sergeant who happened to be on duty on that night, and could reasonably be expected to not want to stop, and it could be reasonably expected that the police would want to trump up some charges against him.

Then we started in on testimony. There were four police officers who were giving testimony, and they all spoke in that "cop-speak" dialect where they use words like "observed" instead of "saw" and "proceeded" instead of "went", which gets kind of tiresome after a while. The ones who had actually written a report on the incident gave more exhaustive testimony than the others -- I suspect that they studied up on what they had written during each of the phases of bringing this to trial.

The soap opera part of this trial is that the defendant is a plumber, and his sister is married to the brother of the sergeant, and the sergeant was having him moonlight to do a plumbing job on his house, and like all contractors, the defendant wasn't showing up very often. So, the sergeant left a note on his car saying "if you don't get in touch with me by next week, I'll have officer X pick you up", and lo and behold, about a week later, the defendant is driving his car home at 1 a.m., and what does he see but blue lights behind his car. Now, the officer claims that he activated the blue lights (cop-speak alert :-) significantly before the defendant claims he did, and the defendant turned left into his driveway rather than pulling over to the right. The officer (not officer X, although he gets involved later) also claims that the defendant was driving erratically, which naturally the defendant denies. There were a lot of people making claims where one of them had to be lying... Anyway, the cop pulls into the driveway also, and by this time the defendant is out of his car, and the cop tells him to get back into the car (why? I have no idea), and the defendant calls the cop a four letter name (which even got into the court proceedings!), and proceeds to either walk or run away, depending on who you believe. At this point, the cop decides to tackle him, because he believes that he is drunk, and belligerent, and wants to take him into custody. Interestingly, the cop is about twice as big as the defendant, and the defendant claims he did not resist, but the cop claims that he was unable to get the defendant under control and get cuffs on him. Somebody is not quite being accurate here.

While the defendant had been driving down the public way before turning into his driveway, the original officer had made a couple of radio calls to alert other police that he had a car that he believed was failing to stop, and naturally, in a small town at 1 a.m. on a week night, that gets every police cruiser in the town to the location (everyone wants to get in on the fun). So two or three other cops join the fight on the ground, and the defendant is eventually subdued and placed into custody. Meanwhile, the sergeant in question has arrived on the scene, although he never left his cruiser; when he realized it was the defendant, he asked another officer to please be the booking officer back at the station. The defense lawyer claimed this was all so that he could engage in some kind of conspiracy, and the prosecution claimed it was completely routine.

Now, during the scuffle, the defendant was sprayed in the face with pepper spray, which seemed to me to be kind of excessive, although it was before the other officers had come to assist, so maybe it was necessary, depending on how much resistance was being put up (which we had earlier said there was quite a bit of dispute about). So, all of the officers testified that the defendant was unsteady on his feet and had glassy and bloodshot eyes. However, if you had been sprayed with pepper spray, so would you. Since you can't see very well after you've been sprayed, you have a hard time walking well...

They also mentioned alcohol smell on the breath, and the defendant admits that he had stopped at a bar and had two beers. Is two beers enough to cause you to be impaired? Well, it depends on how recently you drink them, and how big you are, and your personal tolerance, and it might or might not be. Of course, we have only his hearsay that he didn't have more. However, we have testimony from people who he was with for most of the evening that there was no alcohol available at the bowling alley, and that he was not served any alcohol when he went to another person's house for an hour afterwards, so he didn't have much time in which to have these beers, so perhaps he was truthful.

The fourth element of official cop-speak "under the influence" is exhibiting a belligerent attitude, which he clearly had, but when the defendant himself was on the stand, it was clear that he's just kind of a belligerent guy even stone cold sober. So, none of those elements really pointed to being impaired. Thus, even though we thought that probably he was impaired, we didn't think the state had proven it. And there's that old innocent until proven guilty thing. We decided not to convict for that offense.

It was interesting that we had a much longer discussion about the more minor offense. During deliberation we started with the minor offense, but it was clear that we didn't agree, and so we thought we would try talking about the OIU, and we discussed it for about half an hour, but it was clear that we had an agreement that the state really hadn't done their job. So we returned to the failure to stop issue, and it seemed that one of our number felt that he had stopped, since he had after all pulled into his own driveway and gotten out of his car. However, the rest of us felt that he would have acted a lot differently if he were stopping for the police as opposed to trying to get away. It was his contention that perhaps the defendant didn't believe that the blue lights were for him, and since he was close to his driveway, it made more sense to go home than to pull to the right to "let the cop by". Eventually, we convinced the reluctant juror that, had he been stopping for the police, he would have pulled into the driveway and waited to see if the cop pulled in behind him, or drove on past, rather than getting out of his car and walking away, completely ignoring the cop until the cop yelled at him. That, any normal human who sees a cop behind them, even if they think that they have done nothing wrong and there is no reason to be stopped, will double check that the cop has actually driven on past or turned the other way. I guess we were in deliberation for two and a half hours in total. We were allowed to write notes to the judge, and at one point we wanted him to reread the instructions for what it means to be failing to stop, and he kept us waiting for about 10 minutes, and then we all went into the courtroom and he did the reading on the record. Then we went back into the jury room and talked it out some more (although we were almost done by then).

When we were all done, there was a formal proceeding where we delivered the verdict, and then the judge told us that he would answer any questions we might have had privately afterwards. So we all went back into the jury room, including the judge, where we asked questions like "why wasn't this resisting arrest?", and "what about a breathalyzer test?" The answer on the breathalyzer, is that refusal to submit cannot be used as evidence against you, and is not even admissible as a fact in the trial at all, and thus the lawyers were not allowed to ask about it of the witnesses. As to why they didn't go for a more severe charge, the judge thinks that the sergeant was, far from engaging in a conspiracy to get this guy, rather protecting him. After all he is family. Also, we learned that the defendant had one prior OUI in which he had wrapped his car around a tree, and had been extracted with the jaws of life by none other than officer X, the fellow whose name was taken in vain in the original "threatening" note. Which kind of puts a different spin on it...

It took just under two days to complete everything. It was a pretty interesting case, soap opera and all. However, I don't think I'll hire the defendant as a plumber :-)