Jury Duty: The Verdict

The testimony should end today.  The prosecution has only two witnesses today and the defense hasn’t said.  I’m guessing the defendant is it, and he may not testify.  I’m hoping we get the case early enough to arrive at a verdict so we can be done by 4:30.  The rules are that jury duty is one week or one trial.  If we can be done on Tuesday that would be sweet.  But I will miss the $10 a day plus mileage.  

Of course I’m more interested in justice being served, no matter how long it takes.  I have pretty much decided but will keep an open mind until the end.  I wonder if this is how all jurors feel.

Speaking of the jurors … there are seven men and six women.  Ten of us are wearing jeans.  I’d put the average age in the mid- to late 40s.  Myself and one other guy are retired.  Another has been an attorney for 38 years.  He’s my choice for jury foreman.  There is a young Indian guy who works at Google wearing jeans and flip-flops.  Nice.  I immediately like him. He’s outgoing, funny and thoughtful.

The trial resumes with brief testimony from two state patrolmen.  They pretty much duplicate yesterday’s witnesses by saying the defendant eluded the police and that when questioned after being stopped, he’d admitted that he made a mistake. At that, the prosecution rests.  Funny term.  I mean the guy didn’t go anywhere or take a nap so exactly how is he resting?

The defense attorney is a young woman who immediately calls the defendant to testify.  As he begins answering questions it is apparent he needs to get close to his microphone and talk louder.  He speaks just above a whisper and he mumbles. 

Basically the defense attorney takes him through his version of the incident.  His story is that just as he got on I-5 he realized he was about to run out of gas.  He did see a light blue sedan with a guy standing in back of it on the shoulder … but did not realize it was a cop or that he was being signaled.  His attention was totally on getting to the next exit.  When he got to the off-ramp he passed cars on the right — on the  shoulder — to save time and somehow lost control of the bike.   He vaguely remembers talking to police but can’t remember anything specific.  He had no idea he was being chased.

The prosecutor reminded him that he had noticed he was running out of gas the night before and asked why he didn’t fill up before getting on the freeway.  The defendant said he forgot. 

Closing arguments are quick.  The prosecutor says he proved his case beyond a reasonable doubt and takes us through the key witness testimony as well as that of the defendant to prove his points.  The defense attorney starts with another analogy.  This has to do with rock climbing.  She is holding a rope of someone climbing a rock face.  She knows beyond a reasonable doubt that she can save the climber should he fall because of her training and experience.  Somehow she tries to connect that to our task of believing that the defendant is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.  My thought was:  “What the f**k is she talking about?”

That’s really the essence of the case.  It is a “he said, they said” story.  The judge reads our instructions from a typed 12-page instruction document.  We each have a copy and read along with him.  The key instruction components are:

  • That the defendant willfully failed or refused to immediately bring the vehicle to a stop after being signaled to stop;
  • That while attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, the defendant drove his vehicle in a reckless manner.

The judge picks one juror’s number out of a hat who will become an alternate and be on call.  He is dismissed.  It is the attorney and he’s pretty happy about leaving.  There goes my choice for jury foreman.  It’s now about 2:30 and we are sent to the jury room to deliberate.  I’m thinking we can decide this by 4:30. 

We first pick a Seattle firefighter as our foreman, mainly because he was sitting at the head of the table.  He looks pretty pleased and I’m afraid he’s going to launch into an acceptance speech.  Instead he says we should all re-read instruction number 7 which contains the crime elements which must be “proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Most of the elements are pretty mundane, like the date it happened and where it happened.  We quickly agree on those and a couple of similar minor points through a hand vote. 

Then we discuss the two key elements described above.  The discussion revolves around credibility of the witnesses and the defendant.  In short, most of us agree that the four cops are more believable than the defendant.   His testimony that he didn’t notice the cop didn’t hold water.  Most of us have seen cops on the side of the road and most of us can tell a long way away, especially when we are in the HOV lane next to the shoulder — which is where the defendant was riding.

One woman holds out for a while because she “doesn’t want to spend the next 30 years regretting her decision.”  She want to be completely fair and not dismiss the defendant’s story out of hand.  She “just needs time.”  The Google guy calmly takes her through the key points while I do a crossword puzzle on my iPod, and others read magazines and check their phones.  Then I remind her that the day prior to the incident the defendant said he was at a gas station filling his tires with air.  It stands to reason that he would have filled his tank then, since he had testified that he first realized he was running out that day. 

That decided it.  We all vote guilty.  It is 4:15.  We buzz the clerk in and tell her we’ve reached a verdict.  A few minutes later we return to the jury box and the judge asks the foreman if we have reached a verdict.  He says yes.  The jury verdict is handed to the judge who reads it silently and then passes it to the clerk to be read aloud.  (Just like on television.)  I stare at the defendant for a reaction and he just blinks and that’s it.  His mother, who was there throughout the trial, was in tears.  We are dismissed and told to return to the jury room for a few minutes.

The clerk comes in and says we are free to go.  We are told that the judge and two attorneys are willing to take questions from any of us if we choose.  Sentencing is set for sometime in June.  Most of us leave but a couple of guys want to stay and tell the judge they would hope for leniency on the sentence for this kid.  We all feel kinda sorry for him and don’t want this to mess up his life right at the beginning of adulthood.

Jury duty was a good experience.  I wish it had been a more exciting or interesting case but I’m happy I did it and feel we made the right decision.  It’s interesting how important that became.  Myself and the other jurors all agreed that when it came time to vote we felt the importance of what we were about to decide.  It’s someone’s life and you can’t take that lightly. 

I would do it again especially if they raise the per diem and provide more comfortable seats.

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