Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Trial

It was a drug possession case.

I was apparently wrong about my previous post. It was .09 grams of crack. I guess I heard 0.9 at one point.

Yesterday, the prosecution rested after three witnesses: arresting officer, one of his backup officers and the chemist who proved the "rock" was crack. The main part of the prosecution's case was the testimony of those three and the arresting officer's squad car videotape...just like one sees on television. I likely would have voted guilty based on the testimony alone but the video made it an easier call.

The officers were polite in the extreme to the defendant...less so to his female passenger who was very obnoxious and was arrested herself (she also had had a warrant issued against her) after giving the officers three fake names...somehow they knew that and kept going back to her for her real name. She had no i.d. Every time she gave a new name she also gave a new birthday...I guess that was a clue. In hindsight, I'm pretty sure the defendant was buying the drugs for her.

The defendant had two warrants out for him for minor matters. The defendant was nothing but polite and cooperative. At one point the backup officers loosened his cuffs for his comfort. Also, rather than impounding the guy's white Lincoln, they turned it over to his stepfather (I think, the relationship was a little fuzzy).

Officer pulls up in an apartment complex known for drug deals and prostitution, occupants and ownership having asked the police for highly visible patrols there, and sees defendant with another man (the stepfather) face to face with cash on the trunk of defendant's car being held down with large, but legal, knife. Officer approaches and stepfather disappears into darkness while defendant heads around to driver's side of car. Officer stops defendant while defendant's feet are still outside of car to question him. Defendant gives his name and license and arresting officer checks for warrants. At this point backup arrives. Once warrants are discovered, defendant is gently put in cuffs and moved to rear of his car in front of the squad car directly in front of the camera.

Defendant’s story: I was just loaning money to my stepfather who lives right over there. Big questions, if that is where stepdad and presumably mom live, why did stepdad disappear and where are they now? Why aren’t they out there now trying to clear this up?

The officer then radioed in to be sure of the warrants. Apparently there is a more thorough list that might indicate the warrants were no longer active. Once confirmed, defendant was searched (when the rock was discovered) and moved into the squad car. (The search was off camera which seemed a little strange to me. Had there been any really serious accusations of planting evidence, this would have been an issue for me. On the other hand, he was going to jail anyway due to the warrants so why would the young backup officer plant a $20.00 rock? On the third hand, maybe young backup wanted to be a hero but how would a $20.00 rock do that?)

When the defendant was move to the car the camera was turned around to face the rear of the squad car to keep an eye on the defendant who mostly slunk to the shadows. The clock on the videotape showed no break so any alleged brutality (see below) would have had to occur later.

Much was made about the backup officers' video by the defense which we never saw. Learned later that the defendant had made numerous charges against the arresting officer and his two backups in connection with brutality charges and planting evidence. The former charge was completely ludicrous and the latter also very unlikely given that the guy was going to jail for the two outstanding warrants anyway. I knew none of this last night as I pondered the prosecution's case.

It was clear as I thought about it that the guy was guilty of possession. I was thinking, "Ok, clearly he's guilty. Based upon what I know right now, I'll vote guilty and really push the jury for the lightest possible sentence.

Today, arrived at court at 9:00, told there would be an hour wait while the lawyers and judge did "legal stuff." About 9:45, we were moved from the jury room to the courtroom for our "safety." Judge said there was something going on elsewhere and they didn't want us in a room with a window. How comforting. They locked the courtroom doors.

I was never actually worried about anything and later learned that there was some kind of disturbance in the only other courtroom on our floor. What I did mind was in utterly inane small talk engaged in by two or three of my fellow jurors. Trying to read while they droned, oh how funny they thought they were, was excruciating.

Back to jury room at 11:15 and released for lunch at 11:30. Home for lunch (I love living close in even if it is a hole).

Back to court at 1:30. Found out later that beyond the security issue they were trying to find the backup officer’s videotape which had been pulled by “Internal Affairs” without the knowledge of the prosecution or the officers. Tape found and the defendant and lawyers and judge watched it. Apparently the tape revealed no brutality and the defendant then got religion and pled to 2 years in the big house. The real big house. He had previously been offered 8-12 months in a system (not county but a bit vague as to what system it was) that would have meant much easier time than in prison.

Talking to the judge and counsel afterwards, I learned that my guilty verdict would have been the correct one and that I would not have been trying to argue for a lenient sentence. He had been convicted five previous times for burglary, selling dope and other assorted crimes. He had served time on three previous occasions.

Negatives: not much in the way of real courtroom time, didn’t get to render a verdict (actually a bit of a relief), time out of the office (ok, a relief, too).

Positive: just the pending jury trial and therefore the possibility that other cases would come before the judge after our trial caused some 20 cases to be pled so 20 trials averted. I recall from my civil litigation days that lazy lawyers get a lot more done when the trial draws near.

As for lawyers being called to serve, I’m 47 and this was my first. I asked counsel about that and the defense lawyer and lead prosecutor both wanted me. Only the junior prosecutor wanted me booted. I don’t think that either side of a criminal trial has much to fear from a civil lawyer, especially a transactional guy instead of a litigator.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done. M