Friday, November 09, 2007

2d email from the prosecutor

After I sent her a slightly edited version of my post:

Dear Mr. [Scooter]: I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the case. I really appreciate how much you thoroughly listened to and considered all of the evidence. I noticed you might have had a question about the different jails. I'm still very new to felonies, but as I understand it, there are three different kinds of jail in Texas. First, there is the Travis County jail, which is for misdemeanors. Defendants get 2 for 1 time at this jail. For example, if a Defendant is sentenced to 30 days jail on a DWI, then he would get out in 15 days. Second, is State Jail. State Jail is the lowest level of felonies. In State Jail, Defendants have to serve day for day. Third is prison. Prison is the most serious jail. However, unlike with State Jail, Defendants are usually eligible for parole once they have been in jail for 1/4 of their sentence. The only exception to this is in the most serious cases, which are referred to as"3g offenses." (see 42.12, sec 3g of the Code of Criminal Procedure;examples include murder, capital murder, indecency with a child,aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery) In those cases, Defendants are not eligible for parole until they have served ½ of their time. If you have any more questions, feel free to call or email me. I hope you have a good weekend!


Email from the prosecutor

Dear Mr. [Scooter],

I wanted to thank you for your recent jury service in the possession of a controlled substance case in the 427th District Court. The jury trial process is an integral part of the criminal justice system, and it is people like you who help make the system work through jury service. This was my first felony jury trial. Since this was my first felony jury trial, I would appreciate any advice you might have about what I did that worked, what I could have done better, or any questions you were left with at the end of the process. You do not have to respond, but I was writing too see if you had any feedback for me. We are shredding all of your personal and contact information. I will not contact you in the future. However, you are welcome to contact me at any time. Thanks again!

[name and number]

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chain of Custody

The evidence bag indicated that it had been handled by several more people than those witnesses actually heard from. The prosecution was really relying on the jury's knowledge about the "chain of custody" laws in my view. On the other hand, the defense made no claims about the chain of custody (at least in the abbreviated proceedings that I witnessed) so maybe the point was moot.

One more thing for Michael about the trial

The obnoxious woman who also got arrested...a Nahlins transplant. Couldn't tell for sure if she was a Katrina/Nagin victim, but she was definitely from the Big Easy.

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.

Re:Re: Scooter in the Courtroom

Scooter - can you at least say what the trial is about? And, how did you get on this jury - I thought attorneys don't usually get picked

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Re: Scooter in the courtroom

I can't stand it. I have to say the prosecution made a big mistake in not correcting a mathematical "fudge" by the defense today. .9 grams equal 9/10s grams, not appx. 1/10 grams...that would have been .09/10 grams. The chemist made an error.

Scooter in the courtroom

Interesting experience so far. I'll be glad when over so I can talk details.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wow, Jonah Goldberg sends me spiraling back to the 70s

He referenced Mark Steyn’s New Criterion article on the 20th anniversary of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind at the Corner today.

I had the great pleasure of attending a seminar of Francis A. Schaeffer of L'abri in the late 70s wherein he taught about declining culture and post- modernism from a Christian philosophy’s perspective. I think it was the first time I ever heard the term “world-view.” It was a brief course of several days following the outline staked out in his How Should We Then Live. It was, of course, way over my head but I knew I was in the company of greatness…along with 10,000 of my closest friends. Still, seeds were planted and for the first time, I began paying attention to "classical" music.

Indeed, within a year of that seminar, I had the great fortune of hearing the legendary Benny Goodman perform in Fair Park in Dallas. I was seventeen and still remember that before the intermission (where I purchased my first gin and tonic at 17) he performed with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and after with his big band. I have to admit I was delighted to read this in Steyn's piece:

The argument is that, oh, well, you uptight squares are always objecting to stuff: you thought Sinatra exciting bobbysoxers was dangerous, and the Viennese waltz was the mating dance of a hypersexualized culture. No. Benny Goodman, noted by Bloom, was a huge pop star but he could play the Mozart clarinet concerto.

Some ten years later, Allan Bloom summed up a similar world-view from a secular perspective with Closing. This one I didn’t read for another ten years when I saw the book on a Top 100 list for the 20th Century. A brutal read for a child of the sixties…but that is his whole point. I should probably reread after having become a bit more sophisticated as my reading has become a bit more thoughtful.

This was followed in 1999 by Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live, obviously echoing the themes of Schaeffer. (I have to admit I haven’t read this one yet for fear of being shamed.)

Funny how Jonah's little blurb can send me through such a spiral.

Scooter to see inside of courtroom...

for the first time in more than twelve years and for the first a juror. Picked today. Trial starts tomorrow.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Robert D. Kaplan's Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts

While not directly addressing the "atrocities" committed there, an Autumn 2005 thought from a former Iraqi mukhtar on Abu Ghraib:

The former mukhtar seemed to like the American lieutenant, as we continued to sit on his machine-made carpets, lean against undressed cinder blocks, and drink tea in his home. But he said no [to a plea to stand by the lieutenant against the insurgents]. "I cannot resume my role as mukhtar. They will kill me. The contractor down the street was threatened if he continued to repair the neighborhood. If you are so serious about security, why," he went on, "did you Americans release prisoners from Abu Ghraib?"

Lt. Turner said that the decision to release prisoners from Abu Ghraib was one made by Iraq's own new government. The former mukhtar wasn't convinced. Because many of the detainees at Abut Ghraib were known to be hardened criminals from the Mosul area, the release had undermined the credibility of American troops here. Abu Ghraib had a different connotation for Iraqis meeting with Americans in Mosul than it had back in the United States. Here the words meant American weakness and lack of resolve, not human rights violations. (p. 249)

One of the really wonderful aspects of Kaplan's book, indeed his main goal, is to give us insights into the type of men and women serving in our Armed Forces. Most of them deal with the men and women of the Hog and Grunt varieties (noncoms or non-commissioned officers and lower). Here though he writes of Army Maj. Larry Smith of Savannah, Illinois:

After community college, Larry enrolled at Rockford College.... In October 1983, after hearing about the suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, as he told me, "I got up and walked out of a class on French literature, went straight to the local recruiter's office, and joined the Army as a buck private. I have nothing against French literature. But at the time, it didn't mean much to me."

Over the next fiver years, while working as a military policeman in Alabama and Germany, he rose to sergeant. Then he enrolled in the ROTC program at Illinois State University in Normal, graduating as a second lieutenant. Tours at Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Lewis, Washington; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and Fort Carson, Colorado, followed in succession, as he rose to the command of a military intelligence company. Next, he decided he wanted to be a foreign area officer for the Indian subcontinent. That led to a year of studying Hindi at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, and a year of graduate school in subcontinental Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin. (p. 212)