Tuesday, November 27, 2007

guilty, not guilty

Today we found a man guilty of making terroristic threats and not guilty of third degree manslaughter. I got to be the presiding juror, which used to be, I think, the foreman. How cool is that?

After we had heard all the evidence and the closing statements, the judge read us our instructions. This took twenty minutes. Twenty minutes! They were very detailed instructions full of definitions of the law and what we could and could not consider during deliberation. We went into deliberation and were supposed to pick a presiding juror straightaway, but we didn't. We started discussing the case. Because for the whole two days we were unable to say anything at all about the trial to anyone, not even each other. So everyone just started gabbing. We needed to debrief. And laugh.

But then opinions began to take shape. And people were taking all kinds of things into consideration that were not specified in the instructions. This is how I came to be presiding juror; I was adamant that we stick to the rules. It didn't matter that this guy seemed like a jerk, or that guy was annoying. We had to stick to the evidence.

The events we were to consider took place on Aug 8. Apparently there was a similar incident on Aug 7 that was alluded to and discussed in part, though most testimony regarding it was stricken (struck?) from the record and we were told to disregard it. Of course we all wanted to know what happened that night. Of course it would have shed light on the events the next morning, but we were explicitly instructed not to take the night of Aug 7. into consideration. But that's what everyone wanted to talk about.

I kept referring back to our instruction booklet and reading the pertinent parts aloud (there were multiple copies, but not one for everybody). And then I went to the bathroom. And when I returned I was informed that I was the presiding juror.

We all decided pretty quickly that the defendant was guilty of terrorizing threats. The evidence was overwhelming. But assault? We went back and forth and back and forth. I was convinced one way and then completely changed my opinion. Round and round we went. Everyone was leaning toward guilty, but there was still doubt.

The definition of assault was to intentionally cause bodily harm OR threaten in a menacing manner. We sent a note to the judge asking for clarification of what "threatening in a menacing manner" meant. In the terrorizing threat charge, it did not matter if the victim actually felt scared or terrorized, only that the defendant intended for him to so feel. Our question was, in the assault charge, did it matter if the victim felt threatened?

Two guys have a fight. Evidence does not show that one or the other started it--it seems pretty mutual. The defendant runs inside and grabs a knife. When he comes back out the victim is getting on his bike and riding away. The defendant chases him down the street with the knife. In the victim's testimony, he does not mention the knife at all--he did not know the defendant (behind him while he was pedaling away) had a knife. Witnesses saw him with it. The defendant stated he had it. So was the victim just fleeing or was he fleeing because he was threatened in a menacing manner?

We wrote our question, knocked on the door, handed the note to the bailiff who took it to the judge. The judge read the note, conferred with the lawyers. We all convened back in the courtroom. She read us her reply. Gave us a written copy of it and we went back into deliberation. This took almost a half an hour.

The judge stated that to be threatened in a menacing manner meant to cause a rational person to be apprehensive of being harmed. After a little more discussion none of us felt that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to harm the victim or that he threatened him in a menacing manner, therefore we could not find him guilty of assault.

I had to fill out the form and sign it. I was the last to enter the court room. The judge asked me to stand and asked "Has the jury reached a decision?" I got to answer all her questions--yes we reached a decision, yes it was unanimous, etc. She read our decision and I verified that that was our decision. She asked the public defender if he wanted to poll the jury to ensure we were unanimous but he declined. And we were adjourned. The end.

The trail itself was fairly tedious and boring, but the deliberation process was fascinating. And that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about jury duty.

Tomorrow I go back to class and work. I have two ten page papers to write in the next week or so and three finals to prepare for. Yikes.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Never go to the bathroom before there is a foreperson! I was this person for a county case once, too. It is hard to keep everyone focused on the task at hand. We are such a gossipy species, and we want to know and judged based on perceptions. It takes lots of thought and deliberation to do as you are instructed. Good job . . . glad you enjoyed it!