I've been out of the loop this week because I was summoned to jury duty and then chosen to serve on a jury for a DUI trial. I have never served on a jury before, and initially, I dreaded it, but soon found it fascinating. And a huge eye-opener.
My mind and emotions traveled quite a journey over the course of the trial, and it surprised me how passionate I became about what I perceived as truth and untruth. I also realized how ignorant I was about our judicial system. My fellow jury members were ignorant as well. This is not a good thing.
Let me say up front, I had sympathy for the young man charged with driving under the influence. He seemed sincerely shaken up by the charge, and he presented himself fairly well on the witness stand.
However....his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit. For me, that was the deciding factor. The defense team wanted us to consider other factors:
1. It was his first offense.
2. He initially cooperated with police. (He later lied about the drinking.)
3. He was a hard worker in construction and could not afford to lose his license.
4. His red, watery eyes were due to debris he is constantly exposed to on his job.
5. He did not do too terribly bad on the field sobriety test.
6. He was new to the area and was drinking with people he didn't know well.
7. He had no one accompany him to his trial; no parents, siblings, friends.
In my eyes, those were considerations for the judge during sentencing. They didn't matter in determining whether or not he was driving impaired due to alcohol. This was the only question we had to answer: Was he driving under the influence?
It seemed simple to me. He was driving (We saw video.) His blood alcohol level was over the legal limit. (The Breathalyzer proved this.) Done.
How naive I was.
After two days of testimony, we began deliberations. Immediately, there was division. Four "guilty," two "not guilty."
The four Gs (guilties) were stunned. How can you rebut the Breathalyzer? we asked. Here's what we heard from the two NGs (not guilties):
1. Those machines don't work.
2. Those machines can be fixed.
3. DUIs are money machines for the the police department. Do you know how much money they bring in from fees from DUI charges?
4. The guy didn't look drunk.
5. It doesn't matter that he lied. He was scared.
6. The cop followed the defendant to his apartment building. The guy was home. Even if he was drunk, he wasn't going to drive anymore.
7. And all seven points above.
The four G's went over all of these factors, stressing what the judge had told us - sympathy for the defendant was not to play into our decision, and we had to decide based only on the evidence presented.
A third of what was presented was proof that the Breathalyzer is a legal, credible law enforcement tool in the state of Florida. It's inspected regularly, certified, stamped, cleaned, whatever, monthly and annually. We saw all the paperwork verifying this and heard testimony from an officer in charge of the Breathalyzer.
The NGs didn't buy it. Didn't care. The machine is corrupt, and without an illegal blood alcohol reading, the guy is not guilty. They were not budging.
OK, then. We sent a note to the judge: We are deadlocked.
She wrote back: Keep deliberating.
We rehashed it some more. The same points. A few people got irritated. Nothing changed. After an hour, we sent another note to the judge: We are still stuck.
She called us back to the courtroom and instructed each of us to think about the weakest point of our position and share that with the group. That should spark new dialogue. I thought this was a good idea.
Back in the deliberation room, I went first. I conceded that the defendant was not fall-down drunk. That didn't mean his brain was not impaired. I agreed the defense attorney was good at creating doubt, creating sympathy, but I could not get past the Breathalyzer results.
The rest of the Gs examined their decision. The two NGs announced they didn't have any weaknesses in their position. I remarked that not playing Devil's advocate to their own position did not do justice to the process, that we all needed to examine our vote, even look at what we would have to see to change our vote. One NG then responded that a blood test (for blood alcohol content) could change her vote, but we didn't have that, so it was irrelevant.
OK, then. We sent another note to the judge: We are still at an impasse.
The judge ordered us pizza for dinner and left us alone for another hour.
We ate pizza and griped about not having our phones, which were taken, and then veered off onto non-trial subjects like local restaurants and the judge's spongy shoes. I picked up my Time magazine and read for a bit. I felt uneasy and began to pray the truth would be revealed to all of us. I briefly considered changing my vote. Could I live with that? I didn't think so. Even if I changed, we were still not unanimous. We had to be unanimous.
We had been deliberating four hours, and I didn't see any resolution.
(conclusion in my next post....I'm still processing it.)