12.09.2012

Seeking Justice (part 2)

(....continued from previous post...)

There we sat.  Six jurors who had to agree, and we were at an impasse.  After nearly five hours.

It shouldn't be this difficult, I kept thinking.   Facts are facts.  How can one dispute facts?

That became our next rabbit trail of debate.  Do established laws, tools, procedures need to be accepted?  Do we have to follow the legal framework of the state, even if we don't like it?

The four Gs (guilties) said yes.  Civilized society is based on a structure of laws that apply to everyone.  We can dislike any of them, but until they change, they are the standard by which we all are judged.   This is why being an educated voter is important. 

The two NGs (not guilties) said the law does not have to be accepted and can be challenged.

OK, then.  We had another question for the judge:  Were the laws presented in this case (a speeding limit, a legal drinking limit) facts, or simply evidence we could choose to dismiss?

The judge called us back into the courtroom.  By the look on her face, I'm sure she was thinking, what is wrong with you people?!   She simply reiterated that we had received all the information we were going to receive, and we had to come to a unanimous verdict.   I asked for clarification on what we had to accept as true.  She read us a statute that basically said any evidence presented can be rebutted by other evidence.

That didn't really answer the question, but that's all we got.  Back to the drawing board.

We then discussed whether the validity of the Breathalyzer had been rebutted by any evidence.  We had heard testimony and seen paperwork showing it was reliable and legal.  We heard no testimony, saw no paperwork showing it was not.  The defense attorney talked about its weaknesses, but there were no witnesses or paperwork to show any.  What the attorneys said was not evidence, we were told by the judge.   

The two NGs were still not convinced the Breathalyzer was valid, even though nothing had been shown that proved otherwise.  We sent a final note to the judge:  We're going nowhere with this.

The judge called us back into the courtroom and grilled us one by one:  If you had more time, could this be resolved?  Nope, we all said.  If you slept on it and came back tomorrow with fresh minds, could this be resolved?  Nope, we all said.

She just looked at us for a while, and I felt terrible.  I knew what was coming.

"Do you know how much money will be wasted if I have to declare this a mistrial?" she asked us.

I sat there like a kid in the principal's office.  I didn't know the amount of money wasted, but I knew it was not pennies.   One of the NGs spoke up and declared, "I'm not changing my mind."

The judge stared at her jury another minute.  Waiting.  Hoping we would say, just kidding, send us back to the cellar, we'll figure it out. 

We did not.

The judge looked at the attorneys.  "Do either of you want a mistrial?"

They solemnly shook their heads, and I felt terrible again.  All their time and work down the drain.

"OK, then," said the judge.  "I declare this a mistrial."  She unzipped her robe and sat back.  I can come talk to you now and answer any questions."

We were escorted out and back to our deliberation room.   We didn't talk much while we waited for the judge.  One G did remark to the NGs that they were probably happy with the mistrial outcome.   They both said yes, absolutely, and I realized it was possible they had decided early on a mistrial would be just as acceptable to them as a not guilty.

The judge came in to chat.  Her first question to me was, did I feel my last question was answered? 

I said no and asked again:  Didn't we have to accept the laws presented in this case as fact? 

Her answer surprised me:  No. 

She elaborated:  You can dismiss anything you want to.  You can believe or disbelieve anything you see or hear. 

Even the law?  I said.

Yes, she said.

So, there are no absolutes here?  I pressed.

No, she replied. 

Another NG piped up:  Wait a minute.  A speed limit sign is posted as 45 miles per hour.   You're saying we can choose to ignore that if we want to?  If we don't agree with it?

The judge replied:  You have to obey the law, but you can dispute it.  What if the wrong sign was put up?  What if the sign was vandalized and a different speed was painted on it?  You can believe or disbelieve anything.  For example, how do you know I went to law school?

I stared at her.  That's when things began to get screwy.  If nothing is necessarily "true", how can anything be judged as legal/illegal, right/wrong, safe/unsafe,  hot/cold?   According to this judge, everything was subjective, even the law.   Even whether or not she attended law school. 

I began to feel very disillusioned.  We had not spent all this time debating if the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol, but whether or not the laws established to determine that are valid.  I wish I'd known that going in, because that's a different question, a philosophical debate.   Four jurors generally trusted the law enforcement framework.  Two jurors did not.  Florida state law had been on trial, not the drinker.  

What happens to the defendant? one NG wanted to know.

He's free, the judge replied.  Nothing was proven.

Not exactly, I thought.  Apparently, if you don't agree with a law and you find at least one juror who sides with you, it's likely you won't be subject to that law.  In my view, that was proven.   

The judge thanked us for our time and released us.  I drove home feeling a mix of naive, stupid, and crazy.  And somehow, sad.  I assumed we were a nation of laws that we all accepted as, well, "the rule of law."   I was not aware the law was on trial at every trial.  Maybe I should have paid more attention during Civics class in high school.   

Before being Juror #1, I was fairly confident the judicial system's goal was to discover the truth.  Determine the facts of what happened and weigh that against the laws in place.   Were laws broken, or not? 

I've now learned laws are subject to interpretation and whim, and if you're savvy/determined/lucky enough, you can wiggle your way out of anything.

Is this as unsettling to you as it is to me?  




24 comments:

Jen Forbes said...

What a travesty of justice.I am so sorry that the system didn't work for you. It shouldn't be that way.

I do hope and pray that young man realized he just got the chance of his life and never drinks and drives again.

And i must admit to feeling a bit of anger and disappointment at the two who seemed to pervert our system with their own personal prejudice.

Mari said...

Wow! Yes, I'm very disillusioned and pretty frustrated. I can't imagine how you and the other 3 felt after spending all that time trying to do the right thing.

Juli said...

What's really unsettling to me is that in MA, the probate judges have no one to oversee what they rule. So when a judge makes a bad call regarding placement of a child, or YEARS of bad calls putting children at risk, there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

As far as your case, my fear is that he has now gotten away with a DUI. Which means he will likely repeat the offence, and sadly the next trial won't be a licence suspension and a fine.

Chatty Crone said...

This is very unsettling to me - but I am not surprised! sandie

Stacy said...

It is unsettling to have a judge spell it out like that, but like Sandie, I'm not surprised. In my opinion, the Supreme Court has been setting aside absolutes for quite some time so why not the lower courts.

Marianne said...

Wow. I guess if I'm ever on trial, it's always better to go with a jury. One crackpot is all it takes to get off anymore. Kinda sad.

(P.S. Not that I'm planning any crimes at the moment).

Dana said...

Yes, I find that very unsettling—and sad.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

If it makes you feel any better, my husband and I have both served jury duty multiple times, and have never encountered a situation like the one you've described. I'm glad, because I definitely would have found it to be very disturbing.

Brenda said...

Definitely unsettling. What an eye-opener for me. Thanks for sharing and I hope I'll be able to learn from your experience and go in as a jurist with that in mind, if need be.

Ruth said...

I went back and read the first part. It doesn't really surprise me. In many cases, what it seems to come down to is who has the better lawyer.
But, the validity of the breathalyzer does answer a few things for me. Many times in Iowa, they will take you to the station and draw blood.
I guess too many times, the results were questioned.
Once my sister was taken in without a breathalyzer because the cop thought she was impaired. She wasn't, just tired from having to work all night.

That corgi :) said...

It is unsettling indeed. I do hope like someone else said that the guy realized the got a "freebie" here and doesn't drink and drive again; the next time he might not be so lucky and might end up dead or killing someone else.

I guess this experience you had goes with why a lot of defendants plead not guilty when without a doubt they are guilty of their crimes (like murder when they are caught with the murder weapon, etc). They are hoping interpretations of the law will go in their favor I would imagine.

That in itself is sad that people won't admit guilt for a wrong doing they did.

makes you hope you don't get called for jury duty any time soon

betty

Kenya G. Johnson said...

That is unsettling I was have been sad and equally pissed off. Wow! So really you CAN be not guilty and have a inexperienced lawyer and then be screwed. And you can be guilty and have a savvy lawyer that can get your out of it. That really really stinks. Thanks for the lesson. I never want jury duty. Knocking on wood....

Jerralea said...

Sad ... very sad. I just pray that the drinker never drinks, drives and hurts anyone ...

renae said...

dear Mare! thank you! your comment about the 'getting' was in my head all weekend, esp while shopping at the new jcp and seeing all the glitz and glam and no body smiling. hmmmm.

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

It is not until a person has been on a jury that they truly get to understand the ins and outs of it and I have always thought it would be an eye opening experience......

Tamera Brose said...

Well I know how to get out of jury duty now. I'll just ask all kinds of questions about how to interpret the laws we are going to be discussing.

Retired Knitter said...

I am stunned. I am so stunned, I think I will forward your two posts to a family member who is a lawyer.

As I read your posts, what occurred to me was this ...

The lawyers and the judge are working on one level - a level where training as a lawyer weighs heavily and their thinking is bent in that direction. The jury is on another level, where there is no law training ... just common sense! Common sense says this young man is guilty - and if he had killed someone even on his first time driving drunk - it would have been a tragedy. And he would have paid some price I would hope.

That didn't happen fortunately, but there should be consequences for not following the law. Sure, you can oppose the law, but hold up a sign stating that you do, get a petition going, put it up for a vote ... but don't put others at risk because you don't agree with the stop sign or in this case, drinking and driving.

Guess I am thinking like a citizen - not a lawyer.

What a bad experience.

I will say this. The last words from our judge years ago resonated with me. Our legal system is faulty and it makes mistakes, but it is the best system there is right now. Guess that is true. It doesn't always turn out right.

Rita said...

I am totally and thoroughly gobsmacked!! I have never served on a jury and this was just bizarre to me. Unsettling is too insignificant a word for it. It blows my mind! What is the point of having laws at all then? Maybe the judge was just burnt out or something. This doesn't even seem to make any sense to me. I am baffled.

renae said...

Mare! hi!

i am sorry, i read this in the wrong order or something and now read it correctly. it was a very interesting read. thank you.

i've served on jury duty once and and have been selected for duty but didn't serve 3 other times. the case i served on was also a DUI. the poor kid was even somewhat drunk in the courtroom. bammm, guilty. it wasn't whether he was drunk or not, it was; was he actually the driver because the cops said he must have switched places with the passenger before the policeman got to the window of the car. all testified he was driving when he left the party drunk.

your case was stuck on the breathalyzer as being valid. i wish the judge could have been more specific in her directions during the trial, while you were deliberating. that is odd to me that she couldn't have been that specific earlier. hmmmm, don't feel dumb. you stood your ground and it didn't make a difference. but, perhaps it did? perhaps he was a good kid and needed a break. i know a very good kid that was sent to prison for check forgery, that he did to help out his parents, etc. and while in prison he was killed by the tougher types. seriously, how sad? yes! what if this kid was similar? you will never know. somehow i feel your prayer was answered in the affirmative. you did your part, the jury was locked and he will never be tried for that charge ever again,'that specific charge'. he may screw up again, but maybe not. hopefully and only hopefully, he will think next time because he did get a second chance.

i am proud to call you my friend!
love, renae

Misha Gericke said...

Wow. That's just unbelievable, and yet, it makes sense too.

I'm sorry though, that the DUI guy didn't get the judgement he deserved, as he'd been a danger to everyone on the road with him the moment he got into that car drunk.

Elizabeth said...

How incredibly discouraging and disillusioning. Apparently truth and justice have nothing to do with each other.

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

My husband has long told me that truth and justice are entirely two separate things in our court system. As a retired police officer he has seen it far too much. I don't know how he managed not to get so discouraged he couldn't perform his job. But, as he says this system, even as flawed as it, is still better than other methods.

Cindy Dwyer said...

I know enough to realize I would never want to be on a jury. Some people view the cops and the law as enemies. They feel as long as no one was hurt, it didn't matter if the guy drove drunk and will fight to get him off. But if no one gets punished until they kill someone, what's the deterrent?

I guess you can hope this young man really is as good a person as the defense pointed out and learned his lesson. If he never does drive drunk again, maybe it's better for society that he stayed out of jail and kept working, right? (But only IF he does this. If instead, he causes a tragic accident, those two NGs will have to live with themselves.)

mare ball said...

thanks for all the insightful comments. I would serve on a jury again, but I'd go in understanding more. In spite of the flaws of the system, I think everyone should serve if possible. How else do we know how screwy things are - and how improvements can be made? I've since heard many times now that, despite its imperfections, we still have the best system in the world. I'm grateful for that.