(....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?
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?