Another one down…

…meaning one more thing off the bucket list.  For years, aye decades, I’ve wanted to serve on a jury.  Never quite understood the comments from folks who would do anything to avoid it.  Now I’ve spent plenty of time IN courthouses and IN courtrooms – just never doing the deed.

I’ve gone to countless arraignments (including this one this week) and just as many verdicts.  Have done interviews with lawyers and witnesses and cops and whoever wandered into viewfinder of my camera with an opinion or facts.  Have even listened in on courtroom proceedings (with permission) of trials in session.

But still – not on the jury.

Oh I’ve been called…five or six times I think.  The first few times they asked who I knew in the courtroom and well, yeah.  I knew too may peeps from aforesaid coverage.  And then I didn’t – but the magic words, I’m a journalist killed my chances.  And then there were the two times I got called and never got out of the holding cell, I mean the juror’s quarters.

But this time was magical…and of course it all came about because for once I had an overfull schedule and kinda nearly didn’t want to service.  So got a deferment for the first call-in and then this time my schedule was REALLY full and of course I had to show up.

So torn between wanting to serve and kinda wanting to (I’ll admit) get out of it, I sat and waited to be booted.  And I wasn’t.  Apparently working journalist and retired journalist and high school teacher are two very different animals.  Although the judge kinda grinned and remarked about the oddity of careers, as did the defense later during the trial.

I was initially seated with the first 18…which got cut to 14.  Happy juror #13 just waiting for the gavel to fall and wonder of wonders there was a paradigm shift and suddenly I was Juror #10.  On the jury and seated before I fully realized it.

And the responsibility and education began.  I had entered a wormhole…a portal to a strange new world in which all of my life experiences had to be put aside (kind of) in order to abide by the rules and regulations of this new world.  I suspect this shift may have been stranger to those not in news, not used to (attempting) to look at the world through a neutral lens.  Even for me there were challenges.

The case: law enforcement was called to an apartment complex due to a disturbance…a loud argument between what turned out to be a cheating husband and a distraught (and very angry) wife. They were both “known to the police”…code words for, yeah, the cops had been there before on other occasions.

The evidence: three segments of cop bodycam video, testimony from the arresting office, testimony from the defendant.

The charges: The defendant (woman/wife) was charged with resisting arrest.

How it appeared to come about. This is a summary of what appeared to occur based on the two witnesses and what we could see (not much) hear (at times confusing) from the videos. Cops arrive and walk through a gate of some kind. Sounds of shouting faintly in background and possibly a woman screaming. Cops get closer and we hear the man/woman yelling as cops go after the man and get him in cuffs. Woman keeps screaming at the man (use your imagination…she had a fine grasp of street vernacular). Arresting cop tells her to step back…and then (again vastly simplified) cop tells her to turn around, puts her in cuffs (according to testimony…we did not see this in video) and marches her to his car. She is screaming and arguing with him…we learn she was pregnant…he makes a remark that he can take her down even if pregnant. She says she is hurting (apparently the cuffs were possibly misapplied and her purse strap was caught in them and they were getting tighter). She is put in cop car and refuses to cooperate with the arresting officer. We see/hear another video in which another officer removes purse strap and loosens up cuffs, locking them so they won’t tighten.

Total time of longest video from walking to scene to suspect in car: around three minutes.
Suspect charged with resisting arrest with three counts: resisting, delaying, obstructing.

Then the prosecution and defense arguments. Prosecution pretty much laid out the case in a factual and brief overview of facts and evidence as presented during the trial. Defense (my opinion here) took a slow lazy ride into Fantasyland with his take on what occurred. The poor pregnant defendant was chocked by her cheating husband (no evidence other than her testimony/photos we were shown were inconclusive). The cops treated him differently than her (not relevant to the case of resisting arrest). The handcuffs were improperly applied (based on testimony from arresting officer, possibly…and her testimony that she was in pain). No direct evidence of abrasions to her wrists, do a draw on this one. The cop escalated rather than de-escalated the incident. Matter of opinion. She did nothing wrong…she was distraught and never resisted or delayed or obstructed. Matter of opinion.

Charges against female/wife: Resisting arrest (three parts to charge: delaying, obstructing, resisting). We had to return a verdict on guilty of at least one of the charges or not guilty on all or go with hung jury.

Jury pretty much agreed all evidence was weak – more of a he said/she said with neither side being totally in the right. Cops arrived, detained male half and female kept screaming at him and possibly approaching ( we couldn’t see anything due to it being a dark parking lot at night). Cop told her to step back and gave other commands but we had no way of telling if she complied other than his word – and she disputed that. He had her in cuffs and in the cop car in three minutes.

Jury was two white males/three white females, two each black male/female, two Asian males and one Hispanic male. Ages ranging from I’m guessing mid-twenties to mid-seventies. Jury foreman was what I expected: the older white male (I voted for black male who would have been equally good but no complaints). Initially everyone was hesitant to speak up. The foreman the same but he found his voice and read the full jury instructions aloud that the judge had read earlier in court.  Much of the early discussion centered on what the actual charges (resisting, delaying, obstructing) meant.  Everyone pretty much agreed that the defendant was not resisting in a manner that deserved arrest.

So we began with tied jury – 6 for guilty/6 for not guilty (put me in the latter group…you know us newsies, we need hard proof).

Second round of voting we ended up with a 5 guilty/7 not guilty split. The foreman changed his vote. I think what happened as we discussed the evidence is that more and more of the jurors understand reasonable doubt. As they each presented their reasons for they’d say stuff like, “I’m sixty percent sure she is guilty.” Foreman gently pointed out what reasonable doubt was. Third round of voting pretty much the same split.

Last night around four we were doing a round about with each person explaining why they thought it should be guilty or not and their reasoning…and at this point no one was totally for guilty. Everyone was leaning towards reasonable doubt but we got interrupted by the bailiff who said the judge had another case and wanted us out of there.

So this morning we finished the last four jurors explaining their logic, did a hands up vote of guilty/not guilty that resulted in final decision. Then it took half an hour for us to get back in courtroom and make it formal.  Not guilty on all counts.

But the entire process was fascinating…from the clear and stern (at times) instructions from the judge to lawyer questioning and presentations.  Then in the jury room listening to each juror’s reasoning and finding some surprises:  such as the two Asians initially voted guilty, as did the foreman (kind of expected that from him) and the younger and older white women (as with many people who have relatively sheltered lives they based their initial vote on how they would react to orders from law enforcement) and one of the African American women. And I loved the banter back and forth with no pressure and everyone listening and allowing time for even the shyest juror to speak their mind.  The two African American males, younger white male, and Hispanic male and one of the African American women initially went with not guilty.

We did get into a discussion about handcuffs and what it might feel like – and who had been in handcuffs – the black guy next to me and me no surprise. But the foreman also. As expected few of them understood the dynamics of the black community vs. law enforcement and stated they felt it was best/safer to comply to any orders from law enforcement. I popped in with you have a right to stand up against cops under some circumstances (in fact the law itself says you have a right to refuse to comply with unlawful orders and can physically protect yourself with reasonable force).

And I was a good little juror. Kept my mouth shut most of the time and listened. And learned.  A lot.  An experience I wouldn’t mind repeating (at a time in life when I have the time).

Oh…and if you know me I couldn’t resist shooting some visuals. Stockton’s downtown is magnificent and the autumn colors were popping.

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