A Day Of Jury Duty…

Just recently I got selected for jury duty for the state circuit court in the county where I live. I dutifully filled out the required forms and sent them in and awaited the day when or if called. That day came yesterday and what followed was the most pitiful excuse of a criminal trial imaginable being run by a group of circus clowns. I’ll walk you through the process and case as it happened that day.

The potential jurors for that day were instructed that we had to be present in the room they set aside for potential jurors by 8:30 am. We were also instructed that we should make sure that we arrived early enough to find a parking space (parking in the small town where the court resides is at a premium), walk to the courthouse and pass through security (a couple of bored Sheriff Deputies at an old-fashioned metal detector arch). So I got up in plenty of time to take a shower, dressed get something to eat, drink and drive the 30 min trip to the courthouse and be there at 8:15 am. By 8:25 I was seated in the room with the other potential jurors when the farce started. You see at 8:30 they were to “call roll” even though to get into the room you had to present your “Jury Badge” they sent in the mail to you and it had a bar code on it they scanned in. In other words they already knew you were in the room when they scanned your badge, however they didn’t call roll at 8:30 they waited to 9 am to do that. After roll call we were suppose to go to the courtroom to begin jury selection, however there was an unspecified “problem” that was going to “take a while” to resolve.

So there we were, 35 human beings stuffed into a room (15′ by 50′) in the basement of the courthouse. Oh did I mention that the thermostat wasn’t working and the heat was on? Yep there we were slowly roasting away until the “problem” got fixed at 10:30 am and we left for the courtroom on the second floor of the building, all 35 of us. This brings us to the next part of the problem how you get from the basement to the second floor. You see the one and only elevator had enough room to fit 4 adults comfortably and 6 if you squeezed them in like sardines. So instead of using the elevator they take us up the stairwell that was built as the fire escape. Now you have to understand that even though we only numbered 35 we had a good cross-section of the population which meant that we had two seniors with canes and a woman who was 8 months pregnant. Now you would think that they would take those three at least and run them up in the elevator with a deputy. If you did you were wrong. They forced that woman and to seniors to struggle up the stairs from the basement to the second floor. Thank God we didn’t have someone in a wheelchair!

So now we are all gathered in the courtroom and seated in the seats that are normally used for the public and press to observe a trial. The state’s attorney is already there and so is the defendant with a public defender representing them. The Judge enters, we a do the rise routine and the Judge starts the proceedings for jury selection:

  1. He tells us that it is a criminal trial and that the defendant is accused of malicious damaged to a Coke machine.
  1. He then tells us that there is only two witnesses for the prosecution and he asks the state’s attorney if they are present. We see that one is a cop and the other a civilian.
  2. We are then told that the only potential witness for the defense is the defendant himself.
  3. The Clerk of the Court calls roll again and swears us in before the Judge starts asking us some basic questions such as do you know the defendant, the attorney’s and other such things. This process weeds out three potential jurors.
  4. They then select the jurors from those remaining by going numerically through your reporting number and asking the two attorney’s if we are acceptable. Two were excused and thirteen were found acceptable (the sitting twelve and one alternate) including myself.
  5. As we were found acceptable we took a seat in the jury box and the attorney’s were given another chance to look us over and challenge any selections. The state’s attorney bumped one of us off and another was selected.
  6. Both attorney’s gave a final ok and the Judge called a recess at 11:15 am so everyone could use the restroom before the trial started.

So after almost 3 hours we have finally got a jury selected and thankfully the thermostat in the courtroom and the jury room worked properly.

After the recess we filed back in to the courtroom and the Judge gave us our initial instructions and the trial began. First up was the State’s attorney and her opening statement. She tells us that the accused was arrested for damaging a Coke machine at 3:26 am June 6, 2011. That the act of damage was caused by a “Mule Kick” observed by a Police Officer and that the defendant neither owns the machine nor have permission to damage it. The Public Defender starts off with trying to identify with us in the jury by telling us how her mother was excited to be selected for jury duty. This didn’t seem to impress us very much and she quickly change tracks by focusing back on the case at hand. She made a few points about how the defendant doesn’t deny that he was there and that he doesn’t deny that he was drunk and admitted it to the police, however he never “kicked” the machine but pushed off of it from leaning on it when he saw a police cruiser go by.

Now that was out-of-the-way the State’s attorney called the Cop to the stand and immediately things start going awry.

The cop testifies that she was driving the police car going North bound in the lane next to the Bus lane when she spotted the defendant raises his right leg with his back to the coke machine just as she gets parallel with him. She stated that she saw him kick backwards and that it took her 200 ft for her to stop and back up. The state’s attorney has the cop demonstrate the kick. Now here are some facts that us in the jury already know because it is just local common knowledge. The road the cop was on is a divided highway with four lanes on each side of a three-foot median strip. Three of the lanes are for regular traffic and the furthest right lane is for Buses and right turns only. This road is also the main thoroughfare in a beach resort at the beginning of the summer season. The sidewalks are about 15′ wide on each side of the highway. The cop then testifies that she ordered the defendant over and had him sit on the curb. While she went and looked at the Coke machine her partner continued to talk to the defendant. She saw that where the soda cans come out the plastic around it was cracked. She then took a photographs of the machine to which saw as a series of three images printed out. Yep the plastic was cracked all right. She then testifies that her partner cuffed the defendant and placed him in the car. The state attorney was done and passed the witness to the defense.

The Public defender asks the cop to tell how far away from the defendant she was when she saw the alleged kick occur. The cop estimates 75′. This caused all of us in the jury to start looking at each other in wonder. Remember I told you how many lanes there were on each side of the road and that this cop testifying was driving? Immediately we knew there was a problem here. If she was in the lane next to the Bus lane going North bound and she was looking to her left across six lanes of road, a three-foot median and a 15′ wide sidewalk and saw the defendant then she was further away then 75′. Each road lane in the US is usually 12′ wide so six lanes equals 72′ alone add in the median and sidewalk and you get over 90′ between her and the Coke machine. Now if she meant she was looking to her right she would have been partially obstructed by her partner and the distance would have been less than 60′ (2 lanes and the sidewalk). Then the defense asked the cop was the area around the Coke machine well-lit. After hemming and hawing for a few seconds the cop answered that she doesn’t remember and that there is streetlights. The defense then asked if the machine was close to the street lights or set back. The cop hemmed and hawed before stating she couldn’t remember. The defense then asked was there a street light in front of where the Coke machine was or was the Coke machine half way between streetlights. The cop answers she doesn’t know were the streetlights are in relation to the Coke machine. The defense then asks the cop if she remembers what the defendant was wearing, specifically what type of footwear. The state’s attorney objects to the question but is overruled and the cop answers she can’t remember. The defense then asks if the cop remembers if the defendant was drunk and that he stated that he was. The cop replied in the affirmative. The defense then asked if the cop remembers how drunk the defendant was, specifically if he was stumbling or weaving when walking. The cop stated she couldn’t remember. The defense asked the cop when she came on shift. The cop answered 10pm. The defense asked how many times since she came on shift she had passed that Coke machine. The cop couldn’t remember. The defense asked if the cop had seen that coke machine and that it was undamaged prior to the incident with the defendant. The cop answered no she hadn’t. The defense was done and handed the witness back to the state’s attorney. The state’s attorney asked some questions that were basically just different ways of asking her original questions and finished. Both sides were finally done with the cop and that witness was released.

The next witness was called and at first we were told that he was the “owner” of the machine. Now due to my own personal experience with curb side dispensing machines I knew it was very unlikely that this person “owned” the Coke machine. It was more likely he was the owner of the business that leased/rented the machine from Coke or he was some mid level manager for the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. Turns out I was right and that was just the first surprise for the state’s attorney as we got a classic example of the maxim: Never ask a question you do not know the answer to.

The states attorney asks him if he is the owner and he responds with no. Now the importance of this was that the state’s attorney was trying to show that the defendant didn’t have permission from the “owner” to damage the machine. As you can see things are not starting out well. From there she asks him to clarify and he explains that he is a mid level account manager for the local bottling plant and he was the contact on the sticker on the machine for any questions. From there she shows him a picture of the Coke machine in question and asks him if he recognizes it. He states “Yes, it is a model 804 Coke machine”.

The next two questions is where the states attorney blew her case IMHO because she didn’t know the answer that was going to come out of the witness’s mouth. She asked him if he had seen that particular machine before and if so was it undamaged. He answered that he has never seen that machine before but that when it was delivered by Coke to the business operating it, the machine would not have been in that condition. The state’s attorney then asked when was the last time someone from Coke saw the machine? The witness replied “One the day we delivered, the machine because this machine is a self fill machine and Coke doesn’t fill it.”

Sensing that her case was about to crash the state’s attorney shifted gears and asked how much it would cost to repair the machine. The witness replied $150 and that included labor. Then she asked if he had given the defendant permission to damage the machine. The witness replied “No”. From there the witness was turned over to the defense.

The public defender jumped right on to the big mistake the state’s attorney made by asking the witness when was the last time he saw the machine. The witness replied just a bit ago when he saw the picture. The public defender smiled and asked “Let me clarify, when was the last time you physically saw the machine”. The witness then stated never. The defender then asked what does “self-filled” mean. The witness then had to explain that in self filled machines the person that leases/rents the machine has to fill it with sodas, Coke does not do it. Now this is important because you are talking about a Coke machine sitting beside the main road that runs between hotels/motels and the beach, during summer and with upwards of 200,000 extra people in the town. That Coke machine will be doing a brisk business and need to be filled at least once a day, possibly twice a day. I knew this from that same curb side dispensing machine experience I mentioned earlier.

From there she asked him “Since you and no one else from Coke has seen the machine since it left your plant you can’t tell us when the machine was broken, just sometime before the cop photographed it?” The witness started to answer but the state’s attorney objected that it asked an opinion from the witness and was sustained. However the damage was already done since we in the jury box had already figured that one out all by ourselves. Then the defender asked the witness who notified you and when that the machine was broken. The witness replied he found out the machine was broken a week after the incident from the state’s attorney’s office. After that the defense had no further questions and on rebuttal the state’s attorney only had the witness repeat how the defendant didn’t have his permission to damage the machine.

At this time the public defender asked the Judge to dismiss based on the fact the state’s attorney did not meet the burden of proof. The Judge denied the request and asked if the defense had any witnesses to call. The defendant stated he wanted to testify and they went through the rigmarole about how he didn’t need to. Once the defendant got on the stand the public defender asked him what he was wearing. The defendant replied that he was wearing a button up shirt (like a Hawaiian shirt), shorts and a pair of flip-flops. The defense then asked how sturdy those flip-flops were and the defendant stated that they could be bent in half. Then he was asked if he had been drinking and did he tell the cops that he was drunk. He replied yes to both parts. He was then asked how many drinks he had. At first he said quite a few but wasn’t sure how many. After more questioning from the public defender he said it was 6 mixed drinks. The defender then had him tell how he didn’t kick the machine but how he was leaning back against it and when he saw the cop car he pushed off from it with his right foot and his right arm/elbow.

After that the defense turned him over to the state’s attorney.

The state’s attorney asked the defendant where he works and he stated on a loading dock. The state’s attorney then asked where he worked when the incident occurred and the defendant stated he worked in construction resurfacing floors during the day and as a bouncer at night. The whole point to the state’s line of questioning was about how the defendant had to be “strong” to be a bouncer and then she tried to get him to admit that he kicked the machine. It wasn’t a very convincing argument from the state and that is where it ended with the defendant being excused from the witness-box.

The Judge then explained what needed to find a guilty verdict for malicious damage. Not only must the state show that the defendant did in fact damage the property but that the defendant had the intent to damage the property. Having to establish the intent in a crime is rare but in this case must be met. Also rare “voluntary intoxication”, as the Judge put it, can be a part of defense to show that there was no intent. Usually being intoxicated can not be a defense in most crimes but in this one it can. From there he called a short recess so that he could take care of a few things with the attorney’s.

We filed back into the jury room, took a seat, looked at each other until someone blurted out “You have got to be kidding me, THIS is what they dragged us down here for?” From there was busted out laughing and shaking our heads. A few minutes later we get called back in for the summations which basically went like this: The state, knowing she screwed the pooch, desperately playing the take the word of a cop angel and the public defender pointing out that the state did not show that the defendant broke the machine beyond a reasonable doubt, but also that they never tried to establish that the defendant had any intent to break the machine.

We filed back into the jury room to take our vote which took all of 1 minute to find the defendant “not guilty”. We notified the bailiff and filed back into the courtroom and rendered our verdict at 12:05 pm.

That is right folks it only took 50 minutes to complete the trial, 1 minute to reach the verdict but almost 3 hours to sit the jury in the first place.

Now here is where we found problems in the State’s case:

  1. The state never called to the stand the partner to the cop that testified, the one that talked to the defendant while the other cop took pictures. Maybe that cop does remember that the defendant was staggering drunk and wearing flip flops…or not. That was something the memory of the cop that did testify was hazy on.
  2. The state never called to the stand the guy that owns the business that rents the machine to tell us that the machine wasn’t damaged prior to June 6th.
  3. The state never called to the stand the guy that actually filled the machine last to tells us the condition of the machine prior to the incident.
  4. The state never tried to show where the defendant had any intent to damage that particular Coke machine.
  5. The person that rented the Coke machine never notified Coke that the machine was damaged and needed to be repaired, the states attorney did that. This implies that the machine was broken prior to the date of the incident and if the renter notified Coke they would have been charged the $150 repair bill. The machine still worked and it is the summer busy season, why notify Coke and have to not only pay $150 but you lose sales during the time the machine was being repaired. This again goes back to my experience with soda machines.

Those were just the big points that threw up red flags of doubt that the defendant set out to damage that Coke machine at 3:26 am June 6, 2011.

Now lets look at some numbers:

  1. It would cost $150 to repair the machine
  2. The fine would have been $500 if convicted
  3. There was 13 total jurors to hear the case at $25 a juror for $325

So to try a case that has $150 of damage the state spent $325 on the sitting jurors alone to get a $500 fine. Then to top it off the clowns that run the court take 3 hrs to sit a jury to listen to a trial that takes less than 1hr and they wonder why people do not want to get called for jury duty.

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8 responses to “A Day Of Jury Duty…

  1. PhilJourdan October 19, 2011 at 6:54 am

    What you do not see is the back room dealings that went on. I suspect the cop had a bit of pride when she made the arrest (or the defendent was obnoxious). After the arrest, the DA tried to make a deal, the guy said no (probably because he either was not smart or really did not do it), and so they proceeded with a green district attorney. But the defendent was entitled. The cost is a part of our legal system.

    All that being said, the cost to the taxpayer was significant. But the guy did not get off scott free. I suspect he paid about $2,500 or more for his defense.

    I do like your way of telling the story. It was an easy read (I got the link off of Chiefio’s blog).

  2. boballab October 19, 2011 at 10:04 am

    @Phil

    Oh we guessed that things broke down in the “negotiating” phase but I guess I forgot to mention that the “states” attorney is not green, she is at least 60 years old and has been in her position for over 15 years. Also the the only thing the defendant had to pay was for his gas to drive back from where he lives and the day of work he missed. His defense attorney was a public defender, that means she also works for the state:
    http://www.opd.state.md.us/faqs.html

    So we the taxpayer picked up his legal tab too.

    If they wanted to charge him with something they should have went with one of the statutes dealing with public drunkenness that they have. He admitted to that!

    The State’s Attorney knew they had to prove not only he broke the thing but that he intended to break it and basically without a confession or witness saying they heard the guy threatening to break that machine, there was no way to prove it. This should have been a case where the cops took his info (if they didn’t arrest him for drunk in public) and gave it to the leasee. If he/she wanted to recoup the cost of repair then it should have been a civil case where the burden of proof is much lower.

  3. PhilJourdan October 19, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Ouch! Yea, you got taken (the tax payer). But it sounds like the PD will be putting out their own shingle soon. She sounded green as well (the appeal to emotion to the jury), but she was sharp when it came to knowing how to defend her client.

  4. boballab October 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Yeah the PD was young and Green and she tried to script out her opening and closing remarks, but she asked sharp questions of the 2 state witnesses.

  5. Matthew W October 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    First of all, thank you for doing your civic duty and not trying to weasel out !!

    You and the other jurors may have felt like you wasted your time, but to the defendant, that time was priceless.

    I can tell you from the experience of being the complaining witness in a plethora of misdemeanor and felony cases that there are many times that it seems like the prosecutor is looking at your case for the first time as you are being sworn in !!! With the case load that they have, they really don’t put a whole lot of time into anything but the most serious cases.

    Where I live, a “criminal damage to property” charge would not allow “voluntary intoxication”, to be a mitigating fact.

    “So to try a case that has $150 of damage the state spent $325 on the sitting jurors alone to get a $500 fine.”

    Justice is not about the costs.

  6. boballab October 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    @Matthew

    The county I live in is very rural outside of the beach resort and luckily there isn’t a lot of crime so the prosecutor should have had a little more familiarity with the case. Because of the fact that the county is low pop and very little crime Jury Duty is for the entire month and so far they have only called in potential jurors 3 times before this week.

    From the way you are talking the law where you live is a little more broad in the sense you don’t have to show intent just that you done the act. As an example think of a person who tries to buy a soda and the can gets stuck. While banging on the machine trying to free up the can you break a part. The way the law is written here is that the prosecutor has to show that the person intended to break the machine with his actions. Where you live the crime is just that you broke the machine and whether you intended to or not plays no role. Is the law were I live stupid the way it is written? I believe so but the law is what it is and the prosecutor should have been able to see the problem of showing intent before hand.

    The other kicker is that the beach resort town has very strict laws dealing with public drunkenness and the defendant admitted to that but that isn’t what they were charging him with.

    In the end it was a good move on the defendant’s part to push for a trial instead of caving in, but that long time prosecutor should have known better than bring that case. I hope she does better with the retrial of a murder suspect she couldn’t convict before (hung jury). This trial just started yesterday and I didn’t get selected for that one.

  7. Matthew W October 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    No, “Criminal Damage” would still require intent, just that booze won’t factor in.
    I would suspect also that no matter what the size of your community, the case load is probably equally high percentage wise.

  8. H.R. October 19, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    boballab – I just popped over from Chiefio’s, too. Good story, nicely written.

    I got called for jury duty once and I swear you must have been called up in my county from your initial description; metal detector, stair climb and all.

    During selection, I stated I had a hearing impairment and they provided me with headphones. It wasn’t working. I had to remove my hearing aids so they wouldn’t squeal and then I couldn’t hear the judge, and I couldn’t hear the prosecutor. What I could hear was the defense and the accused discussing every little detail, even though they were whispering. I think their mike was different and put out a frequency that wasn’t in one of my impaired hearing frequencies. The judge told me to interrupt if the headphones weren’t working out, so I did and explained why. That was it for me in my county as the judge made me permanently disqualified for jury duty.

    I was bummed. I’ve always wanted to sit on a jury. Ah well.

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