Sunday, October 23, 2011

Adventures In Civic Duty

SPOILER:  There is NO poker content in this blog post.  It also a very long post about my jury duty experience.  If you're easily bored then I suggest heading over to Grayday's blog for a bit. 

So, as most of you are aware I was pressed into jury service a couple of weeks ago.  I've been called before for various municipalities but never even had to show up before.  I blew it off once, taking a 90 day postponement because I had to work and summer is busy time.  Since I was "between jobs" I decided not to postpone again and just showed up.  I had heard that I'd likely get cut loose by Wednesday since it probably wouldn't be busy.

For those of you that have never had the pleasure, anyone who is a licensed driver OR registered voter is a potential juror for the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.  They tell you on the summons that service is minimum 5 days.  I had no idea whatsoever what I was getting into, so I showed up day one with 209 other upstanding residents of our county with only my iPod and $5 in my pocket.  We got hustled into a room where we had to scan our summons in, show ID, and get our pamphlet explaining just how much bullshit you were in for.  Then you get herded across the hall into the jury holding pen (AKA "The Pit").  You're allowed to roam and graze but you cannot leave the penned in area lest you be poached.

After a half hour of sitting around we were treated to a badly shot video from the late 80's about how jury service works.  We also got to talk to an actual judge (who came down from up on high to speak to us common folk in our own language - how quaint!).  I decided that it was a mistake not to have a book, iPhone charger, newspaper, etc to keep me entertained.  After an hour of drudgery they began calling names.  The process is pretty simple - they call roughly double the jurors they need and march you up to the courtroom's jury deliberation room.  You wait there until they muster you and march you into the courtroom.  Sometimes the cases settle and you just sit there until they release you back to The Pit.  Lucky me, our case was a go.  Luckier me, I was in the first 12.  This meant I got to sit in the jury box and not the gallery.

Our group got marched into the courtroom of Judge McGinty and were seated in the box.  The next step in the process is the "voir dire (french for 'speak the truth')" .  During voir dire, the lawyers for the prosecution and defense list their witnesses and go over the charges, and they ask the jury questions to make sure you don't know anyone involved in the case.  Our case turned out to be a pretty big one.  The defendant was a 49 year old guy from Lakewood who met a 17 year old mentally handicapped girl online and ended up inviting himself over to her house repeatedly and coercing her into sex.  I was pretty sure I would get excused from the jury, as I mentioned during the questioning that I knew someone who is currently serving time for something similar.  The judge brought up that we would be shown videos that the defendant made of the encounters he had with the girl.  A few people were visibly rattled by this, one kid was excused after saying he thought the defendant was disgusting.  Several of the women waffled on being able to watch the videos but the judge was reluctant to excuse people.  The defense and prosecutors took turns excusing jurors until we got a break around 4PM.  During the break, one of the alternates decided he was done and left.  When we got back up the courtroom he got called and wasn't there.  They couldn't skip over him, so the judge excused us for the night.  Instead of getting jury selection done in one day we had to come back.  We were all admonished not to dicuss details with anyone and then we were cut loose.

Day two I decided to bring some stuff to amuse me since I was expecting to be excused.  I had my phone, charger, a deck of cards, newspaper, etc.  We were supposed to be there by 9AM to be called up to finish jury selection.  We were called up at 9 and had to wait until 10 to get into the courtroom.  The lawyers excused all the alternates we had, so 6 more people were called up.  (We originally had 22 people to fill 15 seats - 12 jurors and three alternates).  We cycled through all of them until the lawyers ran out of challenges and we were down to 15.  Oddly, I made the jury.  After lunch we were given notebooks and the prosection opened.  Trial is nothing like on TV.  The courtroom was surprisingly small and stuffy and the testimony was droll.  Questions were asked over and over, the amount of repetition is mind numbing. 

The first witness we saw was the victim.  She was definitely "off", you could tell something wasn't right with her.  She broke down crying at one point and we had to take a break.  The crux of the case was that she was too impaired to understand she was being taken advantage of.  The defense cross was very weak, they didn't want to attack her and make the defendant look like more of a scumbag.  After a few more witnesses we got excused for the day again.  Day 3 was probably the most boring of all.  We had to listen to cop after cop testify to the same exact things - where they served the search warrant, what they seized, what their training was, etc etc.  I was so bored I had to drink copious amounts of coffee to stay awake. 

Day 4 was the most "controversial" day of all.  That was the day we got the meat of the testimony from the main detective on the case.  They showed us a power point presentation listing the videos the idiot defendant had made of himself.  Each video was broken down for us and we were only shown key points.  The judge and lawyers had decided not to make us sit through all 90 minutes of it and instead we got "bullet points".  Then we were treated to the defendant's wedding video (he forced the victim to marry him when the cops got involved because he thought she wouldn't be able to testify against him at trial).  We also got to see a video of his police interview where he babbled on and on about how he knew she was hanicapped but he didn't think he was doing anything wrong.  There was an expert witness that testified as to how the girl was exceedingly naive and vulnerable to control.  I made a point of paying little attention to the videos.  I knew the other jurors were taking a ton of notes and I felt it was more important to watch the reactions of the defendant, the witnesses, etc as the videos played.  People give you their most honest reactions when they don't feel like they are being watched and every set of eyes except mine was on the video presentations.  The defendant at time rolled his eyes, had a smirk on his face, or was otherwise not reacting like someone who believed he was in some serious shit.  After the dog and pony show we were released for the night.  The judge promised us we would have the case by Friday to start deliberating.

Day 5 (Friday) was supposed to go quick.  The defense was not planning on actually putting on a defense, so we should've been getting the closing arguments fairly quickly.  Instead we sat around until almost noon waiting to be called in.  When we finally were marched in, we sat down and the defense rested it's case.  Then we were immediately dismissed for lunch.  We were in the courtroom less than 5 minutes in four hours.  After lunch the closings began.  The prosecution got to do the first and last closings.  They opened with one prosecutor basically babbling for five minutes and resting.  This was a dodge on their part - they gave the defense nothing good to rebut in their presentation.  The defense was relatively short - they were gambling that the state simply hadn't proved it's case well enough.  The defense rested and the final prosecution presentation started.  This was much more polished, with another power point display and some theatrics on the part of the attorney.  Finally we got to jury instructions, which was two and a half hours of the judge reading all 45 charges and the applicable laws and definitions to us.  At 5 we were sent to pick a foreman before they would let us leave.  Everyone wanted the school teacher on our panel to do it since she had been on a jury before but she refused.  I finally volunteered and we broke for the night.  Monday was a holiday so we had to come back Tuesday to deliberate.

On Tuesday I expected this to go quick.  We all agreed on about half the charges - child porn (he had clearly made videos while she was underaged), tampering with evidence (when the police arrived to serve the warrant the criminal mastermind pried his hard drive out with a screwdriver and threw it out the window), and endangering a child (goes with the child porn).  The sticking point turned out to be the rape and imposition charges - in order for him to be guilty we had to all agree the girl was too impaired to realize what she was doing.  10 of us agreed, 2 did not.  One guy felt she wasn't that impaired and had "lured" the guy in.  One of them was so spaced out she wasn't sure who did what and was confused about everything.  We finally decided as a group to watch every video all the way through to see how she acted the whole time.  After doing so the other two were convinced and we convicted him on all 45 counts.  Once the verdict was read in court we were told we had to return for one more day but we weren't told why. 

On Wednesday (Day 8) we arrived at 1PM and got called in.  Since we had convicted the defendant was had to now decide if he was a violent sexual predator.  We finally got told his criminal history - he had previous felony convictions for molesting an 8 year old boy, had dozens of arrests for indecent exposure, etc.  We deliberated less than an hour and decided he was.  Once everything was decided we were excused and got to meet the judge in his office.  He told us about why the trial had been delayed and thanked us all for our service.  We left confident we had done the right thing.

A week later the defendant was sentenced to 100 years to life in prison. 

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