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Monday, October 19, 2015

Jury Duty

Nothing like forced sense of obligation and duty with a threat of jail time for non-compliance to throw a kink in your routine.

This was my first time ever being summoned for Jury Duty and it was a very interesting process. There was a lot of sitting around and waiting. First you sit in a large room with 150 people and watch a welcome video about how great it is to be a juror (two hours later I had to pee so bad that I was about to run out of that room and probably be in some kind of contempt of court, who knows.) Then you wait around to see if you will be assigned to a possible case. Once your name is called, you are given a colored badge with your number that corresponds to a case. In my situation, there were only 34 other jurors with me for this particular case, but the bigger ones can call up to 60 people.

I can't even imagine this. 60 people. I'll tell you why.

The next step is to wait some more until the courtroom is ready. Everyone gets ushered into the pews and you're facing a judge, a prosecution lawyer, a defense lawyer, and the defendant. First you have to introduce yourself; Where do you live? What's your job title and where do you work? Are you married? kids? What jobs do your kids have? Basically at this point, they're trying to find out if there is any conflict of interest with the current case. They tell you the bare minimum about it (in this case, possession of a firearm). They were interested in anybody that said they loved to read (like crime novels), or people that had a bias opinion for or against cops etc. And for a couple of hours these lawyers go back and forth asking questions about what it means to be a good witness, or if any one of us would have a problem with applying the law to a case if we had a personal feeling involved. They went through the people that had "hardships" on green slips that told them about doctors appointments or how it will hurt them to not get paid their wage and mostly, they were excused or exceptions were made. There were 35 people total and only 14 spots available. I, obviously, was chosen as one of the lucky 14.

It was The State of Washington v. Jeremy James. The charge was unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree. As it was a criminal case, we knew that all 12 (2 alternates) jurors would have to be unanimous in the verdict.
Mr. Horibe was the prosecution lawyer. He was as smooth as silk. The man was tall, handsome, and suave. He obviously knew what he was doing and was very confident in his ability as a lawyer to convince us that Mr. James was guilty. He also seemed to have some kind of habit of scrunching his nose up every few seconds like he constantly felt a booger he wanted to pull out of his nostril.  
Mr. Katiyama was the defense lawyer. Actually there were two. Mr. McDonald I would call a greenhorn (this is a shout out to anyone that's seen Deadliest Catch or knows about commercial fishing) and appeared to need more experience about cross-examining a witness on the stand for sure.
The Judge, Mr. Costello, seemed like a very nice man. I don't have much else to say about him, as we were technically never allowed to talk to him. All questions would go through his Judicial Assistant, and I can't seem to remember her name! Megan, or Michelle. I think it was Michelle. Let's call her Ms. Boobs. The dresses and shirts she wore, with a lanyard falling down the middle of her chest, kind of accentuated that... area. 
And then there was the Court Reporter. You know, the person who types verbatim all the stuff that goes on in the courtroom? I actually managed to sneak a picture of her:

Seriously, she was in constant state of frown like everything in the world annoyed her. So I will call her Grumpy Cat. Because I can.

Now, I will try to summarize all of the court happenings here:
There were 4 witnesses: Officer Moody, Officer Criss, Officer... tow truck watcher, and a detective whose job it is to examine evidence for fingerprints and such. There were a number of articles of evidence, including: a single bullet found at the scene, a gun (with a magazine of bullets), pictures of the gun in the vehicle, and most importantly, dash cam video sans audio of what went down that night.

Basically, a car was pulled over for not having transferred a registration within 45 days of a sale. They discover the driver, Mr. Aroyo (sp) had a suspended license and when frisked, they found a smashed pill encased in a burned pouch of aluminum foil. They also found a man with a warrant out for his arrest. There were two women, and then also Mr. James. When officer Moody searched the car (with consent from Mr. Aroyo), he found a single 9mm bullet in a blue jacket, in which Mr. James stated the jacket was his, but the bullet was not. Due to this and the fact that the women had not consented to have their purses searched, they booked the car in order to serve a search warrant on the vehicle. It was towed to the police station.

At this time, I would like to point out that a lawyer's job is to beat a dead horse. Repeatedly. Each lawyer would ask the same question of a witness. And each lawyer would reiterate statements until they bore it into your brain like a botfly laying an egg. Now, I would also like to point out that every move they made was verbalized, probably for Grumpy Cat to make sure it all ended up on the court record. "I am stopping exhibit 8 at 14 minutes 39 seconds. I am fast forwarding exhibit 8 to 15 minutes, 12 seconds."

After the search warrant was issued, Moody and Criss searched the car and found a glock 19 handgun - a 9mm hand gun, with a fully loaded magazine and in ready-to-fire condition, found under the front seat where Mr. James was sitting in the rear. I won't bore you with all the details about how and why, but basically the law states that possession of an item is not just owning it, or holding it, but having held it at one point, even if just to say "cool" and hand it back. It's also about being able to have control over the item, being able to stop someone else from taking it. The law also states that you must know that it's there. That was the main point of contention. Did the state prove - because they have the burden of fault - that Mr. James knew the gun was there?

After officer Criss found the gun and booked it into evidence, he ran into Mr. James a couple of days later, arrested him, as as he was in the backseat in handcuffs, Officer Criss asked: "Would I find your fingerprints on that gun?" Mr. James paused, and then said "I don't know." That clinched it for most of the jury. To most of us, this infers that he knew the gun was there, and he probably had touched it, but long enough to leave prints? He wasn't sure.
(FYI: no fingerprints were found on a gun, nor did it have a registered owner).

In my opinion, and the opinion of many other jurors, the defense did a horrible job actually trying to defend Mr. James. They had nothing to go on besides trying to redirect the jury into discrediting the police officer's testimonies, and possibly trying to infer that they may have planted that bullet and they were trying to frame Mr. James. They did a decent job on one of the jurors, though. We had an 11 out of 12 vote for guilty, and one guy just could not say he was guilty without more evidence. He kept talking about the blue jacket, where was it, what happened to it? Because tying the bullet to Mr. James would indicate that he had to know the gun was there, and therefore was guilty of possessing it. And we kept saying that it didn't matter - the blue jacket was not submitted into evidence, nor did it need to be, and so it could not be used in our decision one way or the other.

In reality, we only deliberated maybe 2 or 3 hours, but the one guy finally saw reason. Mainly because we were given a sheet that specified the law exactly, and explained what 'possession' and 'knowing' was.

Just for humor's sake, I wanted to talk about a juror that had been dismissed prior to deliberations. His name was Lee, and although I don't know his age, I believe he said he graduated high school in 1955. I don't really understand why old people constantly make noise. They constantly suck on their teeth, or hum, or make other such noises. As jurors, we are not allowed to whisper among ourselves or ask questions or make any kind of real motions while we're watching the case; Lee completely ignored this. He was always humming (this seemed to make Grumpy Cat more grumpy), and actually whispered to one of the others about something. That afternoon, Lee was dismissed. Lesson: don't piss off the judge or break his rules.

In the end, I was glad that I wasn't the only one who felt the way I did with my personal verdict. I really was the perfect juror, not discussing the case with anyone, nor did I ever really think about it outside of the courtroom, even over the weekend we were on break. We had learned that he'd had a prior conviction of a serious offense (not detailed) which caused him to be forbidden from possessing firearms - this was not given to us until after our verdict, so we wouldn't be biased against him. Now that it's rendered guilty in this case, his sentencing will be on Thursday but I'm not sure what it will be, and as jurors we couldn't concern ourselves with his outcome if he were to be found guilty because that might sway our opinion. We rendered our verdict, and now Mr. James will have to pay the consequences.

This is a picture of the Pierce County Armory Building next to the courthouse. 
Just because it's awesome.
credit goes to