Style vs. Style

I think now is an appropriate time to take another break from the retelling of evidence to discuss the stylistic influences at play in the courtroom. Primarily the style of the prosecution vs. the style of the defense.

I went into this experience very open minded, and knowing almost nothing about what to expect in a courtroom beyond what I’ve seen on TV or in the movies. During the Voir Dire (the proper name for the jury selection process) I started to get a little bit of a sense for the two attorneys, and in retrospect they definitely started to reveal their personalities at that time.

The main defense attorney was a slender black guy with a bald head and a goatee. He walked with a bit of a strut like I tend to associate with basketball players. He had a hispanic assistant who looked like he was around 16 years old, and who said nothing during the whole trial (besides occasionally whispering to the defendant). If I had to guess I’d say the main defender was in his early to mid 30’s.

The prosecutor was a white guy with salt and pepper hair and an accent that was hard to place, but pleasant enough to listen to.

I can’t remember now exactly how my opinions of these two guys evolved to what they are now, but the first impressions I can remember of the defender were during the voir dire:

  1. He seemed considerably less organized than the prosecutor. I realized that both of them had a system to keep track of the jurors currently in the 20 seats, but the prosecutor’s system was very discreet and efficient. The defender had a manilla folder open with yellow post-its all over it with random scribblings on each of them. Each time a juror was excused, he needed a few seconds to adjust his system.
  2. He was an inferior public speaker – when he chose to “thank and excuse juror #6” it was almost an unintelligible mumble.
  3. The questions he asked of the juror were less precise than the prosecutor. They just seemed a little too open ended to served the purpose of weeding out the good jurors from the bad. He asked a question along the lines of “what do you think of eye witness testimony.”

The prosecutor on the other hand was smooth. He was very well spoken and he just carried himself with much more relaxed confidence. The questions and statements he made all followed a logical progression to me, and I couldn’t help but feel myself becoming a bigger fan of his because he just seemed like much more of a professional. I had to remind myself that the question of which attorney is more polished is not necessarily relevant to us jurors and our task of returning the correct verdict.

The jurors aren’t allowed to talk to each other about anything related to the case prior to being in the deliberation room. However, I do think some speculation took place about the nature of the two jobs. Both the public defender and the prosecutor are government jobs, right? But it seems clear that working for the District Attorney is a more prestigious job. And then it the phrase drifted into my mind “if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.” Following this train of thought, I had to assume that being a public defender is probably one of the worst paying jobs an attorney can get. So I further assumed that the two types of people who who become public defenders are the ones who want to give something back to their community and help out the less privileged, and the ones who can’t get a better job. I readily admit there is little basis to this assumption, I’m just taking you through my train of thoughts and assumptions during this process.

During the case, there were a decent number of surprises (as you’ve read so far). The prosecutor never showed any signs of being shaken, where as the defender was often visibly surprised and frustrated by what was going on. If you take away the dialogue, all this non-verbal behavior suggested that the prosecutor was content with how things were going and that the defender was not having things go his way. This image was perpetuated when exhibits were presented to witnesses. Whenever one attorney wants to present a document, he has to show it to the other attorney first. The prosecutor only glanced at whaever the defender was presenting, but when the prosecutor wanted to present a document, the defender always gave it a good look as if to make sure the prosecutor wasn’t trying to pull any funny business.

How to Object This was perhaps the most entertaining thing in the case (next to hearing how all the parties dealt with having to refer to “baby mamas”). The defender had a hard time with the objections and it really frustrated the judge. There were two ways that these difficulties manifested themselves. The first is if the defender had an objection during the prosecutor’s questioning. One technique would be to object and give a laundry list of possible objection bases hoping one would stick. This would sound like “Objection your honor; heresay, leading the witness, asked and answered.” His other technique might be to just say “Objection” followed by a long pause.

The other problem came when the prosecutor offered an objection to the defender’s questioning. The prosecutor might say “objection your honor, leading” and before the judge could say anything, the defender would say “I’m just trying to establish…..” Both of these techniques clearly frustrated the judge. On at least six occasions, the judge stopped the proceedings, sighed with his first two fingers on his temple and said “let me clear up how objections must work. If you have an objection, say so and state the relevant legal basis. Then wait for my ruling. If I need any help I will let you know.” It just got more entertaining each time it happened, and at times it just sounded like the attorneys were bickering children.  Of course I don’t have any idea how common or uncommon of an occurrence it is.

I don’t mean to pick on the defender too much. Part of the reason he frustrated me is that I could follow the prosecutor’s train of thought most of the time. The defender didn’t seem to be building a coherent argument, he just seemed to be trying to create doubt at every opportunity he could. Pointing out all the things that the police could have done, all the things that CSI could have done, etc etc. What if the bullet was fired on a different day or not fired from a car. So many of these suggestions just seemed so amazingly implausible I felt like the defender lost credibility with each of them. The way my brain works, if the defendant was innocent he should just be able to provide a very clear direct explanation of why and make sure that message was clearly conveyed.

What’s hard for me to admit is that in a trial by jury, perhaps the defense’s approach is the more effective one. Maybe you can’t expect 12 people to follow your clear train of thought, and maybe you don’t want to. Maybe all the defender wants to do is offer the jury a plethora of potential doubts and hope that everyone will cling onto at least one that makes sense to them. Or maybe they assume that a jury will use the reasoning of that “sure they were crappy sources of doubt, but just look at how many crappy sources of doubt. Surely that adds up one net reasonable doubt?”

We’ll find out soon how effective each side was in the end.

Questions: Were my assumptions about public defenders and prosecutors inaccurate? Did I come off as a jerk? I’m just trying to keep it real.

Next Post: All that’s left here are the closing arguments, the deliberations and the verdict. I’ll definitely summarize the closing arguments in the next post and maybe move into the deliberations as well.

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