The Verdict (spoiler alert!)

(This is the conclusion to my series of posts about my experience in jury duty. If you want to read the back story before you find out the verdict, click here.)

As I was saying, after an initial vote, the count was 10 to 2 with regards to the alibi. 10 people believed the alibi and two people did not believe the alibi. I was one of the two who didn’t believe it.

Not Alone – I think I’m a pretty smart guy, and very reasonable. Still, I have to tell you I was really glad that at least one other person was with me on the initial vote to not believe the alibi. And that other guy went before me in the vote (and I was second to last), so he had to wait a long time for my company. At this point, I just thought that 3 eye-witness testimonies at the time of the crime were enough to convince me, and that somebody else must have swiped out the defendant’s time card for her. The other guy who didn’t buy the alibi was also unclear on some of the details of the police report.

Where’s our evidence?? When we got into the jury room, they gave us all the items that had been submitted into evidence. We were very surprised to find a lot of things that were NOT submitted into evidence. The police report was not in evidence, the interview between the Deputy and the Investigator was not in evidence, the time sheets for the defendant from the staffing agency were not in evidence. Why?? This really made things more difficult. I still don’t understand what the “rules of evidence” are, but for whatever reason, we never got a chance to see these documents and it made our deliberations more difficult.

Changing Minds – What was it going to take to change minds here? We did some unorganized airing of opinions around the table, but didn’t seem to get anywhere. Two of the people made it clear that they were somewhat on the fence about the alibi, and since we couldn’t look at the actual documents, the only thing we could do was ask that the testimony be re-read. It was nearing the end of the day on Thursday, so we made our request that in the morning the cross-examination of the staffing agency lady by the prosecutor be re-read.

Listening Carefully – So we all came back in the AM and listened carefully as the court reporter read back the testimony. Everything the prosecutor said was referred to as the question in the dialogue, and everything the witness said was referred to as the answer. For example, I think the first exchange was read like this: “Question: good morning Ms. X. Answer: Good Morning.” There were not a lot of new details that came to light during this listening, but the Staffing Agency Lady did say that the name of the defendant’s supervisor on that day was on file somewhere at the company, but she didn’t have it with her that day. Otherwise, pretty much all of the facts were the same as what I mentioned in my original post.

Police Report – Since we couldn’t see a hard copy of the police report, and the other juror who held the dissenting opinion still had questions about it, we then requested to have the testimony of the main police officer re-read. Here there was an important detail that was given only briefly. In recapping his conversations with the people on the scene, the police report said that both the Neighbor and the Deputy claimed they heard but did not see the shot. They also could not give a description of the suspect. This point was not reiterated by the prosecutor in the questioning, but we all heard it when the testimony was re-read.

Reasonable Doubt – I think our jury instructions said that “beyond a reasonable doubt” means you have “an abiding conviction that the charges are true.” It does not mean absolute certainty, and the instructions explicitly stated that most things in life have some doubt. So here we were, dealing with this question. A solid alibi would definitely surpass the threshold of reasonable doubt. The alibi given was not that solid in my mind, but upon review of the testimony the prosecution missed some opportunities to diffuse the alibi. Why didn’t he contact the supervisor on that day? In my mind, the prosecution brought reasonable doubt to the alibi, but didn’t disprove it. So the alibi is supposed to be the reasonable doubt, and the prosecution has brought reasonable doubt to the alibi but not disproved it. Where does that leave us?

Luckily that’s not the only thing we had to work with. Despite the brevity of its mention, the fact that the police report claims that the two witnesses at the scene did not see the shot and could not give a description of the suspect opens the door to the possibility of the three of them colluding to incriminate the defendant. It’s true that the defense team gave us no theories as to why they would do that, but this was significantly fishier than it originally seemed.

It’s Unanimous – So on that Friday afternoon the two of us who dissented agreed to change our vote to not guilty. The foreperson filled out the verdict forms, and someone double checked them. They were then put into an envelope and handed to the bailiff before we left the jury room.

The Reading – The foreperson was mistaken; once we were back in our jury chairs, the deputy handed the verdict forms to the judge. The judge looked over all of them with a poker face and then handed them to the clerk. It would be the clerk who would read the verdicts, and we started with the most serious – attempted murder. There is a lot of preamble that gets read before the actual verdict. Stuff like “in the case of the people of California….” etc. The suspense was pretty intense, and it was hard to watch the defense team while they were waiting. Both the defense attorney and his assistant had their hands on the defendant’s back while the verdicts were being read. Finally they get to the verdict on the attempted murder charge… “Not Guilty.” The defendant bursts into sobs and tears. The verdicts roll on – “not guilty” on every charge, and with each verdict the defendant becomes more emotional.

The Aftermath – The Judge thanks us for our patience and our dedication to the case, and for doing our important civic duty. Then the defense attorney says that the defendant would like to say something. She is still very emotional and has a hard time speaking, but thanks the jurors and everyone else in the courtroom. Says it has been a very hard time for her and her kids (which she names). Says she doesn’t have any hard feelings against the prosecutor, and she didn’t always understand why the judge ruled the way that he did, but said he did a good job.

Talking to the Lawyers – The judge tells us that the lawyers often like to hear from the jurors after a case, and if we’re willing to speak with them that we should wait outside the courtroom when we leave. At least 11 jurors wait to talk with them, and when they come out we find out that the defendant had been in custody for 22 months. Wow. I don’t know what happens to her now that she’s been found not guilty. I think the defense attorney said that she might be able to get paid for her time.

Both lawyers confirm that this was a crazy case, and that a lot of variables surprised them during the course of the case. I think the defense attorney said that at times he was concerned for his own safety, though it’s not clear to me why. The defense attorney said he had been practicing law for seven years (which surprised me), which was about the same amount of time as the prosecutor.

Final Thoughts – First of all, I’m genuinely glad to no longer be a jury virgin. I thought the whole process was fascinating, and I really feel this like this experience makes me more of an American than I was before.

With regards to the verdict, I’m honestly not sure how to feel about the whole thing. If it’s not clear from my previous writings I think the defendant probably committed the crime. At one point I did ponder the question “if the victim no longer wants to press charges, why is this crime still being prosecuted?” But the answer comes quickly – that we can’t let people fire guns in public places, even if the intended target is the forgiving type. Still, I did not buckle to the pressure of 10 other people’s opinions, I am really convinced that the prosecution didn’t prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. If I didn’t mention it before, this prosecutor was not the original lawyer assigned to the case – it wasn’t made clear when he was assigned to the case, but it was later in the game.

It does occur to me just how difficult it is to get a guilty verdict in a jury trial. About 1/3 of my fellow jurors seemed like really sharp people, and another 1/3 seemed like they were at least reasonable people. The final 1/3, however, didn’t seem too interested in reason. They formed their opinions early and stuck to their emotional convictions. I imagine this composition is about what you could expect in any jury. I wonder what would have happened if the prosecution had been able to completely diffused the alibi, and if police report didn’t mention anything about the witnesses inability to describe the suspect. I fear the initial vote would have still been mixed and it would have been a difficult battle to obtain the guilty verdict. But that’s just a hypothetical situation. As it is, the defendant was found not guilty, and society should look on her as such.

Thanks for reading. If you find yourself in jury duty sometime down the road, drop me a line and tell me about it.

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