Saturday, December 6, 2014

Jury Duty

I'd like to explain something about juries.

Years ago, I was summoned to Federal Jury Duty in downtown Detroit.
The case was one against a crack house operator who was a convicted felon.
The charge was possession of firearms, a federal offense for a convicted felon.

I sat in the jury box listening to the case as it was presented.

So many times, I wanted to be able to ask a question for clarification, but could not.
I felt that the federal prosecutor was unprepared and hesitant.
There was a point where the judge actually coached the prosecutor in framing a question to the witness. This astounded me! I'm not a lawyer, but I have a pretty well rounded education.
Judges are not allowed to interfere or coach, only rule.

The defendant's attorney looked like a comic actor from the 80's (and this is when this occurred) that I was reminded of continually. Avery Schreiber, but with reddish hair.

The prosecution was disjointed and the prosecutor looked flustered, but the defense attorney looked self composed and relaxed, in fact, like he was enjoying his work.

We heard the testimony, and at no point did a witness say that they saw the defendant with a gun.
There was reference to a kid in the house who had a gun locked up,

As we went in to deliberation, eleven of us were convinced that the defendant, though scum, was innocent of the charge.
One juror, a white middle aged male, refused to agree.
He could not bring himself to disbelieve the police in general, that this man would have been charged without cause.
There was a little more to the evidence that I don't recall now, but we could not sway this guy.
So we talked and we talked and we had lunch, and we talked.
Finally, a thought occurred to me, and I asked the bailiff if I could send a question to the judge.
This judge was famous locally for many rulings involving the Coleman Young administration and I think it was John Feikens.
My question was about the legal definition of possession.
The judge agreed, and responded, by note, that possession included "control" of the instrument.
Control meant it could be summoned without even knowing it's location!


The judge then asked us if we would like to enter his chambers and meet with both legal teams, in case we had any questions. Well that was different, as far as I know. I had lots of questions.

So I asked the prosecutor if that was his first case, and he laughed. He understood my question.
There was a witness who was the linchpin of the case who plea dealt and who had skipped bond that morning. That shattered the case.
The only other eye witness was a BATF agent who we met in chambers, but could not testify for fear of blowing his cover.
He assured us he saw that gun in the defendant's hands regularly.

The prosecutor was unsure of what evidence he was now allowed to use or what testimony (the skip's) was admissible.
I asked the judge about his intervention in the case, and he said he knew he was probably giving cause for a mistrial, but that he felt it was worth it.

The Defense Attorney was a public defender and he laughed and said it had occurred to him, but since he wasn't under retainer to the person we convicted, the guy would have time in prison to figure it out for himself.

My point is this:
I often commiserate with jury members and try not to second guess them.
Trials are very structured, the evidence very controlled, the arguments very constrained.
As a jury member, I felt I should have been able to ask questions any observer would, but I could not.
I was a captive observer of what I was shown.

And importantly, there is often evidence not given, not shown.
And what, at first blush, looks evidently innocent might under further examination prove guilty.

It's not my job to play judge or jury. I may have opinions and questions, but I can never be certain of those.
Look at everyone who swears Garner was choked to death watching the video!
Yet the autopsy shows that was not the case.
Who ya gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?


  1. Now ... if only those who are rioting could be made to listen to, and understand, what you've just said.

  2. Excellent points... I've never served, because as soon as I said active/retired military I was immediately released.

    1. The lengths people will go to, to get out of jury duty....

  3. Once you mentioned that this case was tried in Detroit, I had to assume that things would not go according to what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they configured the justice system.

    This particular case notwithstanding, Detroit is a place where nothing works. Absolutely nothing. The fire department can't keep up with all the fires. The police department can't keep up with the crime. The garbage department can't pick up all the garbage. The utilities in the city can't keep the street lights lit, the water running or the gas on.

    And the justice system can't mete out justice, Ed. It just is what it is.

    It's systemic in Detroit: the City that Doesn't Work. It's broke (spiritually, economically, politically) for a reason. The entirety of the community is disfunctional, as every citizen (collectively) wants something for nothing. Much like the philosophy of the Democrat Party.

    Detroit as an entity refuses to believe Milton Friedman when he says (with absolute truth behind him) "there's no such thing as a free lunch." Everybody in Detroit wants their free lunch, and what's more, they expect it to be delivered to their door via limo and served up piping hot.

    Of course, this never happens, and Detroit citizens are perpetually frustrated that the fairy dust and magicians they voted into office can't produce results.

    As my teenage daughter would say, "Duh."

    The Day of Reckoning will come to Detroit. Sooner rather than later. And I will be curious to see how that works out. The tens if not hundreds of thousands of city, county and state retirees ('gubmint workers') who are counting on seeing that government check in the mail box every month will wake up one day (soon) and not find their check.

    Lots and lots of those folks will be wanting somebody to pay. Anybody. And they will grab their pitchforks and torches looking for that somebody, anybody.

    What they will discover, is that that 'somebody, anybody' is themselves. Then what? Will they go peacefully into that good night?

    I don't think so.

    1. I'm waiting to see how this bankruptcy shakes out.

  4. this is very interesting, Ed..thanks. And yes, it reminds me of Bob's Evidence of Absence!
    I was watching a film yesterday and it had a court trial with a jury and, suddenly, a jury member raised his hand and was able to ask a question! I thought that was fascinating. I don't think THAT's allowed anymore...not from my experience, anyway!
    I had a case where I was about 26 and some guy was accused of having been stoned and hit a car, I think....the jury was older than I was and they kept insisting he had long hair so he must have been on drugs and hit the car. Unbelievable.
    Do you know I don't remember which way it went, but I remember distinctly saying "You're convicting on his HAIR!?"
    The Defense Att'y was SO lame I hurt for the kid. Big fat woman who looked like she'd done NO prep and couldn't give a darn.

    1. I had to coach a public defender through representing a kid I know.
      I got him off the stupid stuff so he could plea to what he did.
      They were out to get him by overcharging.
      The PD was worthless.