Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

The hard bit of being a juror

The Casey Anthony thing dredges up a day that still stands as a favorite of mine. Many of you have heard this story, but for those who haven't, it's worth recounting, and I don't think I've told it on LJ before.

The only time I've actually served on a jury was the first time I was called; I was probably about 23 at the time. The case was in Lowell, IIRC -- I was selected, and then randomly assigned as the foreman. It was fascinating getting to see the system from deep inside.

The case was drunk-driving. As the prosecution put it, this kid (about 19, IIRC -- legal at the time) was driving his red Camaro too fast through Lowell late at night, and got pulled over. The cops smelled alcohol. When they took him out of the car and cuffed him, he was "belligerent" and kept demanding (oddly) to see a doctor. When entering the police station, he was staggering. It was a clear open-and-shut drunk-driving case.

And then the defense got to work -- and it was *fascinating* to watch them adding the details that the prosecution conveniently omitted. For instance, that there had been a police report 10 minutes earlier of a robbery, that had an (as it turned out, unrelated) red Camaro as the getaway car. That the police had torn the kid out of the car and slammed him down on the hood, splitting his lip open. That his friend in the passenger seat was, self-admittedly, completely soused. That the police station is down a substantial flight of stairs, and that he was forced to walk down them, cuffed and bleeding, and not allowed to use the handrails.

The prosecution clammed up, and didn't say a word to deny any of it.

The really fascinating -- and not a little distressing -- part was the jury room. Despite all of this, 10 of the 12 jurors wanted to hang the kid, because he *looked* guilty. He even had admitted that he'd had one beer -- surely, he was just lying, and was actually driving drunk?

It came down to two of us -- me, by far the youngest person on the jury, and the oldest one, a guy who looked to be in his mid-60s -- repeating over and over again, "No Evidence". Because, really, there wasn't any. The prosecution had done a fine job of presenting a circumstantial case, but had presented absolutely zero evidence that the kid was driving drunk. Indeed, the defense's largely implicit argument was damned near airtight: that the police had *thought* they were catching a thief, roughed him up, dragged him in, realized much too late that they had arrested the wrong person, and were pressing drunk-driving charges solely for the purpose of avoiding a false arrest case. The fact that they *hadn't* tried to do a breathalyzer, nor even made him walk a line, indicated strongly that this arrest had nothing whatsoever to do with drunk driving.

So after about an hour of haranguing, the older fellow and I won the argument, as the rest of the jury admitted that there wasn't any there there. We acquitted the kid efficiently, and the whole thing was over in about four hours all told.

And y'know, the hell of it is that I still suspect he probably *was* driving drunk -- the circumstantial evidence wasn't trivial. But it was way, way below the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt", and the verdict *had* to be an acquittal: not only was there doubt, it was screamingly clear that he'd been railroaded in order to cover up a police error. The sense that this is the way it is supposed to work was very strong, and I developed a deep appreciation for why things work the way they do. Presumption of innocence really does matter.

So hearing one of the jurors on Nightline last night, repeating that point over and over again -- that the prosecution just plain didn't present any solid evidence -- has quite a ring of familiarity to me. It's good to see that the system still works, even in this media-soaked age...
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