I remarked, on the way in, that we were the only people that wanted to be there. Being a defendant must be a bad time, and I doubt being a plaintiff is much better. Jurors are getting a couple bucks a day to disrupt their lives, and it's just another day at work for everyone else. But we were there voluntarily, because we wanted to see what a trial was like.
Everyone at the courthouse was friendly, but it clearly wasn't a place meant for visitors. We walked around trying to find someone to give us information, and finally found a friendly janitor. He had no specific suggestions, but said that we ought to just open courtroom doors until we find a case we'd like to see.
We walked in in the middle of the case, and I immediately felt as though I was somewhere I shouldn't be. A trial seems like such a personal and intimate thing, deciding one's fate. We sat up front.
The witness being questioned was a sixty-year-old woman. Her questioning was slow because it went through a Chinese interpreter, was interrupted by her sobbing, and was hindered by her clear displeasure at being there. It turned out that although she was the victim of a purse-snatching, she wasn't the one prosecuting. It was the city's DA.
The case seemed like a formality to me. Hours were spent arguing over whether she received the purse back at the same time she received the cell phone originally contained within it. I assumed that the defendant was guilty and that they were deliberating minutiae to try to find some discrepancy in testimony upon which to pounce.
We finally had a recess for fifteen minutes, so we adjourned to the hallway. Jurors took benches and used the bathrooms, but we stood near the door. So did the defense attorney, who asked us what we were doing there. Were we law students?
We answered that we just wanted to see what a trial looked like, and that we found it interesting but confusing. I asked if there was some way to get the backstory, and she offered to talk to us after the trial.
The courtroom experience was interesting, but talking with her was twice as fascinating. She was very open with us and answered all of our questions readily. It was obvious from the beginning that no amount of tiptoeing was necessary. She gave us her argument, which was that the police pretended that they took the phone off his body, even though it was in the abandoned purse with everything else.
She said that a lot of cops were good cops, but that some of them become convinced of a suspect's guilt, so they gild the lily and exaggerate to help convict. She asked what we thought about the case, and seemed encouraged when I said that I wasn't sure.
"Reasonable doubt!" she said.
I asked if she thought she was going to win, and she said she had no idea. When I indicated that I wanted to know how the case went, she gave me her cell phone so that I could call and find out.
The whole experience was really fascinating. Go down to your local courthouse and sit in on a trial. It will give you a new appreciation for the fragility of justice.
My next book is almost done. I'm really happy with how it came out, but am revising a few things based on early reader feedback. I'm also going to record an audio version at the same time.
Interestingly timed post as earlier this month, for the first time in my life, I was called in for jury duty. Just the jury selection process was interesting to me in and of itself. The one takeaway I got was, if you don't want to be on a jury, TALK and HAVE OPINIONS. LOL. The trial I was in the pool for, but did not get picked, was for a gentleman here in San Antonio named Adolf Suarez, who was on trial for attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. http://bit.ly/1JceX5aThe defense asked the jury pool to raise their hands if they they agreed that the prosecution could show that Mr. Suarez was guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, would they be willing to consider the range of punishments from PROBATION to 20 years in prison. I raised my hand as did many others. They then called me back in to clarify my stance and when I told them that if the prosecution convinced me of his guilt of a VIOLENT CRIME, that probation would be off the table for me, I knew right then and there that the defense wanted nothing to do with me! As you can see from the story, the defense got the jury they were looking for.
GREAT post!!! Everyone really should sit in on a trial to witness the "fragility" (a kind word) of such things. And, it is fabulous that you are recording an audio version of your book right away. Some of my older friends have such a time reading that the only do audio books.
I think it would be interesting to see how it differs in different countries (though you may have to be more careful about getting permission to view there).
This story is one of the first really interesting and bizarre things that happened to me. It's a tale chock full of twists, crime, and deceit, guaranteed to satisfy even the most discriminating BtyB reader.
It takes place when I was a sophomore in high school, before I had any clue whatsoever regarding women. Despite my objective inexperience, I had managed to attract my first real girlfriend. I'll write the full story some day on how I met her... believe it or not, I won her over by memorizing more digits of pi than she memorized. Let's all pretend I didn't just admit that. Anyway, she was very attractive, super cool, and perhaps the most compatible girlfriend I've ever had. Now she is a fighter (like amateur UFC or something) and a stripper. Her name is Allison.
One of my good friends at the time was a fellow named Charles. There always seemed to be something a bit odd about him, but I wasn't sure what it was. Later I would learn that he had been sent to juvenile detention for attempting to stab his stepfather.
I just spent 3 days as a juror - one day for the jury selection process, and two days as a juror on a criminal case - a "possession with intent to distribute" drug trial.
Now that the case is over, and I can talk about it, I have a number of thoughts. I learned more about ZipLock baggies, crack cocaine, the business behind buying and selling drugs, and society in general than I ever wanted to know.
I want to share some thoughts as a first-time juror, because I had so many thoughts while I was in the jury box, and I thought the perspective might prove useful for any budding prosecutors, defense attorneys, and anyone else involved in the legal system who cares to listen to someone seeing it from the outside.
First, full disclosure: 1) The judge said we could talk about the case, even its specifics, once it was over, so I am. 2) Any thoughts I share here are my opinion alone. I did not talk to any other jurors during the case.
I had limitless time while in the jury box to form plenty of opinions, and an interesting aside is that i used the peg memory system to remember them all, as we weren't able to take our notes out of the courtroom. I highly recommend learning the peg system for the next time you're in the jury box :) or you just have to remember a grocery shopping list.
I just spent 3 days as a juror - one day for the jury selection process, and two days as a juror on a criminal case - a "possession with intent to distribute" drug trial. Now that the case is over, and I can talk about it, I have a number of thoughts. I learned more about ZipLock baggies, crack cocaine, the business behind buying and selling drugs, and society in general than I ever wanted to know. I want to share some thoughts as a first-time juror, because I had so many thoughts while I was in the jury box, and I thought the perspective might prove useful for any budding prosecutors, defense attorneys, and anyone else involved in the legal system who cares to listen to someone seeing it from the outside. First, full disclosure: 1) The judge said we could talk about the case, even its specifics, once it was over, so I am. 2) Any thoughts I share here are my opinion alone. I did not talk to any other jurors during the case. I had limitless time while in the jury box to form plenty of opinions, and an interesting aside is that i used the peg memory system to remember them all, as we weren't able to take our notes out of the courtroom. I highly recommend learning the peg system for the next time you're in the jury box :) or you just have to remember a grocery shopping list. One thing that astounded me was the cost of this one trial alone. Between the judge, 2 bailiffs, 14 jurors, prosecutor, defense attorney, 5 police witnesses, DEA specialist, expert witness, defense witnesses, and court administrator, I figure this three day trial conservatively cost US taxpayers $20,000, and probably more. And those are just the direct costs - not including lost productivity of anyone involved (ahem, one juror in particular found this especially painful - startups and jury duty don't mix very well). And thousands of trials like this happen every day. The economic costs alone are enough to make me re-think the supposed "war on drugs" that has been dragging on for 20+ years now. Any war that takes 20 years and isn't making a dent in the problem is the wrong approach. I'm not going to go so far as to necessarily advocate for the legalization of drugs, but what we're doing just isn't working, and there must be a better way. A more relaxed attitude like some other countries have is worth exploring; if nothing else, let's just look at the facts and not cloud the matter with deep-set opinions. One especially interesting story is the one about Mexico recently legalizing certain amounts of drugs. I just have to think that if a country with a problem much worse than ours turns to drug legalization to stem the problem, we may want to consider learning from other's mistakes and at least carefully examining what they've done and how successful it's been. Well, enough about that - I don't usually venture this far away from technology & entrepreneurism topics, but as I mentioned, this trial has really given me a new perspective on many things. OK on to the trial specifically. My first reaction, immediately upon being selected as a juror, was to be infuriated with the defendant for getting himself, and therefore me, into this situation. My strong reaction surprised me, and I think it's something that a defense attorney should really capitalize on. This specific defense attorney did not capitalize on much, in fact he was terrible, which is something I'll get to later on. But a good defense attorney might use a line like this to the jury: "I know you don't want to be here. Imagine how my client feels - he could have just pled guilty and avoided all of this stress, but then he would have been wrongly sentenced for something he did not do." Etc. Another thing neither the prosecution nor the defense did very well was explain the process to us. The judge did a bit, but more detail would have been appreciated, and it would have allowed me to empathize with one of the two counsels more if one of them had taken the time to explain the process to me. There's an additional reason that it's especially important: Since the prosecution makes their arguments first, and the defense second, for the first half of the trial the defendant is basically getting pummeled by the witnesses. And if you don't know what's going on (and I really didn't, aside from watching Law & Order I've never seen this process up-close before) you really think that the defendant has to be guilty. I mean, the evidence is overwhelming! I think a smart defense attorney would begin his or her opening argument with something like this: [attorney places a nickel on the jury box, in front of the jury] "Let me give you an analogy of what's going to happen over the next few days. The attorney is going to describe this nickel to you. He's going to talk about how it's round, and it's flat, and it has a head on it. He's going to go into a lot of deal telling you about what that head looks like. Well guess what ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this nickel in fact has a tail as well [flips nickel over]. And I'm not going to get the chance to tell you about the tail until later in the trial. But I want you not to forget that there is more than just a head to this nickel, there's a tail too, and the fact is that no matter how much detail the prosecution goes into describing the head of that nickel, it's not the whole story." So at the end of the day, we ended up finding the defendant guilty on all 3 charges of drug possession. It wasn't an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do. Hope this feedback helps anyone out there thinking about the legal profession.