Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Experience

I would like to preface this post by saying that at the end of the trial, the judge let us all know that we could "tell whoever, whatever we want". So we are no longer on verbal lock down. The judge was great. He used humor to keep us all comfortable. He had a big bushy mustache that reminded me of a walrus. Ha!

Monday we went in to see if we would get called in for jury duty. I was not on the list called off, so I had to call the Juror Hotline every night to see if I had to go in the next day. Monday night, nothing. Tuesday night, I got called in! I emailed everyone at work so at least Wednesday's tasks would be covered. I figured I would see how the following day went before I made plans for the rest of the day.

The jury panel of 54 potential jurors was seated in the courtroom and the judge started the voir dire. Basically, the judge and opposing lawyers each asked us a series of questions that we answered out loud in front of the rest of the group. I was #7, so I was one of the first to answer each time around. We were asked questions like, "Would you always assume that a police officer speaks the truth?" "Has your home ever been burglarized?" and "Do you know anyone in the courtroom or on this list of witnesses?"

We did this for TWO AND A HALF hours before we took a 30-minute, so they could deliberate over which jurors to choose. Apparently I answered all the questions the way they wanted because I was chosen to be Juror #3. Which meant I got front row!

It took just a few minutes for them to read off the 12 jurors, then they led us into the jury deliberation room to give us badges and the rules for the courtroom (no talking about the case to the other jurors until the deliberation began, no talking to anyone involved in the case including the lawyers, stand up and sit down in unison and only when the judge says so, etc). They we broke for an hour lunch. We were back and court started at 1:15 pm.

The judge estimated that this case would take two to three days total. At my lunch I went to make arrangements for work for the next couple of days. After talking to my co-worker, I decided there was too much to hand over as it was, so I decided I would go into work after court to get everything organized for the following day.

The only information we knew prior to the trial starting was who the defendant was and that he was charged with attempted burglary of a habitation. Each lawyer opened up with a summary of what had happened before they got into the evidence and witnesses.
The defendant had pled guilty, so the purpose of this trial was to decide what his punishment would be. His particular charges, as a third degree felony, required 2-10 years in prison and a $0-10,000 fine.

I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the case, but I wanted to give a quick summary. What happened was very traumatizing for the victim, but there were still a few instances when I had to fight not to snicker from the jury box.

A 31-year-old male left his uncle in the truck as a look out as he approached an apartment within a retirement community. He knocked on the front door. The 64-year-old owner of the home, looked through the peephole and did not recognize the man, so she did not answer. He went around to the back of the house and knocked on the patio door. She didn't answer there and was starting to get scared. Throughout all of this, she was on the phone with her 85-year-old mother who is also her neighbor.

When the man started to bang on her patio window with some sort of a tool, she ran back to her bedroom to grab her 9 mm Beretta that she keeps loaded at all times. I would like to make a side note here: DO NOT MESS WITH TEXANS, PEOPLE. THEY ALL HAVE GUNS. Including grandma. Probably moreso grandma. Especially when grandpa is a retired vet.

The victim then proceeds to go back out to her living room, point the gun through the window with it's closed blinds at the perp and pull the trigger TWICE. This could have been really bad. Lucky for the perp, the woman was not extrememly educated on how to use the gun, so she never put a bullet in the chamber. LUCKY GUY.

When the defendant kept trying to pry the window open, she ran next door into her mom's apartment. That's when the perp's uncle and "look out" saw her and took off. Without his nephew. After unsuccessfully prying the window open, the guy ran off, realized his uncle was gone and jogged down the street until he found him parked on the side of the road.

While the perp was still attempting to break into the apartment, the victim called 911. She was able to give an exact description of the guy because he was standing right outside her window. We even got to hear how clearly she described the guy on the 911 tape. The cops were only six blocks from the scene, so they reached the area just as the perp was jumping into the passenger side of his uncle's truck. Both were apprehended immediately. No chase.

The defendant pretty much had to file guilty. He was caught red-handed. When the lawyer asked the victim how this had affected her, it was heart-wrenching. She said that her husband calls her 15-20 times per day to check on her. She walks around her apartment with her gun in her HAND. She can't sleep. And every time the ice maker drops ice into the bucket, she panics because it sounds like her window breaking again.

After the lawyers gave their closing statements, we were sent into the jury deliberation room to discuss and make our decision. We went over the evidence - we mostly focused on the photos and the previous charges the defendant was carrying. When it came down to discussing the actual punishment, we all agreed unanimously without much discussion.

In the end, we gave him 7 years and no fine. We spent a whopping total of 25 minutes in the deliberation room. We all felt bad that we were able to come to a decision about this man's life so quickly, so we joked that we should stall for a while. Of course, we didn't actually do that.

In the beginning, when I was first chosen to be on the jury, I felt wholey unqualified to be making such a decision. But by the end of the case, after I had heard every single little teeny tiny detail about the case (from three different views: the victim's, the defendant's and the cops) and the defendant's background, I felt good about what we did. The lawyers made sure we new the laws related to this case. I felt educated the best I could be.

Overall, it was a great experience. I am glad I was chosen to be on a jury. I think that may have been different if it would have been a murder trial, or if it would have dragged on for days. Missing a day of work, did not affect me too much and the trial itself was not traumatizing. I thought it was all very interesting to get to see the inner workings of how a trial runs. This was my first jury summons and first time to serve on a jury. There were people there who had been called numerous times. I guess I still have time...

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