Monday, February 3, 2014
The most ridiculous week of my life started with the phrase "I'm satisfied."
I was called for jury service. I know. I know. I was thrilled, as you can imagine.
Actually, a little part of me was excited, if I'm being honest. I've always thought this stuff was interesting. Also, I love Legally Blonde, Law & Order, and reading John Grisham novels.
On jury selection day, I rolled in to the courthouse, fairly confident that I wouldn't get picked. The clerk called the first twelve people up to the jury box, and the attorneys started with the normal questions: "Do you know the defendant, the attorneys, or any of the potential witnesses?" "What do you do for a living?" "Do you have any close friends or family that are in law enforcement?"
But then the questions started getting a little more interesting. "Do you have experience working with children?" "Do you own, or have you ever driven a scooter or moped?" "Have you ever been frustrated while you were driving because you were stuck behind someone driving a scooter or moped? Would you judge the defendant unfairly if you knew he drove a scooter?" "Have you, or anyone you know, ever been a victim of sexual assault?" "Has anyone ever exposed his or her genitalia to you against your will?" Hmmmm. This could get interesting.
Periodically, a potential juror would provide a less-than-acceptable answer and be excused. After the first 20-ish people were dismissed, I was starting to get pretty confident. There's no way I'd be picked. Who would want little old me on a jury?
And then my name was called. (I'm an official believer in karma now, by the way.) I made my way to the jury box, sat down, and waited for the questions to come. I answered honestly, but again, I was pretty confident they'd excuse me. I talked about how I had extensive experience working with both children and college students who were victims of sexual assault. I'm also pretty opinionated, and I've always been under the impression that attorneys want people who don't have strong opinions, because those people are easier to influence.
The Assistant District Attorney got through all her questions, and told the judge that she was satisfied with the jurors who were currently seated. The defense attorney went through all her questions, and then looked at the judge and said "I'm satisfied as well, Your Honor."
And there it was. I had been chosen to actually sit on a jury. Me. I was going to be 1/12th responsible for deciding someone's future.
Um, holy crap. Don't call me Alyssa anymore. Just call me Juror #11.
(Also, have you ever been so confused/disappointed/overwhelmed after someone told you that they were satisfied? I mean, really. Way to ruin that phrase for me forever.)
Since selection had literally taken all day, we were dismissed until the next morning. I left, surprised and a little overwhelmed.
The next morning, I strolled into the courthouse, ready to listen and make some decisions. We learned that the man on trial was being accused of indecent exposure in front of a child and taking indecent liberties with a child. Yikes.
(I'm going to talk about some of the details of the case, which obviously will be sexual in nature. If this triggers you in anyway, or reading about it will make you uncomfortable, feel free to stop reading.)
The ADA informed us that in July of 2011, a man was spotted in a residential neighborhood in my hometown, sitting on a red scooter... masturbating. In the middle of the road. In the middle of the day. At one point, an eleven year old girl walked by him, at which point, he called her over to get her to look at his penis. Obviously, the girl ran away once she figured out what the man was doing. Meanwhile a neighbor (unrelated to the girl) spotted the man and called the police. Once the man realized that the police had been notified, he drove away. The police came out, but since they didn't know who the man was, or where he was heading, there wasn't much they could do.
A few weeks later, the neighbor (the one who called the police) spotted the man and his scooter about a mile from their houses/the location of the incident. She contacted the police again, they re-investigated, and eventually they landed on the defendant as the #1 suspect. Kind of a weird coincidence, right? It's believable, since the man only lived a mile from where the incident occurred, but still weird. Both the girl and the neighbor identified the man in separate photo-lineups, and he was arrested.
The ADA provided several witnesses, the first of which was the little girl. She told the story of what happened that day, about how she was walking down her road to visit a friend when she heard a man yelling. Eventually, she realized that he was talking to her, and she walked over to him. When she got close and realized that he was masturbating, she quickly walked away, back to her own house. Her testimony was short, and interestingly enough, the ADA never asked her to identify the defendant as the man on the scooter.
Next up were two of the neighbors, a mother and daughter. The daughter was first, and told the court that she was just doing chores inside the house when she happened to look outside and see a man. She talked about how she thought it looked like he was masturbating, but it was such a crazy thing to see that she called her mom down to look out the window as well. When the mom looked out the window and confirmed that he was actually masturbating, she opened the window and yelled "what are you doing?!" to the man. He drove off after he realized an adult had spotted him. Like I said above, this is when the mother called the police.
Interestingly enough, while the mother was on the stand, the ADA asked her if the man on the scooter was in the courtroom, and the mother said... no. Obviously, this whole trial was to prove that the defendant WAS the man on the scooter, so this was an interesting twist. Up until this point, I was pretty confident that he was guilty, but this made me begin to question myself.
Until a police officer from a neighboring county was called to the stand. She told us that in 2009, the defendant was accused of masturbating in front of two children who had just gotten off their school bus. Hmmmmm.
After her testimony, the arresting officer for this case was called to the stand, and he spoke a bit about how he determined that the defendant was likely the man on the scooter. Then, he showed us the his mug shot from his arrest in 2009 and from this case in 2011. You guys, between mugshot #1, mugshot #2 and his current state, he looked like a completely different guy. The guy from 2009 was at least 50 pounds heavier, with completely different facial hair. After I saw that, I knew the woman probably did know what she was talking about, because this dude really did look super different. It was crazy.
Once the prosecution had called all of their witnesses, the defense called theirs. As it turned out, the only two witnesses the defense had were the defendant's brother and father. The defendant entered a plea of not guilty, and said he had an alibi. His attorney informed us that there's no way it could have been him because he was in court that morning getting a divorce. Even though he was out of court by 11am, he says that he was with his brother until 230pm. Since the incident occurred around 1pm, there's no way he could have done it, right? Except when his brother took the stand to confirm that they were together until 2:30, he said that they sat in his car from 11:30 to 2:30. Now, everyone is different, but do you know anyone that would sit 1) in a car 2) in a suit 3) in July 4) for three hours? Uh, no.
After the brother, the defendant's 68 year old father was called to the stand. Obviously, the main intention here was to illicit some sympathy, and I gotta tell you, it worked. I mean, no one wants to think about an old man having to watch his son go to prison. I'm only human, you know?
Once his testimony was complete, the prosecution had a chance to provide a rebuttal, and they could re-call anyone to the stand. The arresting officer took the stand again, and told the court about how the defendant's brother visited him at the police department and begged him to drop the charges. The brother told the officer that the defendant had sworn he didn't do it. He did NOT mention that they had been together that day. Since the entire alibi is that they WERE together when the crime occurred, the fact that he didn't mention it to the arresting officer was pretty telling.
Once the prosecution finished with the rebuttal, we heard closing arguments, and then it was time to deliberate! Finally. We went back to the jury room and decided to just go ahead and vote by show-of-hands first. After the first vote, we had.... 12 votes for guilty, right off the bat. Unanimous on the very first try? I was shocked. After seeing that everyone was on the same page about the verdict, we discussed the case for probably 30 minutes. It was so interesting to hear what the other people thought, because we had all been together for four days at this point, and weren't allowed to discuss the case at all. We all agreed that the brother wasn't a credible witness at all, and that we were a little surprised the defense didn't agree to a settlement.
This is where I started to get a little bit nervous. Even though I was confident in my 'guilty' decision, the fact that we were going to tell this man he was guilty was a little intimidating. What if he, or one of his family members in the gallery, got mad and started freaking out? We made the decision to convict this man of two felonies. Felonies that, if convicted, meant that he would have to register as a sex offender. It's a lot of power to have, and it's a really crazy, really intimidating feeling.
After we delivered the verdict, we had the option of staying in the courtroom (in the gallery, not in the jury box) and listening to the sentencing. Part of me wanted to stay, because I really wanted to see the trial from beginning to end, but the other part of me felt really uncomfortable. I mean, we just delivered some pretty bad news to this man, did I really want to stick around just to see what happened next? Ultimately, I decided to leave, and as I was walking out, one of the other jurors said to me "You don't poke a hornet's nest and then stand around to see what happens next, do you?" Well, nope. You sure don't. Ha.
So I don't know what his sentence was. After some Google searching, I found out that he was already incarcerated for attempted kidnapping (yikes) and had previously been in trouble for setting fire to a building and sending threatening phone calls (double yikes). Due to his criminal history, I imagine his sentence was pretty harsh, but like I said, I'm not sure since I didn't stay.
Overall, it was quite the experience. It was hard, a lot harder than I expected it to be. There were parts that were really tedious, and parts that were really interesting. I'm glad I got to do it, but like I said, knowing that I had that much power was overwhelming and intimidating.
I'm glad it happened, but I'm also glad it's over.
Have any of you ever sat on a jury? I've been dying to talk about it to other people who have done it, but NO ONE I know has ever actually been seated on a jury. If you have, let me know! We can share stories.
Posted at 5:00 AM
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