Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jury Duty

I do not watch Law & Order or CSI: San Bernardino, or any of those shows. Everything seems formulaic and too easy. They bore me. A real trial, however, is both tedious and endlessly fascinating. Most of all, it is extremely complicated.
I have been pining to be chosen as a juror since I became an American citizen. People think I've lost my last marble, but I wanted the opportunity to see how this system works in reality. I am a frustrated criminal lawyer, detective and/or Supreme Court judge.
I come from Mexico, a country that has an utterly depraved legal system, medieval and corrupt to the core. We don't have juries, we have miserably paid and not always thoroughly trained judges who usually take bribes to supplement their incomes. There is no presumption of innocence. Nothing prevents a corrupt police officer or anyone with power to accuse innocent people of crimes and lock them away forever. The presumption of innocence, which supposedly is coming to the Mexican legal system soon, is not only an important defense against state tyranny, but also a pillar of civilization. You people do not realize what you have here.

I got my wish last week, but with a slightly perverse twist. I was chosen as Alternate Juror No. 2. This meant that I had to sit through the trial but was dismissed before deliberations. I missed the most stressful and perhaps most interesting part, but I am immensely relieved. It is a huge responsibility to decide the fate of a person. And unlike on TV, in this case, the DA did not present a clean, open and shut case. It was full of holes, despite the fact that the defendant does seem to be a blight upon this city, probably did it and should probably not be allowed to walk our streets. I'm dying to know what verdict the jurors reached, but, I'd be surprised if they vote to convict.
The defendant, a young Latino man, was accused of participating in a shootout in the middle of 109th St between Amsterdam and Columbus Ave at 9:25 pm on a Summer night in 2009. He was accused of carrying and firing a gun with intent to kill. The motive: another drug dealer encroaching on his turf. The four charges against the defendant were Attempted Assault on the First Degree, two counts of Criminal Possession of a Weapon, one with intent to cause serious bodily harm and one as unlawful possession outside the home or place of business, and Reckless Endangerment.
Five bullet casings were recovered from a .25 caliber revolver, and a spent bullet from a .40 caliber automatic, I believe.
People who testified said they heard a lot of shots, so more shots were fired than evidence found. A 13 year old boy was slightly injured when a bullet grazed his leg. Shots were fired from a red pick up truck. When you think that this could happen on your street, you just want to lock everybody away.
About 10 police officers testified about the crime scene, evidence collection, ballistics. A small handgun was recovered on top of some garbage bags. It was not tied in any compelling way to the defendant. Not by DNA or fingerprinting. I don't remember if they clarified who this gun belonged to. The person the defendant allegedly shot at was also arrested but did not testify.
None of the police officers were able to remember the time of the arrest. The arresting officer, I believe, lost his note book, where such information is supposed to appear. He spoke to a witness that identified the defendant as the shooter and who knew where he lived, yet he did not arrest him or even go look for him until the next day. None of them saw the suspect with a gun in his hand at any time.
Since the burden of proof falls on the prosecution, they showed their evidence first. The prosecutor, a slight, young Chinese American man, did not give the jury a compelling causal and chronological narrative and the evidence was presented piecemeal. Now I don't know if this is because he was just not an organized presenter or because he is not allowed to thread a narrative that would make us see the crime as it happened. But the police evidence was confusing, and he never arrived at a story that could help the jury understand clearly how the incident happened.
According to the defendant's statement to the police, he saw a guy dealing drugs on his street and went down to tell him he should not do it. As if! Can you imagine yourself seeing guys dealing drugs on your block and telling them in their face to scram? I didn't think so. In the statement the police took, apparently he confessed to having a gun. This statement was presented as evidence, but not read in its entirety. Why? And how come that the police detective who took the statement was not called to testify?
There were dozens of photographs of the buildings on the block and endlessly boring testimony about where people were. I don't yet understand what purpose this served except to confuse the jury.
Of the dozens of people who ran for their safety that night, only 2 people agreed to testify.

To be continued...

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