Friday, September 19, 2008

Jury Duty

I was called to jury duty this week.

Monday -
We were asked to report at 8:30 am. In Gretna. Across the Huey P. Long Bridge from where I live. That took some planning, but I managed to get there on time.

Ray, an older guy, befriended me in the parking lot and ended up talking to me straight through until around 10 am. I really didn’t mind, seeing that we had nothing else to do but watch TV (we watched the Channel 4 Morning News, Regis and Kelly, The Price Is Right, The Young and The Restless, The Bold and The Beautiful, As The World Turns, and the rest of the CBS lineup.)

The highlight of all that TV watching: Agim Kaba from As The World Turns. He was shirtless from the opening scene until the end of that day's episode.

But I digress...

At almost 3 pm, 39 of us in the jury pool were called to the courtroom. Thirteen of us were randomly picked to sit in the jury box.

We were each asked these questions (with my answers in italics):
What is your name? Marshall -----
What is your occupation? -------- (Let’s keep that info off of here.)
If you are married, what is your spouse’s occupation? I’m not married. (I purposely did not say, “I’m single.” Hey, Carlos!)
Have you or any member of your family ever been convicted of a drug felony? No. (I wanted to say, to paraphrase a line from Stripes, one of my all-time favorite movies, “Convicted? No, not convicted.”)
Are any members of your family in law enforcement? My first cousin’s ex-husband was an Orleans Parish police officer, but was fired last year. The judge laughed at that. “A very tenuous connection”, he said.
Have you ever been on a jury before? Yes. In 1997. It was a civil case. A large boat swamped a small boat and the three people in the small boat fell out. They sued. I went into the case assuming I would side with the “little guy”, but after hearing all the facts – the large boat was following all the laws, the people in the small boat were (illegally) standing up, etc. – I voted for the guy in the large boat.

The 13 of us were taken back to the jury room while the judge and lawyers discussed.

When we were called back, 9 of the jury members were let go. I was one of the four remaining.

Tuesday –
By the time the four of us returned, the other ten jury members (12 plus two alternates) had been picked.

The defendant looked like Suge Knight.

He was charged with having almost 4 pounds of cocaine in a large bag hanging in his closet, and with having a gun – a Glock 9 – under his mattress.

The state’s first witness was a fingerprint expert. No, there were no usable fingerprints on the large bag, or on any of the smaller bags within the large bag.

The state’s second witness was a drug tester. Yes, that was definitely cocaine. Yes, that was definitely almost 4 pounds of it, in powder and in crack form. The lawyer showed us the drugs, but didn’t let us handle it.

The state’s third and fourth witnesses were two of the police officers who served the search warrant - breaking down the door to the house, and finding the defendant in one of the rooms, ironing a shirt. The police had just witnessed the defendant enter the house using a key.

Yes, all the other clothes in the same closet as the Hanger O’ Drugs belonged to the defendant.

Yes, some mail taken from the house had the defendant’s name on it.

The defense called one witness, the girlfriend of the defendant at the time of the incident.

She said that the gun was hers. She said that she did not know where the drugs came from. She said that the defendant did not even live there.

At the time of the incident, she was pregnant but had been seeing both the defendant and another guy. She did not know who the Baby Daddy was. She did insinuate that the drugs could have belonged to her other lover, but could not be sure. He was shot dead in December 2007, two doors down from this residence. (The incident happened in April 2006.)

Wednesday –
Closing arguments. Then to the jury room, with the judge telling us that we needed 10 out of 12 for a verdict.

When we first sat down in the jury room, the consensus from the other jury members was that I should be the foreman. I then said, “Let’s do it like we see it done on TV. Let’s get an initial feel for how everyone is voting.”

I counted the hands signifying the guilty and not guilty votes.

I don’t think I should discuss any specifics that we discussed in the jury room. I do think that I can say that there were many, many, many heated (but civil) discussions about the facts of the case. We all definitely took our duty seriously.

We sent three notes to the judge – the first asking for a clarification about “possession” and “attempted possession” of cocaine, the second asking to re-view the photos of the crime scene.

At the end of five hours, 8 jury members were set on one decision, and the other 4 were set on a different decision. It was obvious to all of us that no one was going to change his/her mind.

The third note: “We are deadlocked at 8 to 4. We do not think this will change. What are our options?”

We purposely did not reveal which way the 8 to 4 was leaning.

From the article about our case: “Defense attorney Davidson Ehle made the plea offer to prosecutors Mike Escudier and Charlie Carr after the attorneys learned the jurors were divided by 8-4, but were unsure whether the jury leaned in favor of a conviction or acquittal.”

The entire article is here.

About an hour after we sent the note, the judge came into our room. Since he had never been into our room before, and we had talked when we were composing the note about the possibility that he would be pissed at us for being deadlocked – too much TV, I guess – we were a bit nervous.

Judge: “The lawyers saw your note. The defendant has taken a plea bargain – 15 years plus a fine. He is guaranteed to serve 85% of the time. Since he has been in jail since being arrested for this crime, the earliest he will be paroled is 10 years from now.”
Us: Jaws open – and a bit relieved.
Me (as foreman): “Do you want to know the details on the 8 to 4 vote?”
Judge: “No. You should take that to your grave.”

He chuckled a bit, but we could tell he was serious.

He told us much more, but I don’t feel comfortable revealing it.

After an hour with the judge, we were escorted as a group to our cars – with two policemen in front, two in back and one on each side of us.

They watched over us until all 12 of our cars were on our paths home.

I will never watch the TV show Law & Order the same again!