Lame Jury

'07 new year's champagnefest
I wrote this in an email to a lawyer friend about my frustrations with my recent jury duty. Thought it’d make a good post. Please comment!

Girl testifies that she goes running out of a club in the Tenderloin in the middle of the night- fight with estranged husband that she ran into at 818 Eddy, gets in her car, smashed, and knocks into a couple of cars, grinding gears, drives down the street, and her friend flags her down telling her she’s too drunk to get on the freeway and go home. He drives the car to a parking lot (there is proof of him driving to the parking lot), followed by a cop. The cop arrests him in the parking lot for drunken driving. The jury felt that he had no other choice to get her out of the car and for her not to drive on the fwy. The DA argued that he could have flagged the car down, and then NOT gotten in the driver’s seat, but get another friend/cop/let it get towed.

The thing for me is that the DA easily proved on both counts- being influenced by alcohol and having a .08 or higher blood alcohol. level. The defense, though, just told a story that the jury ate up. He didn’t prove the 6 points of the necessity to a “preponderance”. In fact, the jury didn’t even understand that there were two counts or that we had to go through the 6 points. It was purely a “we want to be merciful” and anti-cop kind of jury. All women, 2 guys. One of the guys was with me, as to “we don’t believe this defendant” and “it’s all an (unproven) story.” I swear, all the defense attorney had to say was “chivalry” and “good Samaritan” and the jury was his.

This is the second jury I’ve been on (of 3, recently) where the jury really didn’t pay attention, couldn’t list the evidence, didn’t understand the judge’s instructions, and couldn’t for the life of them separate their personal experiences with the facts of the case. The cops were young, and got this guy in (supposedly) 1 block of driving, so the jury thought they were being opportunistic. There were 3 cops, though, and 2 corroborated their story pretty well, so I admitted the testimony.

The forewoman was hilariously bad. She kept going to her own personal stories, had a very strong opinion, put people on the spot, was factually wrong about process, and all of this because “my husband is a lawyer.” This little nugget stuck with me: “DUI convictions don’t work- I have several friends who have them and their behavior doesn’t change,” and “the judge saw fit to try this so he’s sympathetic.” I argued that we can’t say the fact that he’s in court is a part of the trial- it’s not a fact of the case, and that was a good 15 minute argument, with the forewoman. She was such a bad facilitator. She didn’t ask half of the jury what they thought, didn’t review the evidence, and constantly cut people off. If I get on jury again I’m going to be the foreperson.

I ended up getting one juror to argue a logical explanation of their point of view. The other naysayer decided to go along with the majority since he hated being called into jury duty during Christmas (!). So we acquitted the defendant, on the grounds that we didn’t feel that “a reasonable person” in the same drunken state, would have done anything different than wrest the driving wheel from the hands of the drunker person and try to park it legally. I agreed- but speaking of wresting, I had to wrest the process from the argumentative, annoying forewoman. Interesting sidenote: the parking laws of SF have citizens a lot more scared than a potential manslaughter. City Tow has inspired serious fear in the hearts of your random 12 people.

After the passage of a few days, I have to say that in a way things do equal out. If juries think it’s unimportant, they tend to be swayed on whatever story is more entertaining or emotional. Is that bad or unethical? Not really- in the two cases I’ve been on where the juries didn’t pay attention, they did that because they didn’t think it was important. In the homicide case, the jury was very attentive, and took the proceedings a lot more seriously. So despite lawyers & defendants wanting to sue people and have “their day in court,” the jury gets worse and worse the more irrelevant the case, which does kind of balance out.