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My experience on Jury Duty. Warning...long. (1 Viewer)

joffer

Footballguy
Hello All,

Lots of lawyers whose opinion I respect on this board, so I thought I’d recount my first experience with jury duty.  It seemed like an interesting case, and I’m having a bit of conflict with the outcome.  Sorry for the length.  If it’s not your thing, I’d bow out now.

Charge was aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (AAwDW), with a lesser simple assault charge included.  In short, a homeless person was charged with stabbing a drug dealer.  If anyone in Austin is familiar with the Arch downtown, it’s a homeless shelter, and many people live on the street in front of it.  This crime was captured on video because Austin has cameras all over downtown.

Prosecution’s opening was simple.  We’ll show you the video.  we’ll show you the knife used.  You’ll hear from the cops, an eye witness, etc.  Open and shut.  The defense, through jury voir dire and opening statements, made it clear they would be arguing self-defense.  Basically they said that the victim ran a drug dealing ring to homeless people at the arch and had beaten, terrorized, and threatened the defendant on many occasions and she acted in self defense.

Prosecution calls five witnesses.  1. Policeman running the video system, 2. Arresting officer, 3. Investigating detective, 4. Victim, 5. Witness to stabbing who was homeless and living outside the arch.  They show the video, it’s pretty clear the claim of self-defense is no good.  There is no immediate danger.  The homeless defendant walked a block and a half, right up to the victim, and you see a stabbing motion to the victim’s back.  Pictures of the wound at the hospital show something that could be made with a knife, but could be something else too.  Can’t make out a weapon from the video.  Eye witness (#5 above) testifies that he wrestled a knife out of the defendant’s hand, and then “tossed it”.  He is mildly credible.  He was currently in jail (not told for what), took the 5th on some questions, but described a knife in some detail, and his recount matches the video fairly well.

At this point state tries to introduce a knife into evidence.  Jury is asked to clear courtroom.  When we come back, its obvious the knife has been suppressed.  My guess was they did not have a clear chain of evidence after the knife was “tossed”, so no knife into evidence.  State calls the victim.  She’s also in jail pending drug charges and it’s pretty clear she’s not there willingly.  Pleads the 5th on a lot of questions.  Her credibility is essentially zero.  Defense easily catches her in several lies.  Basically she’s a POS.  Testifies that she’s sure she was stabbed and that’s about it.  State rests.

At this point, pretty much everyone is expecting to hear the defense call some witnesses to support self-defense, but the defense rests without calling a witness.  We retire for deliberations, and most of us are a little confused what just happened.  Why didn’t they mount a defense?  Everyone agrees self-defense is a non-starter.  It’s late in the day so we adjourn and agree to come back in the morning.  Overnight I come to the conclusion that the defense doesn't think the state proved it's case, so I think about the knife and it not being admitted.  I'm guessing they scrapped the self-defense and bet on us only convicting on simple assault.

Morning arrives.  I get to the jury room a little early and I’m carefully reading the “Charge of the Court”.  Basically it’s a summary of the charge, applicable law, and jury instructions about presumption of innocence, deliberations, etc.  I’m reading a listing of all of the elements of the top charge, and thinking that yes they proved all of this beyond a reasonable doubt (BaRD).  Then there’s a paragraph that states (paraphrasing): “Given the above, do you all agree that the prosecution has proven on this date..blah.blah..this person..blah blah committed aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a knife.  That she did intentionally and wrecklessly..blah.blah..stab the victim in the back with a knife.  If not, you must find the defendant not guilty and move onto the charge of assault.”

It was the first time I’d read it and thought to myself: “No, they didn’t prove it was a knife to me BaRD”.  Everyone arrives and we vote.  10 to 2 to convict on AAwDW.  I’m one of the 2.  When it gets around to me I point out the paragraph and several of the jurors are a little surprised of the language.  I argue it seems like we have to conclude BaRD it was a knife based on these instructions.  Basically I say if the word “knife” wasn’t in that paragraph twice, I’d vote guilty, but it is and I’m not sure we can ignore it.  One other person agrees and it’s now 9 to 3.  The other two on my side seem to be following me for some reason.

I say this: “Look, I agree she committed this crime based on the law, but I can’t answer ‘yes’ based on this paragraph, so you guys either need to convince me that a) they proved it was a knife BaRD, or b) I can ignore the paragraph in question”.  A) seems more likely, so we spend the next 2 hours deliberating (overall pretty cordial and respective).  We review the video in detail.  I’m still not convinced it’s a knife.  There’s just not clear video evidence.  It begins to get a little heated (people want to go home).  We request clarification from the judge on that paragraph.  Answer comes back: “You have been provided all the applicable laws.  Please keep deliberating”.  I didn't see any help there, but majority argues that judge is trying to tell us to focus just on the applicable law and the paragraph in question is not critical.  The majority argues that proving it was a knife is not one of the elements of AAwDW, that it could be shiv or anything sharp.  I agree, but again I’m having trouble getting past that paragraph.  We request to hear eyewitness #5 testimony again about it being a knife, but it’s just like I remember.  It’s mildly credible, but disjointed and not very convincing.  Another vote, 11 to 1.  I’m the only holdout.  It gets even more heated.  I’m ignoring the law.  I’m too sympathetic to the defendant, I’m being too literal, etc.  I think I kept my cool well enough but it’s getting uncomfortable.

At this point, it’s either guilty or a hung jury, as at least 6 jurors state they aren’t going to change their mind.  A few state that they agree with me that a knife has not been proven BaRD, but it doesn’t matter to them.  So I contemplate:

1.       I think she intended to commit this crime and committed it as described in the law, and hanging my hat on the inclusion of the word knife twice in the AAwDW summary paragraph (for lack of a better term) might not be the best hill to die on.  And while I don't see evidence of a knife BaRD, I think it's likely it was a knife.

2.       Digging my heels in on what I perceived at the time might be a technicality might not be in the interests of justice.  When a serial killer walks on a technicality on tv I’m always enraged.  It’s ironic that in this case the opposite is happening with a POS victim and a more sympathetic defendant, but that shouldn’t affect my decision.

I caved.  12-0 guilty.  After the verdict the judge and lawyers come back and we are allowed to ask questions (didn’t know they did this) and of course my hand goes up first.  “Based on this paragraph, were we required to find BaRD that the defendant used a knife?”.  Answer: “Yes”.  The Charge of the Court hasn’t changed since the grand jury, when the DA was sure they would be admitting a knife.  I mumble an expletive to myself and no one looks at me.  I get up and leave.

I’m conflicted.  If anyone is still reading I’d be interested in hearing any opinions.  Was I just being a PITA?  Am I a bleeding heart?  Should I have hung the jury?  I don’t think we convicted an innocent person, but it doesn’t feel right.  Thanks for listening, it felt good to type this out.

 
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jvdesigns2002

Footballguy
Meh. Regardless--I don't think that what you did resulted in an unwarranted punishment.  While the video might not clearly show that the item used in the attack was a knife--you said the video clearly showed that there was no self defense, the person you helped incriminate proactively walked a block and a half and attacked the victim (albeit a victim that might be a fellow degenerate) with a "stabbing" motion.   Whatever item was used was certainly effective enough to cause decent injury based on what you described. 

To me it seems a bit weird that you are having  a guilty conscience over not letting a clear attacker off because of pure semantics.  If the person that was attacked was a credible and positively contributing member of society--would you feel comfortable letting somebody walk because the weapon used in the attack may have been a screwdriver and not a knife?

 
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Mario Kart

Footballguy
What is a "knife?" If a "knife" is any object that may be used in a stabbing, you shouldn't feel bad. It wasn't a gunshot wound, right? It wasn't a bite, right? Even if it was a pen, a pen can be used as a stabbing weapon. So, while the court did not define "knife," I presume the assumption of the jury is to understand what a "knife" is. Hence, guilty since the defense did not prove that the wound was done by another kind of weapon.

The time I was on a jury, 6 weeks, we, the jury, were allowed to ask questions during the trial. I asked two. My first question was worded in a similar way to how the lawyers were asking questions. The judge read it (not out loud), looked over at me, sneered, and motioned for the two lead attorneys to join him at the bench. All three stood there for ten minutes. The two lawyers turned around and didn't make eye contact with me but were smiling. The judge read the "new" question and I'm sitting in my seat thinking, "that's not the question I asked." However, had the judge read the question as I stated it, the trial would have been over because the witness would have answered and my decision would have been made right then and there.

My other question was to the defendant witness that contradicted the witness I asked my first question to. Needless to say, there were 4-5 questions from the jury with this witness. Again, I worded it professionally but as the judge was reading them, he dismissed us because the lawyers and the judge had to discuss the questions. We were in the jury room for a good 3 hours before being called back in. The judge read the questions but didn't read mine and another jurors. The judge is looking at us and he had to file two motions, one for each question he didn't read. My question, paraphrased, was based on statements the witness kept saying. His words were, "common business practices blah blah." My question was about this phrase and if "common business practices" are lawful or follow the law, or some such. The judge did not sound too happy when he explained that the witness was to answer questions and the judge was to determine the law. But, the judge didn't like the witness either so that was that.

In opening statements, when the judge said we could ask questions, I sat up right away cause I knew I wanted to ask even before the trial began.

 

Joe Summer

Footballguy
My initial thought is that you had a subconscious desire to find the defendant "Not Guilty", which caused you to focus so much on that one paragraph.

Maybe you're a bleeding heart, maybe you didn't want the verdict on your conscience, or maybe you just had a gut feeling that a person in that situation shouldn't have been charged with AAwDW.

As for me, I agree with what Mario Kart said: there are a lot of things that could be considered a "knife" -- and based on the available testimony, I am fairly certain that "some type of knife" was used to stab the victim.

 

joffer

Footballguy
My initial thought is that you had a subconscious desire to find the defendant "Not Guilty", which caused you to focus so much on that one paragraph.

Maybe you're a bleeding heart, maybe you didn't want the verdict on your conscience, or maybe you just had a gut feeling that a person in that situation shouldn't have been charged with AAwDW.

As for me, I agree with what Mario Kart said: there are a lot of things that could be considered a "knife" -- and based on the available testimony, I am fairly certain that "some type of knife" was used to stab the victim.
that’s fair.  i had to remind myself several times my opinions of the victim and defendant’s character wasnt relevant except for credibility, and that’s one of the reasons in the end that I changed my vote.  But after talking to the lawyers, it turns out that paragraph was important.  I’m thinking I should have just left after the verdict and not asked the question.  I’d have rather not found that fact out.

I don’t have a problem with my conscience.  She wasn’t walking.  It was either guilty or hung jury.  I’m just wondering if I should have followed the letter of the law.

Thanks for the reply.

 

joffer

Footballguy
On a side note, I definitely have respect for the judge, lawyers, bailiff, deputies, etc.  very professional.  Judge will most likely get my vote if she runs again.

 

whoknew

Footballguy
On a side note, I definitely have respect for the judge, lawyers, bailiff, deputies, etc.  very professional.  Judge will most likely get my vote if she runs again.


I live in Austin, so if you are comfortable telling me who the judge was that you respected, I'd appreciate it. 

 

Ned

Footballguy
In for the responses/opinions.  I can totally see myself in your shoes there - thanks for posting it.  

 

RUSF18

Footballguy
If it doesn’t then the charge should’ve been written differently. 
Not a lawyer but my guess is when they were told "yes you needed to provide a verdict based on that specific statement" it's because someone ####ed up and it was too late to change it, not because it had any bearing on the legality of the charge. 

Isn't that specifically why the charge is assault with a "deadly weapon", and not a knife, a gun, a brick, etc?

I've definitely read things in the past that included fairly specific times or locations for where crimes allegedly took place. If it came out in court that it was BaRD an hour later or a block away, I don't think that would be shot down on appeal.

 
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mr roboto

Footballguy
Not a lawyer but my guess is when they were told "yes you needed to provide a verdict based on that specific statement" it's because someone ####ed up and it was too late to change it, not because it had any bearing on the legality of the charge. 

Isn't that specifically why the charge is assault with a "deadly weapon", and not a knife, a gun, a brick, etc?
I don’t know either. 

@Henry Ford 

@Zow

 

shadyridr

Footballguy
If it doesn’t then the charge should’ve been written differently. 
According to the OP, the charge was Assault With a Deadly Weapon. The writeup added "the knife" part. Sounds like a #### up on the write-up but the charge that they were convicting on was still accurate.

 

shadyridr

Footballguy
If the write-up instead said "Assault With a Deadly Wepon" without any reference to a knife, but misspelling the word Weapon (a clear typo) would our OP have argued that there is no such thing as a wepon?

 

CletiusMaximus

Footballguy
This thread is good example of the reasons why, as a business lawyer, I hate juries.  OP did his job and the fact that he was correct all along was specifically confirmed by the lawyers after the verdict, yet some are still going to say he should have ignored the written charge and come up with his own definition of guilt/innocence.  If there was confusion in the jury room as to what exactly the state had to prove in order to get a verdict, that's the fault of the judge and the lawyers.  In this case, a key piece of evidence was suppressed, for reasons unknown to the jury.  Why do jurors always insist they should fill in the gaps in proof with their own assumptions about the law and the facts?

 

TheIronSheik

SUPER ELITE UPPER TIER
I've only been on one jury but the part where you asked the judge for more clarity sticks out.  We are 12 people with almost always ZERO knowledge of the intricate details of the law and how it works.  The judge should have definitely answered your question better than that.

We had a lady who the prosecutors claimed defrauded her company 20 different times.  They brought 7 charges of fraud against her.  We asked the judge were we supposed to just randomly pick 7 times she was accused of fraud and apply that?  He pulled us out and berated us for not following directions better.

When we got back to the room, no one had any idea what we did wrong or what we were supposed to do with the charges.  We compromised by eventually only charging her with 5 charges.  The jury box was next to the prosecutor's desk and when the charges were read, he said, "How can they find her guilty of 5 but not all 7?  That makes no sense."  It was under his breath, but loud enough for us to hear on purpose, I'm sure.

Truth is, we had no idea what we were doing.  Doesn't seem fair to either side if the people decided people's fates are just making it up as they go along.

 

Henry Ford

Footballguy
I don’t know either. 

@Henry Ford 

@Zow
When you file a petition for damages or a complaint, you’re required to prove what you claim.  You can’t just change the whole case during the trial because it’s going badly.  This is a good reminder for me because I’m in the middle of drafting jury charges on a case.

The prosecutor said “he stabbed the guy WITH A KNIFE.”  The defense rested, saying “you didn’t prove that.”

Defenses are based on the case presented.  This was a case of a sloppy prosecutor, a good defense, and an activist jury who wanted to convict.

 

Buckychudd

Footballguy
When you file a petition for damages or a complaint, you’re required to prove what you claim.  You can’t just change the whole case during the trial because it’s going badly.  This is a good reminder for me because I’m in the middle of drafting jury charges on a case.

The prosecutor said “he stabbed the guy WITH A KNIFE.”  The defense rested, saying “you didn’t prove that.”

Defenses are based on the case presented.  This was a case of a sloppy prosecutor, a good defense, and an activist jury who wanted to convict.
Thank god for activist juries.

 

TheIronSheik

SUPER ELITE UPPER TIER
This thread is good example of the reasons why, as a business lawyer, I hate juries.  OP did his job and the fact that he was correct all along was specifically confirmed by the lawyers after the verdict, yet some are still going to say he should have ignored the written charge and come up with his own definition of guilt/innocence.  If there was confusion in the jury room as to what exactly the state had to prove in order to get a verdict, that's the fault of the judge and the lawyers.  In this case, a key piece of evidence was suppressed, for reasons unknown to the jury.  Why do jurors always insist they should fill in the gaps in proof with their own assumptions about the law and the facts?
You would've gone insane if you could have heard the people on my jury.  They had made so many assumptions that they were blaming the victim because he "looked like the type of guy who would make advances on women."  They almost let this chick off the hook with insurmountable evidence because they had constructed this unbelievable false narrative against the victim in support of the woman who was on trial.  I felt like I was on a hidden camera TV show.

 

chet

Footballguy
In all likelihood, the defendant had a public defender who mailed in the defense.  They should have been all over the "knife" question (among other things) in their closing remarks and it sounds like they didn't even mention it.  I commend the OP for figuring this out but wish he'd stuck to his guns.

 

Thorpe

Footballguy
This is why we need professional jurists.  Why should someone be guilty just because 11 people want to go home and the 12th person caves?  

 

jvdesigns2002

Footballguy
When you file a petition for damages or a complaint, you’re required to prove what you claim.  You can’t just change the whole case during the trial because it’s going badly.  This is a good reminder for me because I’m in the middle of drafting jury charges on a case.

The prosecutor said “he stabbed the guy WITH A KNIFE.”  The defense rested, saying “you didn’t prove that.”

Defenses are based on the case presented.  This was a case of a sloppy prosecutor, a good defense, and an activist jury who wanted to convict.
 A good defense?  

A good defense would be one where the defense lawyer would have pounded into the ground that it needed to be clearly established to the jury that the weapon was a knife.  The defense refused to do that assuming that normal human beings would have no problem setting aside their conscience in favor of semantics.  That is not a good defense--a good defense would be to remind a jury what needed to be proved so there is no ambiguity. 

An activist jury that wanted to convict?

The jury that was deliberating for hours wrestling with the quandry that I described above--that actually asked the judge for clarity on the issue at hand--and were given a generic and rather cryptic answer by the judge?   That hardly seems "activist" or "wanting to convict". Seems to me that if our legal rulings are going to be determined by a group of people that have little to no experience on the nuisances of the requirements to convict--that their questions be answered in as clear/frank manner by the judge.  

Blaming the outcome of this case on the jury and not the defense and not the judge seems like a convenient excuse.  

 
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Long Ball Larry

Footballguy
My initial thought is that you had a subconscious desire to find the defendant "Not Guilty", which caused you to focus so much on that one paragraph.

Maybe you're a bleeding heart, maybe you didn't want the verdict on your conscience, or maybe you just had a gut feeling that a person in that situation shouldn't have been charged with AAwDW.

As for me, I agree with what Mario Kart said: there are a lot of things that could be considered a "knife" -- and based on the available testimony, I am fairly certain that "some type of knife" was used to stab the victim.
i think he had a conscious and subconscious desire to properly interpret the english language.

 

chet

Footballguy
I can live with both of these if the right outcome is reached.
Just pray that you're never on the other side.  Personally, I believe rules and language are important and I do my best to be very specific and clear especially when the stakes are as high as they are in this case.  Anyone with any money to hire a lawyer more than likely gets acquitted of the more serious charge in this case.

 

El Floppo

Footballguy
Meh. Regardless--I don't think that what you did resulted in an unwarranted punishment.  While the video might not clearly show that the item used in the attack was a knife--you said the video clearly showed that there was no self defense, the person you helped incriminate proactively walked a block and a half and attacked the victim (albeit a victim that might be a fellow degenerate) with a "stabbing" motion.   Whatever item was used was certainly effective enough to cause decent injury based on what you described. 

To me it seems a bit weird that you are having  a guilty conscience over not letting a clear attacker off because of pure semantics.  If the person that was attacked was a credible and positively contributing member of society--would you feel comfortable letting somebody walk because the weapon used in the attack may have been a screwdriver and not a knife?
I'm no lawyer- but isn't that EXACTLY what law is? 

You would've gone insane if you could have heard the people on my jury.  They had made so many assumptions that they were blaming the victim because he "looked like the type of guy who would make advances on women."  They almost let this chick off the hook with insurmountable evidence because they had constructed this unbelievable false narrative against the victim in support of the woman who was on trial.  I felt like I was on a hidden camera TV show.
I've been on a couple juries (2nd deg murder and a civil case involving the NYC MTA police, a bankrobbery and a hostage getting killed). 

the 2nd deg murder was a kid who shot and killed another kid over a coat. prosecutor was boring and thorough (not at all like Law & Order). defense attorney (court appointed) was histrionic and interesting... but I found myself  wanting to fill in the obvious and gaping holes in his questioning and defense. as it was, the case was clearly presented as guilty. as we're walking to the jury room, an old lady who sat next to me in the jury box starts talking to me about the case- what did you think? I explain my take in a minute. she looks puzzled, answers- well, there's a boy who lives down the hall from me that looks just like that boy (the defendant).. and the boy in my building is a really good kid- wouldn't hurt a fly. so I don't think this boy (the defendant) did it. I punched her in the face.

:thumbup:  Good for the OP for taking this seriously- kudos to him for trying to follow the law instead of common sense... and I mean that. I honestly don't know what I would've done here- probably exactly what he did, although I may not have even noticed the particular point about the knife in the first place. I'm somebody the believes in the jury process- serving if called (not trying to get out of it)- and approaching it as seriously as possible. one of the only requirements of living in the US- and a far bit better than paying taxes (unless you're rich).

 

Henry Ford

Footballguy
 A good defense?  

A good defense would be one where the defense lawyer would have pounded into the ground that it needed to be clearly established to the jury that the weapon was a knife.  The defense refused to do that assuming that normal human beings would have no problem setting aside their conscience in favor of semantics.  That is not a good defense--a good defense would be to remind a jury what needed to be proved so there is no ambiguity. 

An activist jury that wanted to convict?

The jury that was deliberating for hours wrestling with the quandry that I described above--that actually asked the judge for clarity on the issue at hand--and were given a generic and rather cryptic answer by the judge?   That hardly seems "activist" or "wanting to convict". Seems to me that if our legal rulings are going to be determined by a group of people that have little to no experience on the nuisances of the requirements to convict--that their questions be answered in as clear/frank manner by the judge.  

Blaming the outcome of this case on the jury and not the defense and not the judge seems like a convenient excuse.  
They wrestled because two people (then three) on the jury wanted to follow the instructions.  Nine of them wanted to ignore the instructions.  And ultimately won out. 

 

Murph

Footballguy
They wrestled because two people (then three) on the jury wanted to follow the instructions.  Nine of them wanted to ignore the instructions.  And ultimately won out. 
They asked for clarification. Didn't get it. And now they're being blamed for ignoring the instructions. I wonder why people hate lawyers?

 

El Floppo

Footballguy
They wrestled because two people (then three) on the jury wanted to follow the instructions.  Nine of them wanted to ignore the instructions.  And ultimately won out. 
I agree with both of you here.

non lawyers/typical jurors don't know the law- I'm impressed the OP caught the part about the "knife" and had the conviction to bring it up and stand by it as long as he did. if the defense attorneys had done as jvdesigns said, and made the point clear to the jurors that conviction meant proving it was a "knife"- the jurors could have done their job with better legal information and instructions. 

the lawyers saying that jurors should follow the law... reminds me of the plumbing sub-contractor acting surprised/shocked when I (the architect) don't know the intricacies of replumbing a gas meter. it's not my job. that's why you, the plumber (laywer), are here- to do the job, and explain it as best as possible so I can do my job.

 

jvdesigns2002

Footballguy
They wrestled because two people (then three) on the jury wanted to follow the instructions.  Nine of them wanted to ignore the instructions.  And ultimately won out. 
It's not that the rest "did not want" to follow instructions--its that to most people who don't spend a ton of time inside of a courtroom--common sense tends to trump semantics.   In this case--the defense attorney did nothing to remind the jury that in the world of a courtroom that sematics trump common sense.  When the judge was approached with the question from the jury--that was a clear indication that the jury was unclear if the weapon had to be clearly differentiated as being a knife versus any other injury causing object.  The judge instead of making it crystal clear that it had to be proven a knife--said "you have the instructions" in front of you.   If instructions were always full proof--then every piece of furniture from IKEA would be assembled in an hour or less with no parts remaining.  The professionals in the court room failed here--not the jury.  

 

TheIronSheik

SUPER ELITE UPPER TIER
The judge isn't really allowed to provide the kind of clarification they wanted.
But they should be able to.  I get why they aren't supposed to, but juries have zero education in law and just feel like no one can answer simple questions for them.

 

dgreen

Footballguy
I can live with both of these if the right outcome is reached.
You're speaking about the "right outcome" as it relates to this one case. But, allowing cases like this to be decided like this hurts the ability of other cases to have the "right outcome". Having the "wrong outcome" on this case helps more cases have the "right outcome".

 

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