sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

March 8, 2006

horoscope o’ happiness
posted by soe 1:28 pm

Today’s horoscope, as written by me: “Spring is just around the corner — and you know which one. Stand still and the groundhog might fall back asleep. But get moving and flowers will bloom in your wake.”

Thanks to Karen (and Harry and Ron) for the inspiration for today’s post.

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verdict delivered
posted by soe 12:28 am

Jury duty officially ended for me yesterday when we delivered our verdict to the court, and I have been released from my vow of secrecy.

The case was a criminal one, with the U.S. government accusing the defendent of robbing, injuring, and attempting to kill another man.

The alleged premise:

The victim arrives at a residential parking lot at 4:30 a.m. to join three pals in a craps game. One of these acquaintances asks to borrow money and is rebuffed. He and then a second fellow leave the scene and the victim and the fourth guy keep playing. A little while later, someone comes up behind him and slashes his throat. He flips the person and is surprised to discover that it’s the pal. The fellow who left with him is also there and there may or may not have been an allusion to a gun and a death threat. The pal continues to slash the victim until the victim, fearing for his life, decides to pretend he is dead. The pal and the other fellow (guy #4 took off as soon as the fight began) empty the victim’s pockets and leave. Some time later the victim wanders off six or seven blocks to the home of a woman he knows, who calls 911 on his behalf. He is taken to the hospital, where it is noted that his blood alcohol content level is .2193. Several gashes are stapled and he is operated on to repair damage to his intestines. The next morning (and two evenings later) he is interviewed by the police.

In the first interview he tells them what happened and identifies his attacker by name. Two days later the detective stops by again and the victim says that he was wrong about the identity of his assailant — and later picks him out from a group of shots provided by the police.

The defendent is then picked up by the police and his home is searched. A large amount of money, possibly totalling the amount stolen from the defendent, is found, but nothing that directly relates him to the scene of the crime.

There were several flaws with the case:

  1. Most of the evidence presented merely corroborated the fact that the victim had been severely injured. Only the victim’s testimony and the detective who questioned him had any real relevance to the case.
  2. The victim changed his story to officials several times. Generally, the crux of the story remained consistent, but certain details changed or evolved over time — including the identity of his attacker. During this trial, the victim asserts he changed details over time because he wanted the defendent to be freed so he could seek his own revenge against him. It was not clear as to why he decided to point police to the defendent when he did if that had been the case. It was also pointed out that the defendent had not wanted to testify — especially to the grand jury who bound the case over to trial — and that he had been subpoenaed to force him to do so.

    As an avid reader, I understand the problem that an unreliable and reluctant narrator presents. Unfortunately, in a story, you have an author there to provide information in between the lines and secondary characters against whom you can test the narrator’s assertions; sometimes in real life, however, no such opportunities are afforded you, and you just have to work with the evidence that’s put in front of you.

  3. The hospital reported that the defendent had a high BAC level at the time he was brought in. Perhaps because I’m not a drinker I don’t have a firm grasp on how clear-headed you would be if you were that drunk, but nearly three times the legal driving level seems pretty high to me.

    According to the University of Oklahoma Police Department’s Police Notebook Blood Alcohol Content Calculator:

    0.20 BAC: Feeling dazed/confused or otherwise disoriented. May need help to stand/walk. If you injure yourself you may not feel the pain. Some people have nausea and vomiting at this level. The gag reflex is impaired and you can choke if you do vomit. Blackouts are likely at this level so you may not remember what has happened.

    We didn’t have this analysis (or any other analysis) to go on, but it did seem to me that in the middle of the night, working by dim street lights, that your brain might simply recollect the face of someone you’d seen recently after the adreneline wore off from being attacked. But maybe that’s just not so. Maybe your brain would still imprint the correct face on your psyche.

  4. Other than the victim’s inconsistent testimony, there was nothing we were told that placed the defendent at the scene that night. He did live nearby, but so, presumably, did many others. On the other hand, I believe the defendent had been in custody for almost a year, so there clearly was something going on that we weren’t being informed of.

The defense chose not to present any witnesses or evidence, which while certainly its prerogative (and a smart tactical maneuver), doesn’t make me feel great about the verdict I was forced to render. (Watching Ally McBeal makes me suspicious of those whose defense attorneys choose not to put them or anyone else on the stand.) But without a stronger case made on the part of the prosecutor and without stronger evidence than was put forward, I felt there were reasonable doubts about the identity of the attacker. I felt it was entirely plausible that the defendent could have been the person who attacked the victim. But I also felt that the victim could have been confused.

After a few hours (over two days) of hashing things over, the jury came to the unanimous decision to declare the defendent not guilty on all charges due to our doubts about the case.

My civic duty — and my greater responsibility to the law — has been upheld. Sitting on a jury wasn’t as exciting or as interesting as Ally McBeal or other tv shows have led me to believe, but that’s the problem with reality. I felt bad about the whole thing. True, the system worked the way it is set up to. But I can’t help but wonder if justice really was served, or if it was merely taken advantage of. And there’s precious little I can do either way.

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