I received a summons to report, on March 16, for Jury Duty. Since living here this was my third summons. In each of the previous 2 cases, when I called the provided phone number, the night before, and listened to the recorded message, no jurors were actually needed, so I didn’t need to report. This time, the recording indicated to show up.
The jury pool room at the courthouse holds close to 200 people. I figure there were perhaps 120 people there. The room had your standard collection of people. People that were frustrated because they had to leave work to be there. People who were retired with nothing else to do. Young mothers who needed to arrange care of their children. College students who were missing class to be there. Middle aged men who complained loudly that they couldn’t serve. And so forth.
We learned there were 3 trials scheduled for the day. At about 10 am one group of about 40 people were randomly called. I was surprised that I wasn’t. They were taken off to a courtroom. At about 11:45 another group was called and I was in this group. We went off to a courtroom and waited in a hallway. Since it became lunchtime they told us to go to lunch and be back at 1:50. So I did. About 2 pm we went back to the courtroom. We went in and sat where court spectators sit.
They randomly called 12 people to sit in the jury box. I was not one of them. The judge asked questions, then the DA asked questions. The DA struck almost half of them. So the seats were filled by more random people and again I was not called. I was very surprised because I fully expected that I would be called since it was random. Anyway, after a few more were then struck, the DA was satisfied. The Public Defender then asked questions and struck some. Then the process started all over. It finally got to a point where I was called along with two other women. We had to go through ALL the preceding questions again. This process, by the way, is called “Voir Dire” which means “to find the truth.” I was kept by both sides, so I became juror number 3.
The trial started at 4 pm. The DA did not finish questioning his main witness until 5, so we broke for the day. Had to return at 9:30 on Tuesday, the 17th…St. Patrick’s Day. When we did, I noticed that the DA had a bright green tie on. The trial took all day with a couple of breaks and both sides rested at about 4pm. We went back to deliberate. After talking about an hour, the bailiff came in and asked if we wanted to quit for the day or continue. There was one woman who absolutely needed to go, so we all went. That meant a third day. So on Wednesday the 18th, we met again at 9:30. We deliberated for 2 hours and reached a unanimous decision. So, 3 hours of deliberation total. We went in, the verdict was read, and the trial ended. Finally, we were all dismissed and received a letter to take back to our respective jobs, confirming our serving with a notarized stamp.
OK, now for the trial. I know you’re curious.
On July 4, 2007, the defendant was clocked driving a car at a high rate of speed. He was going over 60 in a 35 zone. The police pursued and pulled the car over. The officer saw the driver, a front seat passenger, and at least 2 in the back seat. Later on it was determined to be 3 in the back, but the officer didn’t recall the number…after all, police are busy and it was over a year and a half ago. He asked for license and registration. The kid had no license (it was revoked over a year prior due to another offense in a neighboring town). He did have the registration, but it was a car belonging to his girlfriend. The officer went back to his car to start doing some lookup. The kid started approaching the police car. Police man told the kid to return to his car. The kid only gave his name and the officer had trouble looking it up, so he went back to get spelling. When he did, the kid was at the car but not inside, and ran away. The policeman started a chase. Another police car came up. Second officer was going to chase, but felt it important to stay with the other passengers in car. There was a period of time where the other passengers were not being directly observed (the DEFENSE felt this was important so they could get the reasonable doubt fixed in our minds).
The kid had run into some woods. Officer called for Canine unit, which came, and located the kid hiding under some overgrowth. He was unresponsive. So much so that he may have been unconscious, so they called for EMS and had him taken to the hospital.
The car was searched and marijuana was found under the drivers seat. In such a way that the policeman indicated it could not possibly have been put there by someone in the back seat. Part of the evidence was a letter the kid wrote in the hospital saying that “the pot belonged to ‘xxxxx’ who was in the back seat.” The DA kept trying to point out that it could not have been put there from the back seat. More on that later. Anyway, the way the marijuana was bagged was suspicious. It was in a plastic bag that contained a loose amount and some smaller bagged amounts, called “dime bags.” This, according to the police man indicated that the kid intended to sell it, as it was packaged to distribute in smaller amounts. On cross examination, however, it did come out that it can also indicate that the kid purchased it that way (buy two, get 1 free dime bags, in other words, or he bought all of what the seller had). The kid was arrested and charged with “Possession with intent to sell marijuana.”
There were 3 possible verdicts. Guilty of possession with intent to sell, guilty of possession, and Not Guilty. We, the jury quickly ruled out the “intent to sell” part. We did not feel that the DA proved this beyond a reasonable doubt. That took us less than a half hour to decide. The harder part was the possession or not guilty. One has to remember that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You can’t just go in there, look at him, and say “well, he’s guilty”. You have to carefully consider everything. By the way, when I first saw the defendant, during Voir Dire, I immediately thought “he’s guilty.” I believe any reasonable person would. But I did not allow that to make up my mind. I do believe that there was more than 1 person on the jury that went with that gut reaction. But I and 2 other women were determined to take our time and carefully discuss everything. I believe we really frustrated a few people, but it was the right thing to do. In fact, I said on more than 1 occasion “Look, I think he is guilty TOO, BUT we have to make sure to satisfy that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ part.”
Back to the case. The defendant did take the stand. He admitted that he was a pot smoker and that he has served jail time for other convictions. However, he stated that he was a diabetic and that his low blood sugar at the time caused him to make some mistakes. Also, after he ran, he believed that he went into diabetic coma, which required the EMS and hospital stay. Medical proof of this was not presented, but one has to remember that he is INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty. He does not have to PROVE he is a diabetic. It would be up to the DA to prove that he is NOT. The DA did not do this, so I felt that there was doubt…not necessarily REASONABLE doubt, but certainly a possibility to be discussed. The kid was having a 4th of July cookout at his place and borrowed his girlfriend’s car to go pick up other people. He had to go to two different locations. At the second location, one of the people was smoking a “blunt” and was allowed to get in the car. A blunt is a hollowed out cheap cigar that is then filled with marijuana. I suppose it looks like smoking a cigar. While in the car and moving, the driver said that a second blunt was being prepared by one of the other guys. After this was when he was pulled for speeding.
The DA cross examined him and we found that he has run before. That he has also served time for possession of a stolen firearm, etc. I think the DA was trying to establish that this wasn’t some unlucky kid, but that he has a history of breaking the law…not just making mistakes due to his diabetes. There were expert witnesses called in. The lab people that test substances proved it was marijuana. The fingerprint people were called to tell how they lift prints, and there were none useable on the bags of marijuana. At length, both sides rested.
Finally, when we started deliberating, one woman and I started putting out the things that allowed for doubt. For example, the marijuana COULD have been given to the person in the front seat and put under the driver’s seat (during the time that the passengers were not being observed) by the person in the front seat. One woman doubted that but I did some research that night and found that, in a similar car with me in the front passenger’s seat, I had no trouble putting something under the driver’s seat in a variety of places. By the way, the person in the back and the passenger in the front were brother and sister…why not help each other if trying to hide one’s stash?)
Also, at least 3 people on the jury were familiar with people who have had trouble with diabetes. It was established that they do indeed make stupid choices. We explored and talked about every thing we could think of. We went back into the courtroom 4 or 5 times to get more information from the judge on the letter of the law. We went back in to examine the evidence. During all this, at least 2 people seemed REALLY frustrated with the whole thing. They wanted to throw the kid in jail and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t agree with them. Again, I assured them that I was pretty convinced of his guilt of possession, but we MUST explore and make absolutely certain…not just go with feelings.
In NC, “possession” has 2 parts. Proximity and intent. You do not have to have the marijuana on your person, but in close proximity to it and be aware of its existence. We all agreed that the kid admitted this on the stand…he knew ONE guy was smoking a blunt, another was being rolled while the car was moving, and he even wrote a little letter saying the pot belonged to ‘xxxxx’ in the back seat. Proximity was not the issue. It was the intent. According to the statute, you have to have “power and intent to control the disposition or use of the substance.” This was where I wanted to be absolutely careful. Did this kid intend to use it? Certainly he could have been transporting others to his house to smoke pot during his cookout, and not use it himself. Never mind the fact that he admitted to being a pot smoker AND knowing how to roll and smoke blunts. Did he intend to use it that day (or was he sort of a designated driver)? And due to his diabetes, did he really have power over the others and what went on in his car?
I kept thinking something like this: I have a glass of wine or beer every now and then. Not every time it is available, but every now and then. I could have a party at my house and allow others to drink there. Doesn’t mean I am going to drink. I could get in the car and go pick up others. They may have alcohol with them, and be bringing it to my house. One could have an open bottle of beer. Another may open a bottle of beer along the way. Still doesn’t mean that I am going to drink (of course, the consequences of being caught with an open bottle of alcohol anywhere in the car weigh on the driver). But still, it wasn’t MINE.
I still had doubt about the kid’s intent to use the pot. But I finally focused on “disposition”. That didn’t mean HIM using it. It meant “IT BEING USED” at all…by anyone. Part of my doubt was chipped away. What was left was “did he have the power over the others? Remember, diabetes could have impaired his judgment. What I finally decided was that he had the power to drive to one location, pick up a passenger, drive to another location, pick up 3 passengers, recognize that a blunt was being smoked, start driving again, and recognize that another blunt was being rolled. For a period of time, not necessarily the whole time, but for a reasonable amount of time he was aware of everything that was going on, and could have stopped it from going on. He chose not to exercise this control. For me, that sealed his fate. I decided to vote for guilty of possession. At that time there were 2 other women who were siding with me on discussing everything carefully. As soon as I changed my mind, they did. I found that amusing, but didn’t say anything. We were unanimous. Incidentally, there were 2 people in the jury room that I felt would have gone with what the majority decided. Wouldn’t you just LOVE to have them on YOUR jury if you are ever on trial???
Afterward, the judge and both attorneys came back to talk to us. They thanked us and praised us on not coming to any snap decisions. They recognized that we must have been paying close attention if we needed the letter of the law spelled out more than once. As it turns out, this kid isn’t JUST a kid. He is definitely a repeat offender. His offenses aren’t as simple as possession of marijuana. He is facing future court dates for multiple counts of possession of cocaine. He is actually entering a plea of GUILTY of possession of a stolen firearm, in a federal trial that is upcoming. For that he will be serving at least 18 months in prison. He is a verified gang member (whatever verified means). Upon hearing this, the one woman who “felt so sorry for him” and didn’t want to be responsible for “ruining his life” and “wanting to find him help” completely changed her tune. She was no longer sorry for this little punk felon.
A lesson learned. The defendant is brought into court in a nice suit. He is brought there while you, a juror, are not there. He is escorted in from a jail cell by multiple guards, likely in handcuffs which are removed without that being seen by the jury. The number of armed sheriffs present during the trial is likely a strong indicator that this isn’t “some poor kid.” I hadn’t given that much thought at all because of the peaceful nature of the trial, but once I learned about this kid’s history, it made a lot of sense.
Anyway, that’s my story as juror number 3. My next possibility for jury duty is supposed to be no less than 2 years hence. I didn’t mind it at all. I don’t know why people want to get out of it. I think it is one of the responsibilities of being a free citizen. Hope you all get a chance sometime in the future. Leave me comments. I’d love to read them.