I served my jury duty starting last week. I was a member of a jury for the criminal trial of the case of a Methamphetamine Drug Dealer. In all of my calls for jury duty, this is my first time to be picked to sit on a jury. We started deliberations late yesterday and, after delivering our unanimous Guilty verdict, were dismissed this morning. We got to keep our nice blue and gold “Thank you for your jury service!” pens and the Judge said we were free now to discuss the case outside of court.
Being a Process Architect, I found the experience fascinating. Physically, it was like being an intelligent goldfish in a small bowl. 13 of us (12 jurors, plus an alternate) sat in comfortable chairs in the jury box while the Judge (also called The Court), the District Attorney (or D.A., also called The People, and The Prosecution), the Defense counsel, and the witnesses talked to us. We could hear and see but not move much or say anything. We could only know what they told us. (The Judge said we could write out questions and pass them to the Deputy/Bailiff but our questions might or might not be answered. None of us tried this.) Every time there was a break, the Judge told us not to talk with anyone, including: each other, our spouses, friends, family, therapists, religious advisors, or the Deputy/Bailiff about the case. We were specifically told not to do any research or visit the scene of the crime. Throughout the trial, there were actions or facts to which both attorneys agreed, such as: the search was legal, the Defendant was read his rights properly. There were also circumstances which we were told we would not be informed about because they did not pertain to the case. We tried not to be curious.
To move the work along, the Judge and the lawyers did as much work as possible with us out of the room. The Judge told us the phases of the trial were:
- Pre-trial Motions (happened before we were called)
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statements
- Presentation of Witnesses
- Final Arguments
- Jury Instructions
- Verdict (jury excused)
During the trial, the charge stated was possession of Methamphetamine with intention to sell. They mentioned the code number of the law which was broken. I just looked it up; it is:
- California Health and Safety Code 11378:
“Except as otherwise provided … every person who possesses for sale any controlled substance … shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison.”
As The Jury, we 12 were asked to consider the evidence then give our decision on whether the evidence provided proof beyond reasonable doubt that the Defendant had committed the crime. We were told by both attorneys and the Judge that the Defendant was innocent until proven guilty and what that meant. For example, if there were two reasonable interpretations of the evidence and one meant that the Defendant was innocent, we were required to say he was innocent. We were not there to know the law or to be judges or to consider morals or character; we were only there to consider the evidence. We had to be unanimous in
our decision (or say that we could not reach a decision). The Judge (who said he was like a Referee between the D.A. and the Defense) regularly read us instructions or bits of law to be sure that we understood what was happening and what we were to do.
New words I know from this experience:
- bindle – steet slang for a small amount of drugs wrapped in plastic
- voir dire – legal jargon for the questioning of prospective jurors by a judge and attorneys in court
- Pupilometer – police jargon for a printed column of graduated dots used as a scale of eye pupil sizes – a tool to help evaluate whether a subject is under the influence of drugs
- toot straw – street slang for a straw used to snort drugs
- I am very impressed with how respectful, careful and deliberate the trial by jury system is. It was remarkably dignified, inclusive, and educational. The Judge explained the circumstances and the law at length, allowed ample time for each phase, and many times called both lawyers up to confer where we could not hear to be sure everything was done right (for example, if there was a question about how a statement or objection was phrased).
- Direct and circumstantial evidence are considered of equal value. I did not know that. Before this, I thought circumstantial evidence was lesser.
- I had no idea that Methamphetamine drug amounts were so tiny or so cheap or so destructive. One of the expert witnesses (a police officer) who testified made a drug bindle to demonstrate the process (using fake sugar instead of Methamphetamine). The finished product was a tiny plastic twist about the size of my little fingernail. After we reached our decision, one of the jurors told us about his son who is recovering from Methamphetamine addiction. Doses only cost about $5. so anyone can afford meth. Meth is extremely addictive and causes irreversible nerve damage and severe dental problems in just a few months of use.
- The District Attorney was very proud to be representing The People of the State of California. One time, the Defense attorney referred to the D.A. as “the government”. The D.A. corrected him saying he was not there to represent the
government but The People. Several times when the Defense attorney presented evidence to be entered, the D.A. said the phrase “The People stipulate to its admissibility in the interests of justice.” It felt like The Law and The People were with us in that court room.
- The Defendant never spoke once while we were in the room. The Judge made sure we understood that it was the Defendant’s Constitutional Right not to be a witness against himself. The Defendant’s interests and case were well and extensively defended none the less.
Clarification: I should have mentioned that during the extensive questioning of prospective jurors by the judge and both attorneys, the juror whose son had a Methamphetamine addiction was forthcoming and honest about it. He was questioned explicitly on his family circumstances by the Judge, the D.A. and the Defense before being accepted as a juror. Neither the D.A. nor
the Defense used up their ten jury eliminations. Several prospective jurors were eliminated during voir dire, one for cause. (He was dismissed for cause because he said he would not believe someone was guilty based only on circumstantial evidence.)