Sunday, September 30, 2007

Delayed thoughts on Jury Duty

It's now been a couple weeks since my Jury service was completed and we returned a verdict on two misdemeanor charges against a then-homeless woman who, in the midst of a tense argument between herself, her fiance and a police officer, put her hands on the cop's chest. I think this was some effort to keep the cop and her fiance apart (the fiance was shouting to an assembled crowd that if someone gave him a thousand dollars, he would kick the cop's ass.).

For the hands on the chest, she was charged with simple battery on a peace officer.

When police back-up arrived to help the officer arrest the man, this same woman was tackled/knocked hard to the ground by another officer, likely knocked unconscious and her rib broken in the process. For being tackled, she was charged with obstructing justice. Apparently, she was in the way.

This incident took place almost a year ago in South Park, a cute little park that was once the dot com epicenter (and still is a startup center) where I used to eat salads and paninis seated on grass mats provided by a nearby boutique.

I'm not sure what political motivations led to this particular case being pursued but it sure sounds like chump ass charges to me. Was it a case to help conviction stats for the DA? For them to prove they were aggressively going after threatening chest-touchers? Was the fact that the defendant and fiance had filed a civil case with the Office of Citizen Complaints against the cops involved? Or is this another effort for making the people who are having the most difficult time feel not welcome in this city (and certainly not in South Park)? I'm not sure if anyone would actually be able to answer that question.

Whatever the motivations to pursue this case over cases where people are, um, actually harmed is probably something I won't understand. All I know is I left after two weeks of service not feeling like I, in any way, served justice, made our city safer, made sure our police force felt protected in their dangerous job, or made our parks nicer places to eat paninis. Nope. It felt like a waste of time and resources. Justice busywork. I gather it takes a lot of process and effort to bring a case to trial and i can't for the life of me know why this one was greenlit. Kamala, any thoughts?

I think the asshole manning the metal detector at the front of the [meanwhile at the] Hall of Justice, who treated everyone like they were smuggling files in cakes as they came in the building, also contributed to this feeling that there was no compassion to be had in the building. He reminded me of a terrible math teacher who would yell at his students when it was actually his inability to communicate and be a decent person that was causing all the problems. (The metal detectors are being taken over by the Sheriff starting tomorrow so the asshole is now out of the position. There's some justice, at least)

On the upside, the "case" within itself was delivered fairly, unbiased, both sides had their opportunities to present their side. Both lawyers were competent, and I was actually impressed by the vigorous defense mounted by the Public Defender. Our Jury group was a friendly and intelligent bunch. I think most of us found the case to be ridiculous, but our hands seemed a little tied by the law (though the concept of "Jury Nullification" was introduced to me in the deliberation room and that sounds like a good idea in situations). I don't think anyone felt particularly joyous about rendering a decision in this case.

We found her guilty of putting her hands on the police officer's chest. There was enough evidence and testimony to convince us that it happened, and that's the crime. So, yeah, note to self, don't put your hands on a cop's chest. Especially if I'm ever homeless and African American.

But, come on!!

We found her not guilty of the obstructing justice charge with me personally wondering how an officer knocking someone hard onto the pavement is obstruction (many many doubts on that one for the jurors).

For her one conviction, she could get up to a year in county jail. So that's on my conscience now. I hope the judge heard the same case as we did, and delivered a substantially less severe punishment. The fiance/male in the situation, who was primarily responsible for starting up the whole fight, was not charged in the incident.


Blogger Lee said...

the reason a da's office pursues a case like this is because that conviction may very well be a bar to a civil suit for the woman and is certainly going to scare most civil rights lawyers away from taking the case on a contingency basis. they're protecting the police department from civil suit.

1:46 PM  
Blogger pnachtrieb said...

Thanks for the info, Lee!

And indeed a civil suit is being pursued by the Office of Citizen Complaints (or so we found out at the end of the case). I wonder if the charges would have been dropped had the complaint not been made. Still, it's curious for the woman to be charged where it was the man she was with that seemed to be caused the ruckus. But, I suppose I am applying a different logic than the da's.

2:02 PM  
Blogger joshua said...

Peter, your experience of the seemingly petty nature of the crime and charges involved are similar to my simultaneous jury experience. My case at least had two felony charges, all revolving around a stolen Metro PCS cellular phone. Unfortunately for the DA there was a pretty terrible eyewitness/victim who's account of the events were documented to have evolved in time. At the same time with a little better work by the Public Defender the second (felony) charge of "receipt of stolen property" (yes that is right a cell phone) would have gone away as well. As for the jury, the common view of juries being filled with idiots, simply was not born out in my experience.
I don't know if you saw it, but one day THAT guard at the metal detector had this total breakdown while they were doing some of the construction on the more permanent entry way. He just flipped and the line that he was servicing came to a complete halt for a good 5 minutes.

1:23 PM  

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