Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh yeah, that was battery

Had to go to Olathe for jury duty today. Full experience, selected for a trial and everything. We finished, so I can say whatever I want about it. Mostly, though, it was just interesting. While we were warned that its not like TV, it really was quite a bit like TV. Maybe not crappy show like CSI, but -- considering the much smaller magnitude of the crime -- a lot like Murder One, or something. Some random notes:
  • Way more attention is paid to the jury than I expected. Not just the lawyers facing the jury when giving arguments, but if any raise their hand, or even look ike they are straining to hear, attention is paid immediately.
  • We outnumbered the rest of the courtroom. Zero observers, and only one lawyer per side. The 12-year-old testifying was confused when asked to search the courtroom for the defendant; he got lost in the pile of people to his left.
  • The arrangement changed. During voir dire the tables were in a different arrangement, then they moved them for the trial. Not sure why. Our courtroom was unusually classically-shaped. Tall rectangles of stone and wood. A lot of others (you can see in from the hallway) are much more human-scale, and arranged in this circle shape.
  • Objections just like TV. "Relevance? This is a criminal threat case, your honor." My favorite: This is when the tables are still such that the state is to the judge's right. So one time the prosecutor stands and opens his mouth (I could not divine what that was just said he objected to) and the judge just waved him back down without even looking. Classic.
  • Speaking of which, everyone is poker faced. We are especially not to give anything away. But the prosecutor routinely had a "what the hell is he thinking" look when the defense atty did something odd. He was youngish, and way less smooth and prepared sounding when presenting anything. Overall, very disorganized presentation, and not easy to follow a thread.
  • During voir dire, they ask all sorts of odd questions. Oh, like 36 people go into the courtroom, and 24 are seated and asked questions. Then the whole for-cause and the discretionary dismissals (when we get dismissed, its all at once, and he reads the names of the empaneled jury, none of this one-at-a-time stuff like the few shows with this part). Anyway later the topics about which they ask mostly came up but at the time most seemed irrelvant. Have you ever used the services of a limousine driver? And the defense attorney starts getting each person's story in order. After three, the judge asks if its really necessary, and it can be sped up by asking everyone at once. By which he means, do this actually. He was like this the whole time. Keeping everything going, and trying not to let anyone get away with anything. "I'll allow, but get on with it." Again, very TV-like, really.
  • One more funny judge story. He deferred someone for some lame illness. She has to come back later. When someone asked, a few questions later, how long the trial would take, he told us a day, or so. "and that woman I dismissed a little while ago will probably get some medical malpractice suit that lasts six weeks. So you are pretty lucky."
  • Most witnesses were on for 5 minutes. One took forever. At least 19 hours. A... Mystic. Which was weird in so many ways, especially as the defense guy kept trying to pursue it in some odd way that kept getting shot down. She was a horrible witness, and after a bit insisted she could not understand english, so they had to get a translator. Then, she would answer before the translator was done. It was painful. As this was the one named victim, the prosecutor cared a lot about it, and excused her during closing statement as "She's...a bit of a character. But you cannot consider that..." etc. Hilarious.
  • No exhibits, no physical evidence. Nothing. Not a bit. To the point, it was a little confusing. I suspect this is because its a realtively minor case, and they are too busy to even get phone records (though they were referred to by the lawyers, not evidence though) but it was sorta odd to just have people muttering through conflicting testimony.
  • The instructions are quite lengthy, read to us, and given in paper. 16 points, each on their own piece of paper. And, suprising me, they are not totally boilerplate. They are made up at the moment, derived from the law and existing forms, but there is arguing about what it says exactly. We could hear arguing (loudly!) from the judges chambers about the language.
  • As it turns out, this mattered. We, eventually (took 3 hours to decide. Not a slam dunk at all!) settled on this one decision of battery. That there was some threshold of intent, and therefore this was not a battery. When we asked a question, there was no useful response, so we had to do it on our own. Anyway, afterwards, the judge comes in and we can ask questions freely. He was very open and honest and nice. When this question came up, he says "Oh, yeah. That was battery." Without the slightest hesitation. He was suprised we found him innocent on that count (guilty on another, btw) and its because he insisted on simplyfying the language for us. If he'd left in the phrase the prosecutor wanted, we might have parsed it right and convicted on that also.
  • The language for the other one -- criminal threat -- had this addendum of "terrorizing" with a defintion. Terribly confusing, and the judge said he hates how that law is written. No end of trouble with people understanding it.
  • The accused was basically charged with threatening some people, and sorta roughing up a kid. Unrelated, but on the same day so tried together. Gut feeling from the evidence is that he's a control-freak jerkoff of a guy. When the guilty verdict was read he looked like we were totally at fault, and he'd kick our ass if he could. Just for a moment. Didn't say anything, but he sure didn't look disbelieving or remorseful. I am not one to agonize and have sleepless nights, but that look sure would help if I did. He's guilty as hell.
All in all, it was really not a big hassle, and was really interesting. I highly suggest it.

No comments: