Friday, May 30, 2014
Down at the Courthouse
I spent all day in court today, and it was a fascinating experience.
No, I wasn't on trial, I was on a jury.
Night before, I called the recording, to see if the trial whose juror pool I was in had been cancelled. Half the time, that happens.
Not this time. Come on down!
I got there and found there were seventeen of us who showed up, for a jury of six. Pretty good odds I wouldn't get picked. But, to my surprise, after the questions from the judge and the litigants, I found myself in a juror's chair, impaneled for a criminal trial.
(I am not mentioning names here, to protect the innocent and the guilty, but it was so interesting I needed to share it.)
The DA was a lawyer, one presumes, but the defendant elected to serve as his own counsel. His right, of course, but perhaps not the best notion, since he didn't seem to have any grasp of the concept of law as I understand it.
Not that I was impressed with the DA, an obvious newbie who fumbled and spent a lot of time looking for things in a stack on notes without finding 'em. I kept thinking, You should ask about this. Or why aren't you objecting to to that?
I think the judge must have had similar thoughts, though he had a pretty good poker face. At one point, the judge looked at the DA: "Do you have an objection?"
"Uh ... Yeah?"
"On what grounds?"
"Uh ... Relevance?"
The crimes at issue were DUII, failure to produce a license, and resisting arrest. What happened was, one fine midnight last summer, a patrol cop saw a funny-looking license plate on a car in our town. Not a state plate, but one, it turned out, that had been privately produced
Here the concept of "sovereignty" arises; the driver was apparently one of those folk who believe that state and local laws don't apply to him. He kept demanding that the judge dismiss all charges since he had no jurisdiction; he was not driving, by his definition; and he wouldn't even acknowledge his name. Also, he allowed, the judge was committing treason.
It kind of went downhill from there ...
Meanwhile, back at the traffic stop: The officer lit his lights and pulled the car over. He approached, smelled alcohol, and found what he thought was an intoxicated and non-cooperative driver, with a female passenger.
The driver slurred his words and appeared to be swacked. The officer was sporting a recorder, and had cams going in his unit. We saw the vid, heard the recording, and while we couldn't see inside the car, we heard the conversation and saw the arrival of back-up officers, the suspect was arrested, and one of the officers found two opened bottles of whiskey in the car. Heard the officer say, "You are intoxicated, sir," and heard the defendant agree.
Among a lot of other stuff I'll skip over. ...
The defendant said some fairly odd things in his opening statement, going to his interpretation of the Constitution, along with some admissions of past transgressions I wouldn't have brought up, including arrests and stints in solitary. And why he didn't show up for previous arraignments, because he was afraid of being killed.
I know clothes don't matter, but the defendant wore a baggy T-shirt and shorts and Nike sneakers. Even in Oregon, that seems a tad underdressed, but, we weren't trying his wardrobe.
The law says, the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, no matter how odd the defendant seems, so we sat back and listened and watched as they did just that. It wasn't a slam dunk, we had legitimate questions, but there was a lot of evidence.
The defendant had nothing, he blew a lot of smoke, and tried to impeach the city, state, and justice system. He asked that the entire population of Oregon be called as his witness.
The judge denied that one, too.
He put his girlfriend on the stand and asked her if the stop violated her (and his) constitutional rights. In her opinion, yes, it had.
The judge was good, more patient than I would have been, and at times, doing his job, and both litigants' jobs, too. He had to, since they weren't doing much with them ...
Eventually both sides rested, gave their closing statements, and we were instructed by the judge as to the law and our obligations.
We went off to deliberate. It didn't take long; we elected a foreman, we discussed a couple of technical points, but came to a unanimous conclusion, told the clerk, and went back to the court.
Gave our verdicts: guilty on all three charges.
We were thanked, and dismissed. Since the sentence was about to be delivered, most of hung around to hear it. The DA offered recommendations, based on the defendant's record, which wasn't spotless, and the time was a few days in jail on each count, fines, and probation.
The judge started, but the defendant began reading a prepared statement/manifesto that indicated the whole proceeding was naught but a sham. Judge told him to be quiet. He wouldn't shut up. The judge had officers come and stand the guy, handcuff him, and hold him. Again, the judge started to offer the sentence, whereupon the defendant collapsed to the floor as if he'd been pole axed.
Juror next to me leaned over and said, "He's faking!"
My exact thought.
The police called for paramedics. The judge allowed as how he would postpone sentencing until Monday, whereupon the supposedly-unconscious defendant sprawled on the courtroom floor said "I object!"
I left then, just as the FD's EMT's arrived in their truck ...
Never a dull moment ...