Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jury Duty



Served on a jury this week in a federal real estate fraud case. This is my third time around. Just a lucky guy I guess :^).

Some takes from my three stints in the long box:

• Blind justice depends on your next door neighbor.

One of my fellow jurors was a ‘glass fragment’ artist who worked in a previous iteration as an engineer for Lockheed Martin. He seemed pretty fragile. During one of our jury breaks he went off for 10 agitated minutes on the value of medicinal desert herbs.

Most of the other jurors shifted uncomfortably in their seats as they listened to him. Don't think they enjoyed him as much as I did. I'm just glad the realtor on trial didn't hear the guy's rant. Knowing your fate was in the hands of the hippy dippy herb man would make anybody break out in a cold sweat.

• People game the system shamelessly to get out of jury duty.

Emphasizing bad experiences with the justice system without seeming like you want to evade service is the straightest way to the grail. A bit of the old approach/avoidance works pretty much every time.

One young and articulate potential female juror told the judge, “I believe I can be impartial, your honor. Courtrooms aren't one of my favorite places. My dad’s been in and out of court his whole life. Drunk driving, felony assault, armed robbery, drug dealing. But I think I can be fair.” :^)

The old judge was wise to what up and gave her a go for service. The younger lawyers said no and dismissed her. She introduced enough doubt to get her way. Just like a defense lawyer. Fun to watch the real dynamics going on underneath the formalities.

• Jurors are supposed to evaluate the facts and assume the defendant is innocent and put aside their prejudices. We're required to be the firewall that protects the individual against the impressive and potentially corrupt power of local and federal governments.

Juries—in the oldest and most important sense of that term--are a check against the inevitable abuse of state power. That's why the government has to establish its case beyond a reasonable doubt and why the accused get the theoretical benefit of the doubt

But it’s hard to be objective. And it seems like a lot of us are pretty good to go with large concentrations of power right now. Hard to know whether most jurors come in with the necessary skepticism about big power that our theoretical justice system requires.

• And yet I still think juries usually get it right.

I served on a drunk driving/auto accident trial in So Cal about 10 years ago. A muscular Mexican-American police officer was the key witness. He arrested an illegal immigrant drunk driver. The defendant refused to take a breathalyzer test. So the cop and his partner put the guy through standard tests of coordination and he failed. Other witnesses on the scene confirmed the cops’ word. Still others testified that the defendant had a drinking problem.

Pretty straightforward case.

But one of my fellow jurors was a Mexican-American woman who went through a nasty divorce from a Mex-Am fireman. She spent hours during our deliberations blocking our guilty vote because she thought the cop was "a lot like my abusive ex-husband." We heard story after story of drinking parties where her ex-husband and other "muscle bound" cops and firemen "acted like idiots" and were "potty mouths."

Apparently, her ex-husbands' flatulence jokes were reason enough to let the drunk driver walk. It all made sense to her in her own little private Idaho :^)

Eventually, though, she was willing to listen and had a change of heart. Our "deliberations" ended up turning into a counseling session. Once she sensed we were all truly sorry about her painful past experience she voted to convinct along with the rest of us. She was a post-modern juror. Hey, she could have spent thousands of dollars going through therapy to work through that stuff, so it turned out to be a pretty good deal for her....

• Verdicts can feel bittersweet.

The trial this week centered on an inner-city black guy with bad credit who figured out how to clean his own credit record so he could qualify for a loan and buy a house.

The guy was the brightest bulb on the porch. He got his info from libraries and the internet :^) in the mid-90's and then developed sophisticated techniques for electronically forging fake social security numbers and other documents like W-2’s and credit statements. He then figured out he could make a bundle by fraudulently cleaning the credit of other poor folks so they could get loans and buy houses through the FHA (Federal Housing Administration). Eventually he recruited some loan officers and realtors into the scheme and they scammed the FHA big time for years.

Investigators finally caught up with him and got him to plea bargain for a shorter prison sentence in exchange for testifying against his co-conspirators.

We had to make a call about a reputable African-American real estate agent who got greedy and got caught up with this guy. He was convicted on two of the four counts. White collar criminals like our defendant don't do much time in jail but their reps get a serious makeover. Made me sad.

Turns out that most of the poor people who got home loans through the scheme made their payments straight and on time. The bad guys did some Robin Hood good for those poor folks who would have never qualified for a loan and never owned a home under current FHA lending rules.

Passing judgment can be tricky business :^)

6 Comments:

Blogger sara said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:34 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Yes, the 6 50ish women that I served with were after blood. They wanted to ruin a sweet 22 year old young female. I hung the jury and withstood much. When they whined that they needed to go home and cook/take care of their mother/etc/etc I reminded them the judge had told us as potential jurists that if we needed to leave by X, that was enough not to serve. So at 7p when the judge stepped in and said the defense copped a plea, I said sa la vie. They must have been A. worried the judgement was going to be huge. B. The defense attorney had a hot date or C. Even 22 year olds have a life. When questioned by the women the judge reminded them that the girl was never going to serve time (DWI 1st offense) that this whole day was about how much $ she would have to pay. So Tarrant County got a few dollars less becuase they didnt prove their case to me. I still believe the police should have a valid reason for pulling someone over. Not because its 11pm and a few kids in a pickup are out having a good time. Just me.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yeah, I was that kid in a pickup truck a few times back in the day....

5:51 PM  
Blogger Jesus Christ said...

Passing judgement is indeed a trying process. I know first-hand. This blog has been blessed by the Lord.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Glad to get your take Jesus. You're an encouragement to us all.

9:39 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

oh my lol

9:25 AM  

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