My Experience as a Juror
I just finished with Jury duty as a juror on a criminal case here in California. It was an interesting and enlightening experience. Prior to this I had been called to jury duty only to be sent home at the end of the day which sucked only because it cost me a whole day and I felt my time had been wasted. This time would be different. The first case my name was called for would have been 20 days and due to a planned trip I had to say no. But they wasted no time calling me up for the next case and all of us called were interviewed.
Honestly it felt like musical chairs but I never left my seat. As jurors were called forward and questioned they were either kept or dismissed based on the prosecution and defense. Some were dismissed outright by the judge for various reasons. Two I will mention were the last two left to be asked questions. One had put on the form that they felt that the court was unfair selecting them because of their “profession” and the time and money they would lose. The judge lit into him, mentioning me specifically because I had said I wanted to be there since it was my duty as a citizen. The second person put on their form that they felt “All cops were crooked and all judges were crooked”. The judge was not amused and lit into him as well. Needless to say both were dismissed. By the end of day 2 the jury was selected including yours truly.
The third day, the trial started. The defendant was charged with 2 counts of false imprisonment, 2 counts of assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm and 1 count of second degree armed robbery. Apparently on the day in question the defendant, a transient, transgendered individual with apparent mental health issues as well as a drug problem (more on that later) walked into a 7 eleven and had hung around the store for a period of time, at one point standing in front of the counter and being asked to leave by one of the clerks which led to a short argument at which point the defendant left.
10 minutes later the defendant returned, this time with a leash that they used to tie the doors shut, thus the false imprisonment. They then faced the clerk (Clerk A) they had previously argued with and pulled a large kitchen knife and held it in a threatening manner toward the clerk. Clerk A proceeded to back up at which point the defendant lowered the knife and slowly walked toward Clerk A, following them around to the inside of the counter area all the while mumbling and saying “Give me back my money”. Clerk A pulled Clerk B (who was somewhat oblivious to what was happening) behind him and Clerk B went and hid in the office while Clerk A used the pizza scoop to hold the defendant back. Not once did the defendant appear to focus on or go after Clerk B.
Clerk A jumped the counter and used a pair of scissors to cut the leash allowing security to enter the store at which point the defendant turned, walked out from behind the counter and walked out the door making no threats towards security or anyone else, the defendant was arrested a few minutes later without incident and stated to the police “They had my money”.
The first witness to testify was Clerk B who spoke little english and needed a translator and even then seemed confused by the question. Clerk B claimed the defendant was waving the knife, something the video did not show, aside from when the defendant pulled the knife which Clerk B did not see (again going to the video) and was saying “Give me money”. I honestly think the prosecutor was trying to put words in the witness’ mouth since the video showed a different story than what Clerk B said and what Clerk A would say on the stand.
The second witness was Clerk A. Clerk A stated everything I have already said but said the witness had said “Give me my money back”.
The final witness was the arresting officer who testified that the defendant was arrested without incident and said “They owed me money”. The officer also testified that the defendant had a meth pipe in their possession and that they were taken without incident (not that it matters but the defendant was black, this could have gone horribly wrong).
On day 4 we were sent to deliberate and honestly it was hard for me. At first I didn’t buy the false imprisonment because there were escape routes and they did manage to cut the leash and could have fled, save for the one clerk who was in the office between the defendant and any escape route. I argued that for a while but as was pointed out to me it really doesn’t matter if there were escape routes since false imprisonment is a specific intent crime and the defendant did intend to imprison or detain (key word) the clerks inside the store. Eventually we all agreed that the defendant was guilty.
The Assault charges I had a harder time with as did others and this gets to the subtitle of this page. I could see the first assault based on the legal definition. When the defendant pulled the knife they held it in a striking manner that could have directly or probably caused harm to Clerk A. What I have a problem with is the Assault charge against Clerk B. While the defendant did come around the counter they never made a move or motion toward Clerk B that I would see as assault but, again, the law is worded pretty badly. For one thing, it only requires general intent meaning it doesn’t matter who it’s directed at it’s a crime, basically a shotgun blast that hits everyone involved. Watching the video, which I did multiple times I did not see an “Assault” against Clerk B, but given the wording of the law they were, indeed, assaulted. I and others argued the same thing for a couple of hours but in the end we had to go by the law and we all agreed that it was assault even if the law is worded in such a fucked up way and we didn’t feel it was assault ourselves.
The 2nd degree Armed Robbery charge was easy. One of the instructions was that if we believed the defendant was acting in good faith (believing the victims had something that belonged to them) that they could be found not guilty. Further the charge was brought on behalf of Clerk B who the defendant never approached, in fact the defendant was demanding money back from Clerk A. Further, the cash drawer was open and the defendant never took anything from there or the store. We agreed that the defendant was not guilty.
We finished deliberating this morning and the verdicts were unanimous but the assault charges left a bad taste in my mouth. It seems that the wording needs to be changed and that specific intent needs to be added, especially in this situation where the defendant was focused solely on one person and one person only.
Further one of the jurors pissed me off. They agreed to serve on the jury knowing the case could last until this Wednesday but on Friday they were trying to rush us, complaining if they had to come in today they would lose money (self employed). To me, if you say you can do this and won’t suffer any hardship then you should serve period and take the service seriously without trying to rush. I took this duty seriously and said as much (to the point of being used as an example by the judge not just when he gave the one potential juror a ration of shit but also in his thanks to us at the end) and anyone who serves should as well. To me that was just bullshit but I kept my temper in check.
It was an interesting experience, one I would gladly do again. It opened my eyes in many ways. For one thing the law is not always clear on everything and I will never be able to hear someone say that and keep a straight face ever again. I would gladly serve again but may have a hard time if it’s another assault case. I really have a problem with the way that law is worded but even though I disagree I was able to apply it.