Friday, September 19, 2008

Stupid Attorneys and Angry Axe Wielding Judges

I have been called up for jury duty once again. I am trying to keep a good attitude about this legal system because I really do understand the importance of each of us fulfilling our civic responsibilities in order to protect our civil rights. But I am somewhat amused and often irritated by foolishness or stupidity, especially from professional people.

I will be on this trial for several days over the next three weeks. It is a child molestation case involving at least three girls.

So, on day one, during the jury selection process, the defendant’s counsel arose to address the potential jurors with this threat, “Ladies and gentlemen, in a little while the judge is going to axe you…” I can’t remember what followed; all I know is that I was distracted by the thought that this judge must be some kind of raging, maniacal lunatic and he’s coming after us. Then I realized that the defense attorney was speaking a different language – Ebonics. All that time and money spent in lawyer school and he still hasn’t leart to say “ask.”

Continuing on, he “axed” us if there were any among us who knows what a child molester looks like. Could we spot one in a line-up? He pressed that line of questioning to determine if any of us might have a problem being fair just because his client was “Mexican-American.”

It was hard for me but I managed to hold my tongue even though I was insulted. I wanted to jump up and respond with something like, “No, I don’t believe that a Mexican-American is automatically guilty any more that I believe that an African-American defense attorney is automatically intelligent.”

When he was finished, the prosecuting attorney addressed the potential jurors with his own dumb questions.

He proceeded to instruct us, that, if there is only the testimony of one believable witness, we must return a guilty verdict. At that point, he scanned the jurors looking for affirmation of his inane expectations. “Do any of you have a problem with that?” he asked. Most of them responded. I sat there like a bump on a log, expressionless and unresponsive. He looked at me and said, “Mr. Petersen, you have been kind of quiet up there. How about you? Will you be able to bring a guilty verdict if all I have is the testimony of one witness? Do you have a problem with that?”

Now I was digging in and the debate was on. “Well yes,” I said, “I would have a problem trying to decide a case on the basis of only one testimony. But I think the operative word in your question was ‘believable.’ I would have to consider that witness’s credibility and objectivity and reliability but I would still have to be very careful and reluctant to make a judgment solely on the basis of one witness without some supporting evidence.”

So then he smugly attempted to trap me with this hypothetical example. “Suppose you were walking down a dark street and some big thug jumps out and beats you and steals your wallet. Would you say that a crime was not committed because you were the only witness?”

“Well, of course not.” I responded. “But I would think that my bloodied face and missing wallet would provide sufficient EVIDENCE to support my testimony. The judge has already instructed us that the law presumes this man innocent until proven guilty. And, as far as I know, it’s your job to convince us all beyond a reasonable doubt with evidence.” At that point I heard several snickers from the jury pool and courtroom staff and I glanced in the direction of the judge and saw him laughing.

The defense attorney replied, “Well, maybe that was a bad example.”

I could see that I humiliated him and figured I was done. Surely he would call for my dismissal. He didn’t. I’m in for the duration.

Just for the record, regardless how I feel about this, I am going to give the guy a fair shake, presume his innocence until proven guilty, and consider only the evidence provided when we go to deliberation. At least the defendant is at the mercy of a jury and not dependent on dumb attorneys.

In the mouth of two or three witnesses, let every word be established. Matt. 18:16, II Cor. 13:1, I Tim. 5:19, Heb. 10:28

1 comment:

Stan McCullars said...

You have my sympathy.

My mother served on a jury two weeks ago. Every time she has served she has come away with the most fascinating stories.

I look forward to hearing about your experience.