I was summoned for jury duty about a month ago, and thought to myself, well shit, there’s no way I’m getting out of this.
I got to the court house at 1pm this past Monday, and hunkered down for what I thought was going to be a long and boring day. They quite quickly called us into the court room, and then sat the original 23 in the box. Who was juror #9? Me!
The judge asked a bunch of standard questions; the lawyers asked a bunch of standard questions; a couple of folks got dismissed; and then we were seated. I was juror #9 on a three-day DUI case where they defendant had refused to plead.
And that’s where it gets interesting…
You see, this wasn’t a standard DUI case at all. This was a case of did he see what he claims, did he do what they claimed, and whose credibility is the most dependable. The story goes something like this – on a Saturday morning less than a year ago, someone drove a car down a street in San Francisco without their headlights on. At the same time, a CHP cruiser was turning onto that same road. The individual noticed, parked their car, and were waiting the CHP out. The CHP did a loop around the block to find the same (or similar) car (but a slightly different color), and a fellow getting out who was clearly intoxicated.
There were two counts:
- Driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage
- Driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher by weight
I didn’t know those could be different either, but oh I learned!
The cops (there were two) had legit stories, but didn’t (for me) remove all doubt about the consistency of the car. At night, under street lights, a car that moved for a few seconds a distance of 50 feet feels like the eyes playing tricks on you. It just didn’t sit.
The lab folks were a unique bunch. The head of the labs was amazing. Great personality. Fantastic tie. Told the story professionally, and really taught us about the mental state of an individual at 0.08 & 0.12+ blood alcohol content. It turns out that at 0.08, most individuals are still convinced that they can drive. However, above 0.12, folks start to understand that they are way too intoxicated to be able to drive. That played a very interesting role in the deliberation as well. The actual lab tech clearly didn’t want to be there, and it was a wasted 30 minutes for the prosecution. For him, lesson learned.
The defendant was quite the character. Vietnamese immigrant. Didn’t speak a word of English. If he did, it was 10 words max. Clearly believed he was innocent, and had gone through, according to the defense lawyer, many lawyers who disagreed.
Let’s stop to analyze this for a second. The SF City government got this guy a lawyer. They got this guy 2 translators who switched every few hours. And the US legal system guaranteed him a fair trial even though he wasn’t a citizen. If that isn’t amazing, then tell me what is. This fact alone made me realize that I was party to something amazing, humbling, and, I think, relatively unique.
Back to the case.
When we got the case, and started to deliberate, it was clear that intoxication wasn’t a question. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was intoxicated. The real question was whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt in the evidence that it was the defendant who was driving.
A bunch of us said no, some of us said yes. I got elected foreman. We debated, questioned, and challenged. At the end of the day, we couldn’t get past a bunch of us said no, and some of us said yes. The judge declared a mistrial, and we were dismissed.
I have to say, I won’t ask to get out of jury duty if it can be contained to one week. It’s an amazing process; you meet great people; and you make a difference in a system where even the little guy has a chance. I was really honored to be a part of it all in the end.
Last note: I hope when they re-try the case, that justice wins. Justice is the only side that any of us should root for