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On Tuesday, September 18, I was able to witness my first criminal trial. My presence had been requested for jury duty. All of my life I have heard people whine and groan when they realize they have jury duty.
I couldn’t have been more excited. I sat there for two hours while the judge excused people who couldn’t qualify as jurors (for various reasons). One man stated that he couldn’t be a juror because the prosecuting lawyer was his wife’s drum instructor.
The defendant was charged with possession of meth. One woman stated she couldn’t be a juror because she gives money to an organization that wants to legalize hard drugs (like meth and cocaine).
I, however, had no problem being a juror. I felt a strange sense of power being able to be one of the twelve people who would decide the defendant’s fate.
After hearing the prosecution and the defense the jurors retired to the jurors’ room. We ate stale crackers (outdated from July 24) and drank too much coffee. After three days of deliberation we decided we were a hung jury.
I was the presiding juror for this case (the person who signs the paper and announces the jury’s verdict: guilty or not guilty).
It was clear that the jury could not agree on the guilt of the defendant simply because the State (prosecutor) did not provide and physical evidence linking the meth to the defendant.
The meth was in his car. He was pulled over by a cop because of a suspended license. He had an alcohol level of .027 (above the limit for a minor, he was 20, but under the .08 legal limit). He failed the sobriety tests horribly, but with such a low blood alcohol level the cop suspected there were drugs in his system as well… BUT the cop didn’t request a drug test. Boooo.
It was pretty clear to me (and one other person) that he was guilty of possession. For the other 10 jurors they couldn’t find him guilty without physical evidence. This is called the CSI effect – when jurors believe physical scientific proof is needed. This is not the law. Jurors are encouraged to look at all evidence (such as eye witness testimonies) to determine whether or not a person is guilty.
The judge declared a mistrial. The judge hopes that the lawyers will settle out of court. I hope that cops will act according to protocol. If someone is suspected of being under the influence of drugs, then a drug test is protocol… derrrrrr.
Despite the fact that the jury was hung, it was still a worthwhile experience to see our judicial system in action. The judge stated that we have a war on drugs, and we’re losing the war because of simple mistakes (like not doing drug tests).
I highly suggest that any of you that gets jury duty go and enjoy the experience. It does take time away from school and work, but the judicial system is perhaps the least understood part of our government.
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