The trial I was on finished today. I talked about it in my Beyond Reasonable Doubt post, which showed up today but is listed as Oct 17 because that's when I began writing it (I didn't post because I thought there was some chance it violated the judge's admonition to not say anything about the trial, even though it contained none of the facts of the case.)
Now the trial is over so I can talk about it. The only restriction is that I must wait 90 days before taking money for my story. Those of you with the lucrative contracts will just have to wait.
I learned a lot in the trial. I was impressed with the professionalism of the judge and his concern for us, the jurors. I was happy to see they've made the jury process a lot less painful. Still, bring a book, there will be a lot of waiting -- even the juror materials say that.
Our trial was a criminal trial. A woman used fake American Express checks at the EZ 8 motel by Carrows and at Walmart (the old one on the west side of Lancaster). She was charged with two counts of forgery, one count of grand theft and one count of burglary.
The judge and both lawyers wanted us to understand that it would not be like "Law and Order" nor "CSI." ("Shark" also comes to mind, but they didn't mention it.) The evidence was much more bland. It was circumstantial. I thought about detective stories where some direct evidence always pops up at the end to contradict all the circumstantial evidence. Not in the trial. Circumstantial evidence is just as legal and persuasive as direct evidence.
At the end of the prosecution's case I had some doubts. The evidence for what happened in Walmart was not overwhelming. Some of the testimony from the EZ 8 was contradictory. The only fake check in evidence was the one used at the EZ 8 and the American Express expert talked about the check differently than the EZ 8 manager. I thought the defense might exploit some of those holes. However, the defense presented no case! They don't have to -- it's up to the prosecutor to show someone is guilty as the judge repeated reminded us.
The prosecutor gave a very good closing argument. (BTW, the opening statement is not an argument and cannot contain argument. It can only describe the evidence that will be presented.) When she was done I was much more sure of guilt. The key to all the charges was whether the defendant knew the checks were fake. The prosecutor really made it clear why she thought the defendant knew they were fake. Mostly, the defendant had a flimsy story about where she got the checks (some guy named "Marlin", no last name, no contact info). It didn't make sense.
The defense pointed out that the Walmart manager, the EZ 8 manager and clerk all had experience with traveler's checks and all thought the checks looked OK. Even the bank thought the EZ 8 check was OK. It also mentioned that the defendant just stayed at the EZ 8 and didn't try to run away.
That last point was, I thought, the main point in the defendant's favor. Why would she hang around?
However, I thought the defense lawyer made it clearer his client was guilty! How? As I said above, I thought there was some confusion on the facts of what happened. However, the defense lawyer just conceded the events in his argument and focused on whether his client knew the checks were fake. It was the main point, but by letting the other stuff go he helped clarify my thinking. He also made, I believe, an error. He stressed that his client gave her driver's license and other info to the EZ 8. Why would she do that if she knew the checks were fake? However, he mentioned that his client gave a PO Box number. What?? Who gives a PO Box? That's what people do to avoid being found. There was never any other mention of the PO Box except in the defense argument. OOPS! (The prosecutor sealed that argument when she pointed out there was no evidence that the info the defendant gave was correct.)
I was the alternate, so I didn't get in the deliberations. It was kind of frustrating to participate fully in the trial then not get to discuss with the other jurors. On the other hand the judge let me be on call -- I could leave the court house but had to keep my cell phone on and be withing 15-20 minutes of the court. I got to hang out at home while the rest deliberated, so I have no complaints.
Anyway, it took a day and a half to reach a verdict. The decided guilty on all counts. I agreed. I got to talk to some of them afterwards. I was happy with how they all saw things clearly. As one woman said, there was a lot of bullshit presented (by both sides), but the jury saw through it. We weren't just sheep that could be swayed by a clever lawyer. They saw the "Marlin" story as flimsy, just like I did.
I wondered about how the woman staying at the hotel (and not running) would figure in the debate. I noticed she just stayed over the weekend (she passed the first check late Friday night), so the banks wouldn't be open. However, she was arrested on Monday. I wondered why she would stay until Monday. The jury realized this, but noted that the bank probably wouldn't actually clear the check until Tuesday. It was only because the EZ 8 manager was suspicious and called Amex Monday that the fake was discovered so soon. The whole weekend idea was never mentioned during the trial -- the jury saw that on their own.
I liked my jury experience. Being on a jury is kind of a bonding experience. It's pretty cool. Even though I was the alternate and missed the deliberations they still accepted me as part of them. I also got to see a little piece of the legal system. It's far from perfect, but it's generally seems OK.
As a side benefit I learned a couple of other things. First, I now know a lot about what a real Amex check looks like. We saw a real and a fake. I was amazed at how many people with training were fooled. The hologram on the fake was not even close and the printing was very fuzzy.
I also learned that I don't want to be in court. If I am, I want a good lawyer. The prosecutor seemed prepared and organized. She looked at us and made logical arguments. The defense lawyer always read from notes. He repeated himself. He got lost at times. His arguments were at times hard to follow. He made the error I mentioned. He wasn't completely awful, but the prosecutor was better.
Unlike TV, the prosecution case was not all neat and tidy. However, it was good enough. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a tough standard but does not require perfection. Even when we have to judge the knowledge of the defendant, as case can be built.
I'd gladly do this again. I'm happy to have served.
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