THEY TOOK OUR CELLPHONES, CHARLIE!! THEY TOOK OUR CELLPHONES!!!!
So, this happened.
After a hiatus of …what, was that really 15 years? Milwaukee County called this zombie for jury duty again. I recognize, of course, that I will be mocked for being unable to dodge it, but it fell between Robotics Stop Build Day and the first Regional, and my major client is out of town, so I figured best to get it out of the way. Besides, and I have been called stupid for not being appropriately cynical; even though our civil infrastructure is tattered and rickety, I still feel that there’s a certain duty, a certain obligation, to put in one’s time when called. I know, right? How stupid.
I guess I just have one of those faces. Called for the second pool, and selected. The judge told us it would be a quick trial (he was right) so I had hoped that we might break for the first day, but pedal to the medal dudes, after lunch it was time to start the fucking trial.
Guns n drugs, hamsters and kittehs, it was all about guns and drugs. A young man was accused of possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony, as well as possession of THC with intent to deliver. Since my last time as a juror was a statutory rape case, this seemed like a cakewalk and it kind of was.
During voir dire, we all were asked some very basic questions. I guess it was not particularly surprising that I had the most affirmative responses to the generic questions; I was one of the oldest there, so I guess it was more mileage and more experiences. But the interesting thing to me was that while I have been very skeptical of the stories of horrible crime and rising violence, it still actually surprised me that most of the jury pool did not have any real experience as victims of crime. In fact, I was the most crime ridden, as we had been burglarized at home and at my office. I didn’t even mention the stolen car or car-break-ins. Who knew I lived in such a hell-hole? Even being cognizant of how much TV, radio and print media over-emphasizes crime, it still surprised me at how few of my fellow jurors had ever been victimized. Huh; the media is, apparently, lying to us.
So, the State started their prosecution and started a long litany of evidence procured from a particular house. A LONG litany. And explained how each was acquired. AT LENGTH. And DETAIL; oh so much detail. AND had the witnesses explain how each was acquired. IN DETAIL. After listening to the description of the sixth identical pay stub (DETAIL), I started to wonder if there was any meat here. I mean, the witnesses were all pretty credible, police officers and crime lab techs and such. But it was revealed that when the door was busted down at 6 in the morning, the young man was not there; only a young woman.
From the hilarious over-reaction file. During this long reveal of every bit of evidence in excruciating detail, one of the police officer witnesses opened the evidence envelope containing one of the scales, and dumped it onto his table and his eyes kind of got wide and rolled and he looked from one court person to another. Finally he piped up and said there was THC RESIDUE in the bag which had ESCAPED onto the counter. (heh. most of the people I knew would have just licked their finger, wiped it up and ingested it) there was an amusing interval while the court personnel tried to figure out how to get the offending substance back into the envelope without tainting anyone. I looked around and I find it unreasonable to think that all of those people within range of the HORRIBLE LEAF had never smoked a little.
Summarizing the evidence. They found a hutch with several gallon baggies, with some residue and shake. A tupperware container with some pot. a sandwich baggie with some pot. Two digital scales. Two boxes of ammunition, .357 and .32. In the bedroom, a gun in a case. And the young man’s ID, 6 years expired. Some of his paystubs, listing a different address as well as a deduction for child support. And two photos on the hutch (out of 40) with the young man in them. One of the empty baggies, the bottom of one of the tupperware, and the outside of one box of ammunition had the young man’s fingerprints. No other fingerprints were obtained, and no other person’s prints were even compared.
Hey, let me just tell you about the pot they found. “Contraband” they called it. One of the cops called it ‘low grade, what is sometimes called Mexican Bale Weed” which I had never heard before. Ditch weed, yes. Skunk weed. Harsh weed. Cheap weed, even. Of course, I have no direct knowledge of it, as far as any of you know. BUT. they found 6 grams in a baggie and 45 grams in a tupperware container. Which amounts to 51 grams; after availing myself of my conversion app, it seems that is less than 2 ounces. Which, one of the officers said, is worth about 400 bucks — not an inconsiderable amount, but still not enough to buy an iPad.
And I have seen 2 ounces of pot (I mean I have heard tell of it). And I have old room mates and friends for whom it would be less a retail stock than it would be a very relaxed weekend.
Yes, it is illegal in Wisconsin at any level. But two ounces of weed resulting in a jury trial?
Aaaaannnnnnd…..that was it. No direct witnesses. No photographs. No surveillance. No prints on the gun or gun case. Not even any men’s clothing in the house to indicate a guy lived there. I think the prosecution did a pretty good job of indicating there was a gun in the house, and there was pot, and likely some small-scale dealing. What they did NOT do was provide any real evidence indicating this guy was in the house, had ever even touched the gun, or had sold any pot.
Another sidebar. I found it amusing that the prosecuting attorney, at one point, asked the ‘expert witness’ how pot is used, and he replied with a long list of various ways of smoking it. He also apparently does not actually know what a ‘blunt’ is. (I have heard) that it may also be cooked into various food items, such as ‘brownies’. Not that I have any knowledge of this kind of activity, and particularly not while enjoying a vacation with friends in Puerta Vallarta. Experts.
When they rested their cases and let us deliberate, one lady immediately said “let’s have the dude who did it before be the presiding juror!” , pointing at me. I have that face, I guess; but since I am an attention slut, I did. And after a short discussion, we did an initial poll on the gun possession charge, and it was unanimous from the outset: the State did not overcome the “reasonable doubt” standard. And after short discussions of the pot charge, it went the same way.
Oh yeah, they took our phones, computers and tablets. I said that I haven’t let anybody take my cellphone away from me since I first got one, and I felt like you do when the dentist yanks a tooth; there’s a big gaping hole, and you keep poking at it, feeling the vacancy. I kept reaching for my pocket to check the time.
My biggest contribution was that through my years of college and young adulthood, much of the evidence seemed familiar; but if I was going to be convicted of felonies that people I knew had done, based on this weak links of evidence, I would be fucking pissed not to mention hosed. And I would have to admit that the system is broken. And I know several houses where, if you walked in at any given time, you could find pretty much the same batch of things in the hutch.
However the system is not broken. We found the young man not guilty on both counts.
Look, I have no illusions about this guy. He is already a felon. He obviously has a connection to the people in this house. It is possible, even likely that he has possession of a gun and pot even now, selling it to Marquette and UW-M students. But he walked into that courtroom under a presumption of innocence, and the prosecution had the task of proving his guilt in this particular instance; they didn’t even come close. I idly wondered if the prosecutor lost a bet that resulted in her having to take this crappy case.
One of the other jurors, John (we are of similar age, and spent some time commiserating about aging bodies and sore knees) said what I was also thinking: “I feel like someone is hassling this guy, for whatever reason.”
So, we did get out pretty early, the judge was right that this was a quick trial. We felt like we discharged our duty, based on what we were presented. 12 upright citizens, fulfilling one of the most solemn civic duties. I feel like a fucking SchoolHouse Rock video.
Fridge Fridge note to Kathleen: so I take back my bringdown about your desire to be on a jury. This was a trial that, to me felt good – even if the defend-ANT (look that’s the way the judge pronounced it) was not a particularly upstanding individual, the State needs to have a damn better case to send young guys to prison. Dammit. And even if it’s a much harder case, like I said, it is still important to be part of the process. And when you leave, you feel like you’ve Done Your Duty. Which is still a good thing, even these days.