[This is part 2 of a series about my jury service. Part 1 was Jury Duty, Day 1: Vwar Deer. My day job is beating on me right now, so I’m running a little behind in posting these.]
[Note: In all accounts of this trial, I’m using fake names for the people and locations.]
The schedule for today is:
8:45 – Breakfast
9:30 – Trial starts
I suspect that breakfast is simply a sneaky way make sure all the jurors will be in court on time. Tell us 8:45 and bribe us with breakfast, and maybe we’ll be there by 9:30.
They gave us parking permits yesterday, so this morning we drove past two deputies to park in an area set aside for us. I go through security again and arrive at the courtroom, only to find it locked. So I wait, along with most of the jury.
It’s a little odd. After all the trouble they go through to keep people from influencing us, they’ve left us out in the hall. People are showing up to wait for other courts to open. I see Skippy the defense lawyer walking down the hall toward us. He spots us a few seconds later and turns around to walk away. A few minutes later, one of the deputies lets us in.
As soon as I see breakfast, I’m disappointed. There’s no Diet Coke. Or anything else with caffeine, except coffee, which I don’t drink. Falling asleep in the jury box would be a bad thing, so I turn around to head to the cafeteria. One of the deputies intercepts me and tells me to go back in. I start to, but I also tell her that I just want to run down to get a soda. She lets me go.
Bond court is right outside the cafeteria, and there’s a bunch of ornery-looking people waiting outside. These must be all the people who got the “Can you come bail me out?” call last night.
When I get back to the jury room, there are 13 of us. The final juror strolls in just before the bell, and then we wait.
Eventually, they call us in, and the lawyers present their opening arguments.
It starts with the male prosecutor, who gets up and finally tells us all why we’re here. A cop pulled somebody over, there was an altercation, and the defendant headbutted the cop. (I looked up the aggravated battery statute after the trial was over, and it’s because the victim was a cop that the battery is aggravated. I was wrong when I guessed that injury had something to do with it.)
The big defense lawyer has a different story. He says the defendant accused the officer of stopping him because he was Mexican, at which point the officer dragged him out of the car and eventually headbutted him. When backup officers arrived, they put the cop in an ambulance to the hospital, but the defendant went to the police station first, even though he was bleeding and asked to go to the hospital.
I’m not sure why we-the-jury are supposed to care about the defendant’s medical treatment. It doesn’t affect his guilt, does it? Is it supposed to indicate that the cops were mean to him in general? Is it a sympathy ploy?
The state’s witnesses are questioned by the young lady prosecutor. The courtroom is laid out with the jury box and the witness stand to the judge’s right, which means the witness sits to the jury’s left. She stands far from the witness, at the right edge of the jury box, which I think is supposed to encourage the witness to speak up loud enough for the jury to hear.
It doesn’t entirely work. The first witness is officer Reyes from the Hybernia police department. He’s only been on the job for 15 months and seems uncomfortable on the stand. He sometimes speaks so quiet it’s difficult to hear him.
They start by discussing Reyes’s time on the force and his training. I note that he had four months on the job when the incident occurred. Then the prosecutor starts asking him how he was dressed, and he explains that he was wearing his uniform, as he is today, except that he had two additional pieces of equipment. She asks him where they would go on his uniform. He explains by pointing at his uniform. She tries to get him to describe the locations, since the court reporter can’t transcribe pointing. He doesn’t quite get it and keeps explaining by pointing.
At this point, Skippy objects, but before he can explain why, the judge stops him and explains that he should stand when he objects so the court reporter can notice him. Skippy then explains that he can’t see where Reyes is pointing because the judge’s bench is in the way. The judge has Reyes stand, and he finishes explaining his equipment.
At the time, I could only assume that his was a warm-up question—intended to relax the witness—that got a bit out of control. (It later turns out to be part of the checklist of elements of the crime.)
Anyway, they soon get into the meat of the testimony. According to Reyes, his vehicle was stopped out of traffic when he spotted a pickup truck with a missing front plate and no side mirrors. He followed it a bit while he ran the plates and then he pulled it over. It was, of course, Jose the defendant.
Officer Reyes approached and asked for license and registration, which the defendant gave him. As he was walking back to his car, the defendant got out of his truck and followed him. Reyes told him to get back in his car, and a physical confrontation began. At this point, the defense attorney again objects that he can’t see Reyes’s re-enactment of the incident. The prosecutor gets him out in front of the bench and directly in front of the jury.
Officer Reyes then explains how he put his hand out and firmly told him to get back in his truck, but the defendant kept advancing until he bumped up against the cop’s hand. He then took a swing at Reyes, who managed to stop the punch by grabbing the defendant’s wrist. The same thing happened with the other hand. Holding the defendant’s wrists, he pushed him forward and around the front of the truck, getting both of them out of traffic. At this point, his upper body is leaning forward, when he notices the defendant cock his head back. He ducks his head and closes his eyes, and the defendant butts the top of his forehead.
(Throughout some of this, I glanced at the defense table and noticed Skippy the defense lawyer was looking at his partner and making a “can you believe this nonsense?” face, presumably for our benefit.)
The cop then let go of one of the defendant’s wrists and called for backup. First on the scene was Officer Delgado from the neighboring suburb of Brixton. He helped Reyes get control of the defendent. Then he looked at Reyes and said “Dude, you’re bleeding.” (That sounds like hearsay to me, but the defense lawyer didn’t object, perhaps because Delgado was talking about Reyes, whose very next statement was that he touched his head and got blood on his fingers.)
Reyes was picked up by an ambulance and taken to the hospital. He had an injury requiring three stitches on the crown of his head. He never noticed any injuries to the defendant.
Throughout all this, the young lady prosecutor had gotten pretty excited a few times, and went through some of the questions kind of fast. Also, after a couple of the objections from the other side, she resumed questioning too soon and cut off the judge.
Now it was time for Skippy the defense lawyer to conduct his cross exam. He’s a young guy who looked awkward in an expensive-looking suit, and he had that “kid trying to act important” demeanor, like one of my doctor’s medical students trying to give me a stern lecture about why I should lose some weight. (I call them Skippy too.)
He didn’t accomplish much that I could see. He asked a few questions about an article of the defendant’s clothing. He also managed to point out that grabbing the defendant’s wrists that way wasn’t part of a cop’s takedown training. I think he wanted us to believe the cop was lying, but I figured Officer Reyes was just inexperienced. There was a re-direct and a re-cross, but nothing interesting came up that I could spot.
All in all, the cop’s story was a tale of a rookie cop who mishandled a confrontational person and got injured.
The next witness was officer Delgado from Brixton. He arrived after the headbutt, but what he says he saw backed up what Reyes said, including the lack of injury to the defendent. He agreed that he helped cuff the defendant. On cross, Skippy the defense lawyer asked if he was friends with Officer Reyes. Delgado said he was, and Skippy tried to make something of it. Delgado then said he considers all cops his friends. So Skippy tried to make something of that too.
Then the prosecution rested.
We had lunch, and the usual march out to the parking lot for the smokers. Ah, fresh air. Only slightly tinged with smoke.
I chatted a bit with one of the deputies. I was curious, because I had always thought the county police were addressed as “Deputy,” but I’d noticed that the court staff referred to them as sheriffs. He said that since the official title was “Deputy Sheriff,” either was correct. (I figure it always pays to know these things so I can be polite if I get stopped.)
As a group, we-the-jury are in rather good spirits, cracking jokes and giggling a lot. I feel a little bad for the defendant knowing that he can hear the giggling and laughing as we come out into court prepared to judge his fate, but that’s the way it is. The most important thing for all of us right now—and the one thing we have in common—is the one thing we can’t talk about. So we talk about silly stuff.
Now it was time for the defense to put on their case. The first witness was the defendant himself, Jose, questioned by Skippy’s larger and more imposing partner. Jose pretty much has to testify in order to get his version of events in front of us. In interrogations on NYPD Blue, the cops would always tell the suspect he should talk in order to get his version of the story out. I’m sure it’s often true, but this is the place to do it.
Jose is a little confused by the process of testifying, and I think he’s facing a language barrier, but he tells a pretty good story. The difference between his and Officer Reyes’ version of events begins after he gives the cop his license and insurance. He tells us the cop walks away and sits in his car a while.
Jose says he was upset because of the way the cop followed him for several blocks instead of pulling him over right away. He says he felt “judged”. I don’t understand what he means.
(I know that minorities are sometimes followed by cops when they’re in the “wrong” neighborhood, so that could be what he means. That may be how he felt, but I doubt that’s what happened. Hybernia is not the wrong suburb for Mexicans.)
When the cop came back to the side of the truck, Jose admits he asked if he was stopped because he’s Mexican. At that point the cop started swearing, reached in to the truck, and grabbed Jose’s jacket with his left hand. He also took his right hand and pressed his fingers hard into Jose’s neck.
To illustrate the confrontation, the defense lawyer brought Jose out in front of the bench and the jury, just like the cop. He had Jose go through the cop’s actions, while he played Jose’s part. It was a little like one of those weird Daily Show interviews where the interviewer talks the unwitting subject of the interview into some confusing roll-playing act.
The lawyer, however, handled it like a machine. After every little bit of action, he would stop and accurately call out something like “Let the record show that the witness has indicated that the officer used his left hand to grab the right lapel of the witness’s jacket and then the witness indicated that the officer placed the index and middle fingers of this right hand against the left side of the witness’s neck.” He never confused left and right or who was who.
Anyway, as the cop pulled at him, Jose unbuckled his seat-belt, and then the cop, still swearing wildly, pulled him out of the truck and threw him against the fender and pinned him there. The cop swung at him and grazed his face. He swung again, and Jose grabbed his hand. At that point, the cop headbutted him in the face. Jose essentially ceased struggling at this point. The cop cuffed him. Another cop showed up and helped put him in the car, telling him “Don’t fuck with the police.”
(The blond prosecutrix objected to this as hearsay, but was overruled, I guess because “Don’t fuck with the police” is a command, not a statement of fact subject to jury evaluation.)
Jose went on to say he was bleeding a lot from the nose, and during the trip to the police station and then the hospital, the blood got all over his sweatshirt. That sweatshirt, however, was taken when he returned to the police station, which explains why there’s no blood on his shirt in the police photos taken later.
Then it’s time for the cross, performed by the male prosecutor.
He starts out by spending a lot of time going over the period during which the officer Reyes was following Jose, and tries to trip him up on whether he was looking at the road or at the cop behind him, but it comes across as word games to me.
He also manages to trip Jose up on the time/speed/distance aspects of the story. That doesn’t mean much to me because most people are very bad at estimating stuff like that. Also, I felt that Jose’s testimony was was more accurate in this respect than Officer Reyes’s.
Finally, the prosecutor does get the defendant to admit he knew he was breaking the law by driving without a mirror or front license, but I so don’t care. We’ve all done something like that. (It will make more sense to me later.)
In both direct and cross examination, Jose has testified that he started bleeding after the headbutt and continued to bleed at the scene, in the police car, at the police station, in the ambulance, and at the hospital, during which time he received no help from the police. The paramedics on the ambulance wiped his face but otherwise did nothing to help him.
I had expected that the prosecutor would rip Jose to pieces (there’s a reason why it’s usually a bad idea for a defendant to testify) but he holds up very well and never moves off his story. He seems to have a little bit of a language problem, but what he says makes sense. His lawyers must believe it too, because they ask no questions on re-direct.
The judge had listed several doctors as witnesses, and I think the defense had told us we’d hear from them. I was looking forward to it, because the prosecutor really got into the issue of the defendant’s nosebleed. I was starting to understand why it was important.
The extent of Jose’s injuries has become a key point of difference between the stories, and one the doctors might be able to resolve. If a doctor remembers a lot of blood, or if a doctor looks at Jose’s medical records and says there would have been profuse bleeding, then that makes the cops into liars and conspirators, and that sounds like a hell of a lot of reasonable doubt.
This could be exciting.
But it isn’t. The defense rests without calling any more witnesses. The trial is over.
We’ll get closing arguments tomorrow and then the jury will begin deliberations.
I head home a little confused, but generally believing that the defendant seemed credible and well-spoken. His narrative is more unusual than the officer’s, but this whole case has been unusual, in the sense that most cases plea out rather than go to trial. I also think I see a small problem with the officer’s testimony.
[Tomorrow: Jury Duty, Day 3: Verdict.]