Wednesday, October 06, 2004

meet the jury

in june, the supreme court issued a landmark ruling in the case blakely v washington:

The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in June involved the case of Ralph Blakely, who had pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping after abducting his estranged wife at gunpoint in 1998. He could have gotten up to 53 months under Washington law, but the judge concluded the crime was cruel enough to merit a 90-month term.

In throwing out the sentence, the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant's right to a jury trial requires that any factors essential to a sentence lengthier than what the state rules prescribe must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

you see, in the original washington guidelines, a judge alone was responsible for all sentencing decisions, including what aggravating factors should be added to increase a defendant's sentence. the blakely decision set a new precedent that all those factors had to be decided by a jury instead of the judge. as the link explains, the supreme court is right now deliberating follow-up cases to blakely to clarify whether the blakely decision also applies to federal sentencing guidelines in addition to state guidelines.

serendity part ii: this week i was selected to serve on the jury of the first "blakely case" in marion county. my case started this monday, just like the supreme court arguments in the blakely follow-ups.

in our case, the defendant had already been convicted of two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor (a class c felony; the difference between this and "molestation" is that the victim [effectively his grandson; he married the boy's grandmother even before the boy's conception and was the only grampa the boy knew] was older than 14 at the time). we were not retrying that case and didn't get to hear much about that case, only evidence that was tangetial to that case. so we were in a strange position of already knowing the guy was guilty and having to decide if he was extra guilty. most people i tell this to wonder why the original jury that convicted the guy in the first place didn't also decide this case. don't ask me, because that was one of many facts they didn't tell us.

the jury selection actually went pretty quickly. we didn't even enter the courtroom for voir dire until 10:30 and the jury was selected by lunchtime. i suspected that the attorneys just selected every potential juror who didn't immediately freak out at the idea of being on a "child molestor" case.

when we went to lunch, the bailiff escorted us out of the city-county building over to the city market (a very popular marketplace-like lunch spot downtown. almost like a huge food court), where he left us alone until it was time to reconvene. but one juror tried to run off immediately upon leaving the city-county building! that was a very stupid idea, since he'd been given plenty opportunity to get out of the jury: if he'd simply said when asked that he couldn't be impartial, he would've been let go... but oh no, he tries to be a rebel instead. i know they caught him quickly (before the lunch recess was over) and i heard that they had him arrested and threw him in lockup for contempt of court. so let that be a lesson to you: don't try to skip out on jury duty.

we were originally given four "aggravating factors" that the state wanted to prove, whittled down to three by the time we got to deliberations. these are not verbatim as i don't have the jury instructions in front of me, and to remove people's names:

1. the defendant poses a great risk of repeating his behavior because 20+ years ago he had also molested his stepson and/or he'd also molested his youngest (biological) son and/or he'd also molested his eldest (biological) son.

this was the trickiest of all the factors, because the prosecution really fuckled up this one. the state subpoenad both sons (now in their late 30s) and apparently intended to call them to the stand, but never bothered to talk to them personally about that. and when the sons showed up at the courthouse, the state discovered that the boys would not testify to their father having molested them. this was a big coup for the defense, who pulled the sons up on the stand to deny, under oath, that they'd been molested.

very damaging for the state, and eventually reference to the eldest son was removed from consideration, because the state had no evidence to suggest he'd been molested at all. however, the parents of the grandson did testify that the younger son had personally told them about him being molested, and that deteriorated into one side's word against the other. most of the jury seemed more moved by the parents' testimony and were convinced the son was lying, so in the end after much deliberation, we ruled yes for factor #1 as well as subpoint A (the stepson, who did go on the stand and testify to being molested all those years ago) and subpoint B (the biological son; this was the point that held up deliberations for some time, as a couple of us weren't as convinced as the rest; even though the point was effectively moot, we still apparently had to rule on each subpoint).

2. the crime was aggravated because the defendant was in a position of trust with the victim.

this was a no-brainer. the defendant was the only grandfather this kid ever knew and they were very close.

3. the crime was aggravated because the defendant engaged in extensive grooming of the victim.

in this context "grooming" meant that the defendant had basically spoiled the kid rotten in an attempt to butter him up before molesting him. the defendant bought all kinds of gifts for the victim, gave him $30-70 cash every week, took him fishing multiple times each week, and even asked him to look for internet porn. and not only did he show favoritism over all his other grandchildren (all girls), but he apparently only started paying attention to the boy once he hit puberty. after some deliberation we ended up all voting yes to this as well.

4. the defendant needs more rehabilitation than the current max sentence of 4 years (per count) would allow.

this was eventually stricken from the list of aggravating factors for us to decide. the state didn't even attempt to prove it. and how the hell could anyone prove such a thing beyond a reasonable doubt? pull in a bunch of experts about prison rehabilitation? it's basically unprovable; maybe with millions of dollars they could've made a good effort, but they didn't even try because there is no logical argument to prove such a thing.

i was glad the state revoked this one, because it is the only one i would've absolutely refused to vote yes for.

so the jury voted yes on everything they gave to us. at times i wondered if everyone didn't just want to believe all this stuff because the defendant was obviously scum. as one of the other jurors (the other big skeptic) said "the prosecution did such a poor job on this that i don't want to give them everything they ask for." and she had a point: the consensus on the jury was that both attorneys were terrible. but we didn't really give the state everything they asked for, because they had to remove remove a subpoint from factor #1 as well as remove factor #4 altogether.

i was probably the quietest person on the jury, a fact that did not escape others' notice. i was also probably the youngest by a few years. 4 men and 9 women (only one alterate, because of the juror who tried to flee). and there were a few characters, like the woman who claimed she had lost all sense of smell and taste in a head injury a year ago, and told us what local businesses have the dirtiest kitchens (her opinion: arby's is super clean; kfc is not. and don't buy any meat or fresh produce from meijer, because meijer is filthy).

lots of other craziness, like when the defendant claimed on the stand that the detective who'd interviewed him had cut up and rearranged the interview tape in order to incriminate him... that's quite a charge to unload on a cop, and it made him look rather foolish, even giving the state an opening to play more of the tape for us...

anyway, i could ramble on with little anecdotes but it's about time to go home, so i'm done blogging for now. drbmd and i are probably going to the movies tonight to see shaun of the dead, so that should be fun.

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