adventures in civic duty 3/21 '20
I did jury duty a few weeks ago. It was a rape case, and there were five charges in total. We were able to only deliver one verdict, guilty on the charge of traumatic injury to an intimate partner. The case was complicated by having only a single witness, the victim, who also was rather unreliable. She admitted freely that she did not remember many of the events of that day, and what she did remember, she wasn't sure of their order. Both people involved had been smoking meth, which was used as a way to further cast doubt upon her testimony, despite clear instructions during jury selection that we should not let that bias us. Three of the four charges which we were hung were overwhelmingly tilted towards guilty, where one juror held out because she felt that the witness was not reliable at all, again despite instructions regarding the single witness rule. The one charge where we were definitely not close to any consensus was the actual rape charge.
It's difficult not to come away from a trial like that feeling that the system is tilted away from justice for the more vulnerable population, or feeling that, by thinking that she could have gotten a more just verdict if she had been a more reliable witness, it's not that far from saying that the victim didn't do enough, which is certainly not compassionate. There was no question that the defendant was a manipulative creep, in addition to his prior history, including a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence.
After the trial, the judge asked the jury if we would stay behind to speak with both lawyers in order to talk about the case and ask any questions or give any feedback. Half of us did it, and I'm glad that I did so. During deliberations, the court recorder came in to read testimony back for us, and she commented that it was a dream trial in the sense that both lawyers were not only on their best behavior but actually worked well with each other. I noticed how remarkably civil and helpful they were, a far cry from the scripted undercutting and backbiting you see on television. I asked the public defender how well-funded his department was, and he said that he would only consider working for Santa Clara County, San Francisco, or New York.