Let me begin with the pacing and the schedule.
The pacing looked like this:
Tuesday[EDIT: was originally Thursday, but ana pointed out that couldn't be right] morning, report to court at 9. Watch a video on the importance of jury service. Get called in to a trial around 10.15. Go through a round of voire dire. Here in NY, they pull up 20 people and question them and then kick everyone out of the courtroom while they confer as to which of the 20 they want to keep. (California's process is quite different). So they questioned us for a while - the judge asked me if i'd ever practiced law - and then they kicked us out and sent us away for lunch.
After lunch we were brought back in. 3 of the 20 were on the jury (I was one of them). They collected some information from us and sent us home; come back thursday noon.
Thursday noon, they hadn't finished voir dire. Take a long lunch, be back at 2.15.
At 2.35 they brought us back to the jury room. Around 3 they told us that they had finished selecting the jury but not the alternates so go away, come back the next morning at 10.
Trial actually started the next morning around 11. At about 12:45 they told us to go away for the afternoon. (To be fair, this was them being nice; juror #2 had a family graduation to go to).
Monday we were supposed to show up at 10. They brought us into the jury room around 10.15. A juror was late. We got started around 11.
We broke for lunch at 1.
We came back at 2. The last prosecution witness finished around 3.30. They sent us home for the day.
Tuesday morning we were supposed to report at 10. We got into the courtroom around 11.15. The prosecution rested. The defense rested. We got defense closing arguments and were then ushered out of court for a while.
We were brought back in for prosecution closing arguments. These were interrupted when the ADA couldn't figure out how to get the video projector to work, so we were kicked back out to the jury room while waiting for this to get figured out. Then they brought us back in for the rest of his arguments, at which point we were sent away for lunch.
After lunch the judge read jury instructions. We were all pissed; since they'd ordered sandwiches for lunch for us which were in the jury room, couldn't we have gotten the instructions and then deliberated over lunch?
New York court procedures are the soul of inefficiency.
Let me continue with a rant about the attorneys.
The ADA was green.
He was clearly very, very, very nervous during voir dire.
His questioning was ... problematic.
When you're questioning a witness, you want to lay out your questions in a logical order, so that the answers tell a story to the jury in a fashion that the jury can follow. Particularly on Friday, he wasn't doing that; he was jumping from fact to fact and from time to time with no discernable pattern, he kept reaching back to previously discussed facts to ask questions he'd forgotten to ask when he was on that topic, etc. I had to struggle to resist the feeling of "holy shit i could do his job better than he does" combined with "and these fuckers wouldn't hire me". He got better with time, but even then he had very low charisma, and in his closing arguments he put forward as the only possible explanations two theories of the case both of which the jury rejected in favor of another one which was equally helpful to him.
The defense attorney had nothing and so spent the entire time trying to confuse the jury about irrelevancies. My favorite moment of the whole trial came when he asked a witness what the ADA had told the witness. (Objection!)
He also was really getting under the ADA's skin, which was entertaining to watch but also was sort of irritating; to some degree it was the ADA being oversensitive but to some degree the defense attorney really was being an asshole. And since he was just trying to confuse us, the jury got increasingly irritated at him. Someone in the jury room commented that he clearly didn't realize we're all new yorkers and so can't be bamboozled by fast talk because we're so used to it that we'll see through it.
A special note about trial technique.
They teach you in trial practice classes to find creative ways to repeat things. The jury will do better at remembering things if you do this, and it will set your version of events in their mind more strongly, making it harder for the other side to dislodge them.
The ADA did that, as he should. He did it in a really pointless and irritating way.
The case involved events which took place on a particular city block. His primary witness explained what happened. The ADA then had him draw a map of the block and mark on the map what happened, repeating his story. The ADA then brought out pictures of the area and had the witness discuss the pictures and whether they showed where certain events happened. He then showed security camera video from local stores showing some, but not all, of the events. Then he showed still photos taken from the security cameras.
OK, great, repetition. But none of the repetition added anything new. The right way to do this is to have your repetition mix in new elements with the old elements; that way the jury stays attentive and isn't left feeling like they've been beaten over the head with a baseball bat.
And then there's the meat of the case.
The story the prosecutor told during an excruciating day and a half of testimony was this:
- two uniformed officers were hanging out in front of the subway stop on st. nicholas between 190 and 191.
- they saw a dude walking down the street carrying two duffel bags. (this isn't unusual, says the primary witness, because it's a dominican neighborhood and dominicans are always going to the airport with big bags).
- when he saw the police officers, he got a wide-eyed deer-in the headlight look and turned around and walked back up the block, looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. he turned the corner onto 191.
- they followed him about 30 seconds later, got to the corner, peeked around. he'd stopped halfway down the block, but when he saw them he got moving again. (video shows he looked over his shoulder 7 times on 191). he got to Wadsworth and turned left.
- they let him go
- about fifteen minutes later, they're back at the corner of st. nicholas and 190. same dude is there. duffel bags are on the ground. he sees them and starts walking away.
- they decide to cite him for littering. they walk up to him, he's clearly nervous when they interrogate him, so they frisk him. (on the stop-and-frisk report they say they were frisking him as a suspected terrorist).
- they open the bags. (because if you're stopping a suspected terrorist, OF COURSE you search the bags without calling in the bomb squad).
- inside the bags they find what appear to be 29 bricks of cocaine.
- subsequent lab reports show that only one of them is real.
the defense called no witnesses.
So we go back to deliberate.
In new york law, the crime for which the man was charged requires proof of these elements:
- knowingly and unlawfully
- a narcotic
- weighing 8 oz or more
But did he know what he was carrying? He's clearly a courier. (The prosecution argued that he was clearly either a duped buyer or someone who was about to sell in a scam). A lot of people thought that the way he turned and walked away - the panic he felt at encountering the police - prove that he knew what was in the bag, and i feel like that's enough to get beyond "more likely than not" but not enough to get to "beyond a reasonable doubt." I expressed it as such; I believed he knew but believed there were reasonable other interpretations which the prosecution hadn't disproven.
Someone asked what theory the defense ha dput forward and I wanted to slap him.
What eventually got me, though, was this:
there were 28 fake bricks and 1 real brick. Anyone taking delivery of that is going to want to test it. The guy making the delivery had damned well better be able to provide the real brick for testing, as otherwise he's unlikely to survive the encounter. But that requires that he know what he's carrying.
After the trial I found a few press reports from the time of the event. They pretty much unanimously call the dude the dumbest dope dealer ever. And while I think he's a courier, I pretty much agree. Dude was a moron. The cops weren't terribly bright, either. One attorney was pretty bad, the other attorney was an asshole who probably did as well as he could while playing a terrible hand.
The whole thing was an utter fucking waste of everyone's time.
There's no point to sending this guy to Riker's; he's already been replaced with another pawn. The people of New York are no safer for this trial than we were before the man was in jail. Lots of public money was spent to no real effect.
Can we please just legalize this stuff already?
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