My courthouse experiences

My experience as a juror was actually pretty interesting. The legal system fascinates me. I’ve done a small amount of legal analysis for anti-spam cases, and I find the structure and rules is intriguing.

During jury selection, the case was only described as “petty theft” but there were some hints as to what was going on. One guy was excused for saying “under $400, who’s the victim, I’ll write them a check! What a waste of time for so little money.”

There was also a potential juror who found it difficult to answer any questions. Most of her answers were long and rambling. When she couldn’t find the words, she had to describe something she’d seen on TV that she seemed to think was relevant. During one part of the questioning she seemed to be concerned that the other jurors would bully her into changing her vote during deliberations. It seems that she was a fan of 12 Angry Men and was concerned that deliberations would go on for a very long time.

I was relieved when the Judge dismissed that juror. If only because she seemed unable to comprehend basic questions and was rambling. I am sure had she stayed on the jury deliberations would have been very, very long.

The jury itself was surprisingly educated and professional. There was a civil engineer, a chemical engineer, a biotech person who now writes technical manuals for a biotech company – and that was just the women!

Jury selection took Monday afternoon, and we had to come back on Tuesday for seating of the alternates as well as the case.  Tuesday I showed up at the courthouse, as told around 10am. Alternate juror selection went quickly and then opening statements started.

The prosecuting attorney was young and energetic. Just what you expect from a young attorney, really. During his opening statement he explained the structure of the case. Seems that a passenger on an incoming flight left her bag on the plane. In the few minutes (maybe 15 -20 by my guess) it took for her to get the bag back, $65 in cash had been pilfered from it.

It was clear that the gate staff was busy, incoming plane was late and they were rushing to get it cleaned and turned around as fast as possible. The bag had been turned into the staff but was just tossed onto the jetway. Once she realized she’d left the bag on the plane, just the wrong side of security, the passenger went to the luggage lost and found. The jet was actually at the gate right outside the lost and found, so the clerk ran up to the plane, talked to the staff, found the bag and took it back to the passenger. When she opened it, the money was gone.

The prosecutions case was simple, talk to the passenger, talk to the luggage lost and found clerk, the gate personnel and the cleaning crew for the plane. Trace the steps of the bag from the plane back to the passenger. The defendant was one of the cleaning crew, who had found the bag and turned it into her supervisor who’d turned it over to the gate crew.

During part of the testimony there were multiple translators in the courtroom. The woman spoke tagalog and she had a translator sitting at her shoulder the whole time. Her supervisor spoke spanish, and when he testified he had a translator. It was interesting to watch the translations happening.

The prosecutor walked through the witnesses, including airline employees who’d handled the bag and the service employees who had cleaned the plane. One of the managers of the service company also testified that the cleaner had told him she stole $65 out of the bag.

The last witness the  prosecution was the officer who had investigated the case on the stand. The defense was setting us up for a defense that his client had confessed but that she was under duress and the cop ‘forced’ it out of her. He was a pretty big guy, and she was a small filipino woman so it wasn’t out of the question. However, he was very believable on the stand. The prosecutor walked him through what he was wearing (plain clothes, jeans and a polo shirt), if he had a gun (he had one but in a bag, not on his body) and a badge (in the bag with the gun). It seemed unlikely he actually forced a false confession.

Then it was the defense’s turn. Their only witness was the defendant herself. She did have a translator present, but also spoke and understood English. In fact, she often answered her attorney’s questions in English before the translator had finished the translation. Her lawyer walked her through part of her testimony. Eventually we broke for an afternoon break.

The break lasted 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to. When we finally filed back into the courtroom there were “proof of jury service” forms on the chairs. I said to the juror next to me that this was great news and we were done. She looked at me like I was nuts.

The long delay during the break was the defendant changing her plea to guilty and working out stuff with the lawyers and the judge. We were done and free. The jury filed out and the bailiff told us we could wait and talk with the attorneys about what happened.

We had a brief conversation with the attorneys. The prosecutor apologized for us having to spend 2 days on a case with so little dollar value. But, the way I see it, is that the woman had clearance for security areas on planes. While I am a bit suspicious of the security theater that goes on with liquids and shoes for passengers I also think that there is a need for airport security. Having clearance for the far side of the security fence is a privilege and if you’re going to be stupid and steal money then what other stupid things might you do? There’s also the issue of pilfering stuff from luggage and I think that baggage handlers who do pilfer should be prosecuted.

All in all an interesting experience. I don’t want to do it again soon, though.


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