Jury Duty

I was selected for jury duty yet again. No big deal, I have no problem doing my civic duty. But I am going to predict here that I will never be selected to actually sit on a jury again. The following story is part of it...but a very small part. A lot of it has to do with my contempt for the ethics and trust ability...or lack thereof...of our police force. I will never forget doing all their work for them...we knew who stole the checks, when and where...we knew where she forged our names, when, and had the canceled checks in our hands. We told them where she lived. She should have been charged with theft and 11 separate accounts of fraud. They never even knocked on her door. I spit in their face.

Be that as it may, I had always wanted to sit on a jury. I was always dismissed, usually for cause...my religious upbringing and feelings towards alcohol usually the reasons why. Fair enough. Once I was actually empaneled on a jury. They did the questioning a bit different...the judge asked the questions and he asked the entire potential jury at one time. I was excited.

I listened to the case. By the letter of the law there was no doubt the guy was guilty...even he did not deny that. However, his defense was extenuating circumstances. I thought there was some validity to the defense but wanted to think about it. To the best of my recollection, here is the case:

Charge: Felon in possession of a firearm.

Events nobody disputes: Man was working on a fishing boat for several months. When it was time to come home his girlfriend was scheduled to go up and pick him up. She had put together a deal with her father-in-law to purchase the rifle she still had from her, and he lived in Warrenton. She drove up to Warrenton that day, the father in law was not home. She continued on and picked up her boyfriend. With her were 2 sick kids.

They began to drive back to St. Helens. For those unaware of the geography it is a 1-1/2 to 2 hour drive. On the way the two got in a fight. She stopped the pickup in Columbia City, about 2 - 3 miles from home. It was a wet, windy, rainy night (who saw that one coming?) She got out and started walking home. He got in the drivers seat and drove home with the kids. Well, close to home...1 block from home, which was also 1 block from the police station he was pulled over for having a tail light out. The officer saw the rifle in the gun rack and the arrest was instantaneous.

Okay, the facts are pretty clear. There was a rifle in the vehicle with a felon. He was guilty according to the law. I will not argue that. He put himself in a bad, bad situation...it was not the first time he and his girlfriend fought, he did get into a vehicle with a weapon, and there is no question the police already did not like this guy and would go out of their way to get him. Nor is this guy one of the leading lights of our fair city. Be that as it may I can certainly understand why someone would not want to walk 2 or 3 miles in the dark with no sidewalks when it is rainy and windy with 2 sick kids.

Where this story takes a dark turn is in the jury room. Step one was to select a foreman. She was selected because she had once sat on a jury. Okay. Step two was...wait for it...a vote. It came back 9 - 3. Why did you vote not guilty? the three were asked. 2 of us said we wanted to talk about a couple things to do with the case first. Jury foreman said "What is there to talk about? He had a gun."

Another guy said he wanted to talk about what constituted "possession". He told how he keeps a gun by his back door to shoot coyotes or whatever it was that prey on his chickens. He said, "You mean to tell me if my son in law is a felon and walks in the front door when I am by the back door that he is in possession of that gun?"

And she said yes as did several others. Oh, he was pretty miffed. And argued the point. And in the next vote he would still be voting not guilty.

Another guy simply said he wanted to think about it. During the discussion, several alternative plans of action were discussed the villain could have taken.

"He should have never gotten in that truck."

"When she got out I would have thrown the gun beside the road."

Are these people retarded? Here is a guy been away from home for several months. He has nowhere else to go. He is getting in that rig. So would you and so would I.

And throw the gun out by the road? Besides probably being a violation of multiple laws, that is downright stupid economically and dangerous for all concerned...I can only imagine if some punk kid hopped up on crack found it. That would be fun.

Was it a bad situation? Absolutely. Were there ways around it? I suspect so. Is this guy smart enough to come up with them? I am thinking not.

So we took another vote and it was 12-3 again.

"Why are you voting not guilty?" Well, the one guy was voting that way because he thought the interpretation of possession was too broad, the second guy wanted to hear what other people thought and I was still the third one.

I, of course, was not settled in my mind. Nobody questioned the facts. But I wanted to think about the extenuating circumstances. Did they justify the activity? And it was not as if the gun was any more dangerous than a baseball bat at that point...there was no ammunition for it found in the vehicle which lends some credibility to the idea that the gun was intended to be sold which would have kept him from being in contact with it. And we are talking about 10 - 15 years of this guys life. I am probably going to end up on guilty but I think a decade or decade and a half of this guys life is worth taking a few minutes to think about the ramifications.

" Well, why don't some of you tell us why you think he should be found guilty?"

I would think the answers would have to do with the dangers of a felon possessing a gun or the laws against it. I would think wrong.

The foreman was so anti-gun that as soon as the word gun was mentioned this guy was guilty in her mind and there were at least 2 other people who felt the same way. So there are 3 people who were prejudiced against this guy from the start. A few people heard the facts and with the law being the way it is were voting their conscience. I have no problem with them whatsoever. I have already admitted that in a vacuum that is the correct vote. He was a convicted felon. He was the only adult in a vehicle with a firearm. Guilty. I can live with that.

But I can't live with the results of the next vote. 11-1 for guilty.

It is not that 11 people THOUGHT he was guilty...it was that 1 person admitted he was voting "the way most people seem to think", the possession guy changed his vote "to get it over with", and one guy was voting guilty because...well, he had a baseball game in Salem that night and wanted to make sure he got there on time.

There were a lot of good reasons to send this idiot up the river. First off, he was pretty much the definition of trailer park trash. He had a felony on his record, a white-trash girlfriend where their relationship seemed predicated on not getting along, and he put himself in a bad situation. But he was being sent up the river because some people hate guns, one guy needed to go to a baseball game (and I should mention he said the arguments about extenuating circumstances led him towards a not guilty), 2 people were going with the majority...

To this day I have hated that verdict. And again...I stress the point I PROBABLY would have come around and voted guilty. But I believed then and believe now more conversation and thought needed to be put into the decision. When you are dealing with a decision that affects about 20% of someones expected life span I think it is a responsibility to take enough time to make sure you are making the right decision. Making the right decision for the wrong reasons is not justice. Making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons is borderline criminal. Not taking the time to figure out if the decision you made is right or wrong...well, I wonder how the guys who thought the circumstances meant he should be not guilty but voted with the majority rest easy in their consciences. I voted not guilty and our failure to take enough time to really talk things over haunts me to this day.

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