...until I was put on a jury.
To be honest, I never expected to be selected. For one thing, I am a white, male, middle-class English-speaking, college-educated registered Republican. All of these things combined make me an ideal juror for the prosecution, so therefore I would be unacceptable to the defense, especially when the defendant is a black working class female. Secondly, although I have never worked for a law enforcement agency, my wife worked for the state prison system for a year, and for a local college police department for three years. I have a casual acquaintance with several members of the local police and sheriff's departments. The case in question involved battery on a sheriff's deputy and resisting arrest. I didn't know the officers in question, but I made it clear that I was friendly towards the law enforcement community.
I was selected anyway, along with two other men and four women (a six person jury, plus one alternate). All of them were white, and about half of us were working professionals.
(A sidebar: one potential juror, the only black woman in our group, was dismissed because she is a Jehovah's Witness, and according to her, it is against her religion to pass judgment on others. That task is up to God. I don't know if that's 100% true or if the woman was just trying to get out of jury duty, but the judge excused her anyway.)
The judge explained (at 10:30am) that this was going to be a one-day trial, and helped prepare us for our job. The defendant, a Ms. Clark, was charged with battery on a police officer, two counts of resisting arrest, criminal trespass, and disorderly conduct. We were given a notebook explaining the formal charges and our responsibilities. The prosecutor (a heavy set woman with a bad hairdo and sensible shoes) gave her opening statement, and then the defense attorney (a well-dressed black man originally from Sierra Leone, with a strong African accent) gave his statement. With that, we adjourned for lunch.
I forgot how much I like downtown Indianapolis, especially in the summertime. There was a farmer's market on the square across from the courthouse, and the circle was packed with workers on their lunch break. I sat on the monument steps for a half hour and read the paper with my back against the warm limestone. When I returned and court was back in session, we learned the particulars of the case.
The defendant took her Mercedes to a local repair shop, J Frank Motors on June 19, 2003, for some work (repair/replace the rear differential). According to Clark, she picked the car up on June 23, paid the service manager over $1000 in cash, got a handwritten receipt, and took the car away. Within a matter of days, the rear end locked up again, and she had the car towed back to J Frank Motors late in the afternoon on June 27.
Now we get to the interesting part.
Clark spoke directly to Jan Frank, owner of the shop. She wanted him to refund her money, and redo the repair. Frank disputed the validity of her “receipt”. They got into a long argument, during which, according to Clark, he threatened to sic the Russian Mafia on her (she then started speaking Russian to him, which surprised him to say the least), and according to Frank, she started coming on to him (his exact words: she started acting “hot” towards him). At this point, the shop was closed, and Frank wanted to go home and discuss this on Monday. Clark wouldn’t leave until it got resolved. When tempers started flaring, one of them called the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. An officer Smith arrived, saw that this was a civil matter (even though the parties in question were acting in a decidedly uncivil manner), and shortly left, with the understanding of all concerned that Frank would provide Clark with a rental car.
After the officer left, things start to get a little dicey. Frank asked for Clark’s drivers license and for a credit card. The car rental agency needed it for the rental agreement. She wouldn’t provide it, so she was not able to get a rental. Frank then offered to loan her one of his cars from inventory for the weekend. According to Frank, she wanted a better car than what he was offering, something equal to or better than the car she came in with. This time, it was Clark who called the cops. Smith returned, and Officer Constable (his real name) was close on his heels.
The cops weren’t interested in mediating the situation. Frank asked Clark to leave, she didn’t, Frank asked the cops to remove her. They escorted her (just walking with her, no physical contact or restraint) out of the office and to the curb in front of the property. Once to the sidewalk, she sat down and said she’ll wait there all weekend, and she hopes a car hits her so her family can sue Frank. Shaking their heads, no doubt, the cops returned to Frank’s office to wrap things up. Within a few minutes, Clark comes walking back in, saying she’s going to call the consumer watchdog at the local TV station, grabs a phone book and starts leafing through it.
Enough is enough. The officers close the phone book and tell her that if she does not leave right now, she will be arrested. She refuses, so Constable gets his cuffs out and grabs Clark’s arm. Clark pulls away and backs into Smith. Clark then drops to the ground, kicking and screaming. She manages to kick Constable in the knee, hand, and groin, before he sprays her with his chemical spray, subdues her, and cuffs her. A medic was called, which is standard procedure when someone is sprayed. Clark was also complaining that she has asthma, and the stress of the dispute had triggered an asthma attack, exacerbated by the chemical spray. She was transported to the local hospital for treatment, and according to Clark, was admitted overnight.
Battery on a police officer
2 counts Resisting Arrest (resisting Constable, and resisting Smith)
For a one-day trial, this thing dragged on and on (kind of like this journal entry). Jan Frank was the first witness, and between the prosecution and defense examining, cross-examining, objecting, reading transcripts, being admonished by the judge, and excusing us for a half hour to discuss things that were off the record (mostly regarding the admittance of evidence), his testimony ran on until nearly 4:00pm. There were the two officers, at about an hour and a half each, then we had a dinner break.
(I’ll say this much for the Marion County court system: when they buy their jurors pizza for dinner, they spring for the good stuff. Three large pies from Bazbeaux, probably the best pizzeria in the city. Since I don’t eat pepperoni, and didn’t care for bacon, I managed to get almost an entire veggie pizza to myself.)
After dinner, it was the defense’s turn. Their only witness was Ms. Clark. She wasn’t doing herself any favors by testifying. Although the general story was the same, the details were so different as to cast serious doubt as to her credibility. She mentioned a service manager who no longer worked for Frank, a hospital stay for which she had no paperwork, a medical exam from the prior year that did not have any merit on the case, and the details of her arrest were literally physically impossible. The prosecution punched holes in her story like Swiss cheese. I know we aren’t supposed to form opinions about the defendant’s guilt or innocence until we start deliberating, but it was all over but the shouting.
Finally, at 9:00, the jury was allowed to deliberate. Three of the charges were no-brainers: disorderly conduct (she was yelling and screaming), criminal trespass (repeatedly asked by the owner to leave) and one count of resisting arrest (pulling away from Constable, flailing about when he tried to cuff her). The second count of resisting arrest (Smith) was not so clear, and we decided there was not enough evidence to prove she did so. That left the battery on a police officer. In addition to the verbal testimony of the officers, there were several photos, allegedly of Constable’s knee and finger. The pictures were badly out of focus so I could barely tell what they were. Also, the medic treated Constable’s finger before the picture was taken, so you couldn’t see the injury. On top of that, there was no way to tell when these pictures were taken. For all I knew, Constable cut his finger in his basement woodshop and scuffed his knee skateboarding. I decided to not consider the photos in my decision, and just went based on the testimony of the officers.
After a half-hour, we had reached our verdict.
Disorderly Conduct: Guilty
Criminal Trespass: Guilty
Resisting Arrest (Constable): Guilty
Resisting Arrest (Smith): Not Guilty
Battery on a Police Officer: Guilty
(Her sentencing isn’t scheduled for another six weeks, but no matter what the court gives her, she’s managed to screw herself worst of all. The first three are misdemeanors, but the battery charge is a class D felony. Clark is a third-year law student (that fact makes her behavior all the more stupid). The felony conviction means she cannot hold a law license in Indiana.)
The judge finally dismissed us at 9:45pm, over 12 hours after we first were called into the courtroom. The wheels of justice may move slowly, but the wheels of my car were spinning fast and furious on my way home that night.