Monday, February 16, 2009

Of Course We Want To Hear Your Witness (Jury Duty, part II)

If you've never sat in a jury box, you've never lived. Sneak in sometime and try one out. To get a chair that comfortable, you normally need to take extreme measures, such as a haircut. It was a three-day reenactment of Twelve Squirmy Men. One of the chairs was squeaky, and none of us knew which one.

We still don't.

Did you know that all courtrooms in America have the same basic layout? The idea is that the judge can look across at the witness and see the jury at the same time. Why he wanted to look at us is unclear, unless he was trying to figure out where that squeaking came from, or to see if the giant Ten Commandment tablets topple over onto whichever one of us was most unjust. (Not that he was watching any of us -- the judge told us early on that he liked jury trials because he could get other work done and only had to pay attention when someone made noise. He had a big computer monitor on his desk.)

The Lawyers Make Their Cases

At this point, both lawyers are prepping a long cavalcade of math and physics and accident reconstruction and extremely depressing photos. But first, we're going to put the defendant through the ringer!

Honestly, I didn't know the plaintiff's lawyer could do that. I figured the Fifth Amendment protected them against this kinda thing. But I'm not a lawyer, and none of the real lawyers objected.

Prosecutor: How fast were you going?
Defendant: About 40.
Prosecutor: Were you tired?
Defendant: It was a long day.
Prosecutor: Why did you hit them with your car?
Defendant: I was having an affair with her husband and needed her out of the way because she knew I was laundering money through an IHOP syrup cartel to pay off my debt at the dog track and the baby she's carrying is mine.
Prosecutor: The prosecution rests.
Defense Attorney: Ummmm... objection.
Mystery Juror: *squeak squeak squeak*

Okay, no, some of that was made up. She really got off light: doing 40, exhausted but not sleepy, dark and rainy, never saw her, don't know why, not boinking the boyfriend. Not really sure why they bothered.

Then comes the plaintiff's accident reconstruction expert. The defense have one of their own, so we get settled in for some high-speed math.

His contention: The defendant was not moving at 40, but more like 25. She had plenty of time to stop. There is evidence she was turned backwards driving with her butt cheeks. The blue sweater she is wearing now is unflattering.

His problem: There is no obvious point of impact, just the positions of the victims after the accident, so he is free to pick any speed he wants and plot backwards.

His handicap: He sucks at applied physics. I can see that, and I'm a liberal arts major. If anyone wants to know the details why he's full of crap, let me know.

In any case, the lawyer is trying to show that there would have been plenty of time between when the plaintiff entered the range of the headlights and the time of impact for the defendant to swerve or stop.

One thing about this witness is that we saw a lot of photos of the accident site, including shots of the dead boy. Why are we seeing pictures of the dead boy? We all believe he's dead. Nothing about the way he's lying there tell us much about who was at fault. This reeks of the incessant appeals to emotion that permeate both cases. I'm more than a little disgusted by it.

When he first appears on screen, his mother breaks down, and that's the first time she's had a reaction to anything. I realize she doesn't speak English -- she's been sitting in this courtroom all these hours without a clue what's being said, and without warning a picture of her son lying dead in the gutter appears on the screen in front of her. It's extremely sad, and I start paying more attention to the two women at the center of this.

I'm not the most empathic person ever, but by the end of all this, I feel awful for both of them. The plaintiff doesn't know what's happening, but knows this all has to do with her son -- she must have been sitting there in a daze, reliving the whole thing in the midst of white noise with the occasional name she knows.

However, the defendant does understand every word, and she sits behind her desk, quiet and haunted. She is not only reliving it, she is listening to it described in mind-pounding detail, again and again. Whether we ultimately decide the accident was her fault or not, she did kill a boy with her car.

No wonder neither of them laughed at my joke about executives.

The defense makes basically the same argument, although with a slightly different conclusion: the defendant was driving properly and the plaintiff dragged her children into the street directly into the path of a moving car, and there was no time for a driver's reaction that would have saved anything. Stepping in front of a car is both negligent and a failure to yield the right of way. And there is no dependable evidence that suggests the defendant was driving with her butt.

With that, they turn it over to the jury. Showtime!

(to be concluded)

1 comment:

The Ridger, FCD said...

The Fifth Amendment prohibits you from being forced to testify, it doesn't mean you can't be asked to. Sometimes you want you to "get your side out there" and sometimes your lawyer even agrees; sometimes your lawyer is worried about the "what has she got to hide?" syndrome. Sometimes they hope for sympathy, or to undercut something the other side is saying.