Monday, August 13, 2012

Trials and Jury Duty

The only people I know who ever want to be on juries are mystery writers. I’m actually excited about being notified to be a jury candidate later in August. In fact, I spent parts of four days several weeks ago sitting in on some of the testimony for four felony trials. The trial I followed the closest was a woman accused of theft and forgery. She worked for a safe house program and was accused of stealing money from undocumented Hispanic women who had been abused, spoke little English and were seeking legal assistance. The total amount of money taken was approximately seven thousand dollars, which may not seem like a lot, but was significant to people who primarily worked as house cleaners for between seven and ten dollars an hour. The defendant was in a position of trust, spoke Spanish and took advantage of people who had little education, didn’t understand the American legal system and feared calling attention to themselves in their undocumented state. The defendant was not supposed to take any money from clients of the safe house. The victims testified they had given cash and money orders to the defendant but received no legal services. The most damning evidence came from the testifying detective showing bank records of money orders deposited in the defendants account. The defendant was found guilty by the jury. One of the procedural matters I learned about concerned the selection of jurors. Twenty-five jurors were called. The defense and prosecution could then interview and dismiss six each, leaving thirteen. All thirteen went through the trial and before the jury was sent to the juror room to deliberate, the judge dismissed the thirteenth (the alternate). In a sexual abuse case I heard testimony about, the victim, working with the detective, made a pretext telephone call to the suspect. This was a call that was recorded and the victim confronted the suspect with her statement of being sexually abused. This along with abusive text messages sent from the defendant to the victim and testimony by the victim were instrumental in convicting that defendant. An interesting week for me learning more about the judicial system. All helpful background material for a mystery writer.

Mike Befeler

1 comment:

Jean Henry Mead said...

Mike, I've always wanted to serve on a jury so I could write about what goes on in the jury room, but the closest I've come to it was reporting on murder trials as a news reporter and interviewing suspects and trail lawyers. Enjoy the experience, which can often be boring. :)