Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Val Thevictorian Tips the Scales of Justice

Order in the court! All rise. The honorable Mrs. Val Thevictorian will now continue with her story of courtroom intrigue. You may be seated.

Let's get down to brass tacks. I don't want to specify the nature of this case, but it is not funny in the least. I am not making light of the issue. Far from it. Sometimes, you gotta laugh to keep from crying. Or laugh after you are almost crying out loud in front of 70-something people. So bear with me. Let's just say this case involved a word that sounds like the shape of Lady Liberty, and a word that has its root in the sister city of Gomorrah. The prosecutor made that clear right up front. The incident allegedly occurred with a child who was then 9-10 years old. There would be four witnesses giving testimony. The child. The mother. The therapist who was told the details by the child (and a video of it), and the police officer who took the initial report. Let the record show that the plaintiff, the mother, and the defendant all had the same last name.

As with all jury proceedings, the attorneys first question the pool of peers to see if there is any reason they cannot be fair and impartial. From whether they are related to, or acquainted with, any of the parties involved. Then they inquire as to whether any of us have been party to an event such as the charges made against the defendant. With a case of this sensitive nature, we were instructed that we did not have to elaborate on our personal experiences. Simply raising a hand and giving the basics was okay. OR we could go to the bailiff individually during a break, and speak privately about our reservations of impartiality. The members of our group did not seem shy about sharing.

"I am a survivor of rape. I do not think I can be impartial."

"It happened to me. I think he is guilty."

"I am a victim of abuse. I don't think I can be fair."

"I put away my son for the same thing. He's in prison. I will not let it happen to somebody else's grandaughters."

"When I was a babysitter, it happened to me. I can't be fair."

Some of them were shaky. Some spoke with determination. But they all did exactly what the rule of law calls for, and informed the court that they could not give that man a fair trial if chosen. I was wondering from the beginning if I could be fair. Lefty had talked about going to a jury orientation, and a group where they heard evidence and decided if there was reason to go to trial. "Most of it was about sexual abuse. Child abuse. It would break your heart. It's hard to listen to that time after time."

"I don't know. If it involved a kid, I don't know if I could be fair. I've spent my whole life working with kids. I don't know if I could do it."

And then THIS. The charges in the trial. So I was uncomfortable. I had not put up my hand when the prosecutor questioned the jury pool. Was that fair? I figured those other people had it so much worse than me. That it would look like I was just trying to get out of getting picked. Because the prosecutor said the trial was expected to go well into the evening, possibly into the night, and perhaps into the early morning hours. Which gave another group of possible picks a reason to disqualify themselves.

"I've had a hip replacement. It's hard for me to sit here. Even this long."

"I am scheduled for a hip replacement in two weeks. It is very painful for me to sit."

"I had my left hip replaced, and I'm scheduled to get my right one replaced. I am in a lot of pain when sitting."

"I am pregnant. Due on Christmas day. It is very uncomfortable for me to sit."

"Did you ask your doctor for a note?"

"Yes. He said, 'Pregnancy is not a disability.'"

"That's because HE was never preganant!"

"You have a crappy doctor!"

I swear, you could see that fetus writhing beneath her t-shirt. We were afraid she might give birth right there in the second row.

The prosecutor finished, and the cute young Defense Dude began to address the crowd. He led with a big, "GOOD MORNING!" The response was less than stellar. It was kind of less than the dim lights over Val's kitchen table. "Let me try that again. HELLO!"

Lefty could not control herself. "HELLO!" You could hear her over the whole crowd. Who had just kind of mumbled.

Defense Dude took a step towards her. Looked her in the eye. "That's more like it. Hello." He went on with some sports analogies. They went over like a lead Hindenburg.

Left turned to me and whispered. "He was so cute. Then he had to open his mouth."

Defense Dude also had a visual aid, which I had seen him carry into the courtroom. It was a science fair display board, black, with manila folders and notebook paper taped to it. Seriously. A third-grader could have done it better. Or at least the third-grader's parents. Defense Dude should have had his mom help him. He held it up like it was the most advanced visual aid ever carried into a courtroom.

"This is what you have to ask yourself. Can you say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that my client is guilty of the charges? You must be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, of each of these five items." He let down the flap of each manila folder as he went along, pulling out a red push-pin. Inside each folder was drawn, in red colored marker, a question mark. To the right of each folder was a piece of notebook paper, labeled. Who. What. When. Where. How.

Defense Dude also asked if we expected crime scene evidence. "It's not always like on TV. We don't do that stuff. But would you be able to convict without a doctor's report? Or a doctor's testimony? Would you be able to convict if the defendant decided not to testify? Would you think he was trying to hide something? I bet none of you got up this morning, drove to the courthouse thinking, 'Gee...I wonder that Joe Blow is not guilty of?' Did you? No. You most likely were thinking, 'I wonder what Joe Blow is guilty of?' Right?"

The prospective juror who said this happened to her said, "No. We didn't know his name yet."

"Oh. So you think he's guilty, even before you hear any of the facts?"

"He IS guilty!"

Let the record show that at this point, the defendant leaned his head over the table and cried. Silently. Until his assistant DA gave him a tissue.

Defense Dude got crackin'. "Is there anybody who has not already stated they could not be fair and impartial who has anything to add? Any questions I should be asking?"

Then I couldn't stop myself. My hand went up.

"Over here. Juror number <REDACTED>."

"I have been a teacher for 28 years. I have spent my life working with kids. I am afraid I would believe the child. I would not be fair and impartial."

Lefty let out a gigantic sigh. She had visions of us being picked together to serve on this jury. At the break, she said, "Well, they'll never pick you now. But I understand. You were about to cry, weren't you. I heard it in your voice. I saw you tear up."

"We're not supposed to discuss anything relating to the case. But next time, I'll tell you."

Here's the thing. I know sometimes kids lie. I know that sometimes kids are persuaded to lie, convinced to lie, given false memories by a divorced parent in order to get revenge on the ex-spouse. But once you've worked with kids who have been abused, you always want to err on the side of the kid. Do whatever you can to let them feel safe again. No matter how much I tried, I don't think I could have given the defendant an equal chance to prove his innocence. Which is not fair to the defendant.

Let the record show that Val was not chosen for the jury. But the case is still on her mind.


  1. Oh, I could have managed to be objective. I would be open to the guy being strung up by his b**** or have him placed in with the general prison population (after leaking WHY he was there)... and I'd have NO objection to whatever would transpire.

    1. One of my lunch table companions was ready to jump in his truck and hunt the guy down, just from hearing my tale.

      Let the record show that the jury was made up of 9 men an 3 women. I suppose it was a toss-up over whether the dudes would be vigilantes, or divorced dads who'd had lies spread about themselves.

  2. Replies
    1. Sometimes, following the letter of the law is not an easy path.

  3. You did what you and to do. I don't know how anyone could remain impartial and you're right, that isn't fair to the defendant. I only hope he IS guilty because otherwise there is something else seriously wrong.

    1. I am looking for the verdict in the paper, to see what evidence was presented.

  4. Listening to stories of childhood abuse would be difficult. I like to think I'd have been as honest about this as you.

    1. I think you would. As long as you could get summoned for jury duty. If only you knew the reason civic duty shuns you, you could bottle it and make a fortune.

  5. You did the right thing!!

    1. In excusing myself for fear of doing the wrong thing for one party...I feel like I have done the wrong thing for the other party.

  6. Well, I am happy to announce that I have been excused from JD but had I been on that case, I'd have no trouble sending him to the pokey to be poked.

    1. I am happy to announce that I read in the online paper this morning that this dude was convicted, after the jury deliberated for an hour and ten minutes. Sentencing still to come.