The last week and a half has been a bit of a change of pace for me. Instead of spending my weekdays sitting in front of a computer I’ve been spending my weekdays sitting in a courtroom.
In a lot of Asian cultures the number 8 is a number associated with good luck. In my case it wasn’t all that lucky. I was seated in seat number 8. Towards the end of the first day of jury duty, there’s a peremptory challenge stage, where the lawyers can choose to reject jurors based on their answers to questions that the judge asked earlier. I thought I would be rejected by the defense lawyer, since I had replied earlier that my uncle had owned a liquor store that had been robbed a number of times, and the case was an armed robbery of a liquor store. But nope, I didn’t get rejected. Apparently seats 7 and 9 were the lucky seats, for some reason the jurors in those seats were rejected multiple times.
In truth, I guess I couldn’t really consider it unlucky though. It actually was kind of interesting, and it was kind of nice to have a change of pace from work. I learned a lot about our judicial system and about police investigations. Here’s some random stuff I learned:
- Our judicial system is slow. The robberies had occurred more than five years ago, and apparently a lot has changed since then. Two of the witnesses who were employees of the liquor stores at the time of the robberies no longer worked at those liquor stores. It seemed they were shaken up enough that they moved out of state. Another main witness, the one who had been shot during one of the robbery attempts, had passed away several years earlier.
- Racial stereotypes tend to be true. (Well at least for this case.) The defendant in this case was a young African american male. Many of the liquor store owners and employees were Middle Eastern or Indian, several of them actually used a Punjabi translator.
- Cops really do like doughnuts. According to the police testimony, after they had caught the suspect, all the cops that were involved in the case convened at a doughnut shop. (The jury all laughed when they heard this, me included.)
- Law enforcement has access to some cool technology. Apparently there’s this thing called an ETS tracker, which can be hidden in a wad of dollar bills. When the tracker is removed from the cash register, it activates a sort of homing signal that the police can use to track a suspect.
- Video surveillance is pretty low tech, but is still somewhat useful. It’s not at all like you see on t.v. There’s no crazy image enhancement or facial recognition software. That being said, ultimately it was the surveillance footage that led to the conviction. Most of our time in the jury deliberation room was spent watching the surveillance videos over and over to determine that the same suspect committed four different robberies.
- The law is incredibly vague, to the detriment of jury deliberation. Most of the robberies occurred in Sacramento county and only one happened in Yolo county (in West Sacramento), so at first it didn’t make sense to me that we were hearing this case in Yolo county. I didn’t realize until later that the robbery in Yolo county was more severe because a gun was discharged and the store owner was shot. So the district attorney was seeking more severe charges (she called it an enhancement) for causing “great bodily injury.” The problem for us jurors was that “great bodily injury” is not very well defined. The definition of it that was provided to us was: “a significant or substantial injury, greater than a moderate injury.” Not a very helpful definition. During the robbery the store owner was shot in the arm. From the surveillance footage you can see him clutching his bloody arm. Yet some of the jurors wouldn’t call it “great bodily injury” because it didn’t appear that his life was in danger. So in the end our deliberation ended without being able to deliver a verdict on the “great bodily injury” enhancement.
So anyways, I learned a lot during my week and a half of jury duty. It was actually interesting. And it was nice that there was free coffee, which made it easier to stay awake during all the testimony. And I learned a lot. And I guess what I learned most of all is that jury duty is not all that bad.