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4 kittens

Serious but not heated.

Posted on 2016.02.14 at 22:18
I had a weird week. I was on the jury for an aggravated assault case. The defendant threatened the complainants with a machete. (Regular threats are assault, threats with a deadly weapon elevates it to aggravated assault.)

Work was stressful. I panicked on Monday during jury selection, and kept texting my chair that I thought I'd be out all week. I would have really liked him to respond, "Oh no! I'll help you figure something out!" Instead he texted, "You can't cancel class all week!" and did not offer anything helpful. "Everyone has class at the same time as you, and no one can cover your classes!" Gee, thanks. I spent each evening trying to create class activities that could be completed without a substitute present. It sucked.

(I went estate sailing on Saturday.)

The courtroom was frigid cold. I found the first day very stressful. I was juror #5 and was pretty sure I'd get picked. I was worried it would be a domestic dispute or a child getting hurt. I was freaked out about my classes. (We had to agree to the one witness rule, which is an unsettling Texas-ism.)(Also Texans pronounce voir dire "voyer dye-er", leaving me too self-conscious say the phrase outloud in any form.)

But at the end of the day on Monday, we found out what the case was - threatening with a machete. No kids involved. No abuse. Adults in a dispute. That was a relief. (Also, different machete. I nearly jumped out of my skin at first, thinking we were about to hear the case with my neighbors.)

(Tuesday morning I was supremely grouchy at the kids during the morning routine and later felt bad. I think it was residual stress from Monday. At one point Hawaii snatched her skirt out of my hands. I snatched it back from her and swung it so that the hem swiped her. She howled and Pokey said, "That was unexpected of you." Which is the language his therapist uses with him - what are other people expecting of you in a situation? What is unexpected? It is true - Hawaii did not expect me to act like a brat.)

(This is small, only 6"x8", and the paint is thick and colors vivid. It is matted on velvet.)

We were allowed to take notes. I took extensive notes.

Being in actual court was interesting. We all loved the interpreter, who was extremely professional when she dropped a bunch of f-bombs without batting an eye. (The defense attorney would not stop responding directly to the Spanish-speaking witness, and then the judge would bark at him. "I haven't heard the English! Let her speak! I don't speak Spanish!")

Basically, the defendant was over at the victims' house and they got in an argument. He left for about 30 minutes. He returned with a machete in his truck. Somehow they all ended up in the front yard, and he got the machete out and swung it around. No one disputed any of that - there were documented small branches on the ground, hacked down from an oak tree by the machete.

(Watching the dashcam on the cop cars as they tore through town was super fun. Wheee, there's the exit to my house! There's HEB! I can follow where we're going!)

What was in dispute was whether or not he was acting in self-defense. The victims threw rocks at him. The question to the jurors amounted to, "Which came out first, the machete or the rocks?" If the rocks came out first, then self-defense becomes available, as long as the defendant does not have a duty to retreat. So if the jurors felt it was plausible that the rocks were thrown first, we next had to evaluate if the state had proved that the defendant had a duty to retreat. It was a fairly complicated logical path.

I thought he was guilty as hell, and I thought the state proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. First, it is ludicrous to get a machete out in response to someone throwing rocks - they weren't punching him at arm's length, they were across the front yard.  But throwing rocks in response to a machete makes perfect sense - you just want to keep him away from you.

But if you think that plausibly the rocks came out first, then the defendant had a duty to retreat, because he clearly was not invited any longer onto their property, and you must have a right to be there in order to stand your ground.  Furthermore, he got into his truck to get the machete, so a reasonable person (which is the standard) would have just driven away.

But some of the jurors felt that we just couldn't know what happened, end of story. They had a gut feeling, and were not willing to wander down a conditional if-then statement ("if the rocks were thrown first, then he had a duty to retreat") and so that was that.

Also, these particular jurors felt that the witnesses were not credible because they had each been inconsistent, and so they discounted the entirety of the testimony. In my opinion, the witnesses were inconsistent in exactly the way one is when telling a story - "I think it was sunset. No, maybe it was already dark. I'm not sure." At times they were surely not telling the truth, but I found major parts of their testimony credible.

(Both the mirror and the sweater-coat.)

We finally unanimously agreed to acquit on all counts. What I told myself was this: the state had to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and here are 3-4 people who seem reasonable, who have serious doubts. Therefore the state failed to prove itself beyond their reasonable doubt.  There were also several people who felt the way I did, but we were going in circles and ultimately, the people who want to acquit have the upper hand. In my opinion, those jurors were utterly freaked out by the idea of taking away someone's liberty - but they're right! That is a freaky amount of power and it should be unnerving.

(Contact paper.)

Afterwards, the judge said that if we'd found him guilty, he would have expected to see an appeal for total incompetence by the defense attorney, which made me feel better for acquitting. Everyone deserves a fair trial. Also the defendant was in his mid-forties and maybe this two-year ordeal was sufficient punishment?

The jury was composed eleven women and one guy. (The guy refused to go through any door until all eleven of us ladies had gone through. Every time we left the courtroom, he'd lurch around and cause a back-up as everyone went around him. Dude. Go through the doorway.) I was the fore-person. Despite the serious disagreeing of opinions, the jury held really thoughtful, honorable discussions. It was serious but never heated. At one point someone mentioned that the Tex-Mex Bar is a violent bar with a bad reputation, and someone else said, "We can't talk about that - that is outside information," and so it was dropped and not brought up again.  We deliberated from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning, about 5 hours total.

I watched the defendant while the judge read that the defendant was not guilty on each of the three counts. He was shaking and crossed himself, and for the first time I saw him wracked with emotion. That was humbling and profound.

So I think the jury made the wrong decision, but it was probably the right decision. Erring on the side of letting someone go free is the right thing to do. The end.

Now no more machetes for you, B.M., okay?

On my way out of the courtroom the last time, there was a young Latino guy, maybe 25, sitting on the tailgate of a beater station wagon, the kind my mom drove thirty years ago.  He was wearing a lavender button down shirt and tie, and brown trousers, and a felt brown fedora.  It was a beautiful warm day, blue sky, and the scene felt like a surreal time-warp. I would have liked to take a photo. (Except maybe I would have photoshopped out the splatters of spit from the sidewalk. He was dipping. So gross.)

I'm having a moment where I am hyper-aware that this is actually a Hispanic world here, and my white self mostly just superficially skates around on top of it all.  It's from being immersed in the trial, and estate sailing, and stopping at the flea market on the way home. I interact with tons of Latino people, but it's always them coming to meet me where I'm at. I don't really ever go with them into the Latino world. I don't even really have an access point, because it's tangled up with poverty in complicated ways. The friends I have who are Latino are not poor, and when they hang out with me, it's in the not-poor intersection of our worlds, and it's pretty mainstream. There's a whole lot of Latino ice berg under the surface that I don't generally see.

"A FEAST OR A FAMINE? Note the networks of railroads taking the raw products and live stock to Dallas and Ft Worth for manufacture and sale and on the sea for export thru Galveston and Houston.  A FEAST. Note the few miles of railroad necessary to direct this to San Antonio and Corpus Christi and avert A FAMINE."

I didn't buy this poster, but I sort of regret it. The cultural and economic isolation that emanates from the Rio Grande valley has been in my face this week.

Anyway. Happy Valentine's Cake!

One, two, three, four:

Now back to the routine.


Kelly Jennings
Kelly Jennings at 2016-02-15 14:03 (UTC) (Link)

Great Essay

This is a wonderful post -- you might think about revising it just a bit and submitting it somewhere. I especially like the ruminations on justice and how you obliquely tie that in to the double cultures. And the way you get the liet motif of the estate sale to pay off at the end there is perfect.
heebie_geebie at 2016-02-22 03:25 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great Essay

Well, thank you so much. That is super flattering and wonderful to hear. I am totally intimidated by the publishing process. Which isn't to say that I might not sleep on it and end up putting your nudging to good use.
e_messily at 2016-02-15 15:21 (UTC) (Link)

bratty is as bratty does

I kind of think it might be good for Hawaii if everybody (=adults) started acting as brattily to her as she does to them. (I'm pretty sure this is one of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories.) I'm can't tell if my thinking this is motivated by my own brattiness, or by actual good-faith disciplinary ideas.

(p. s. I just lost my temper and yelled at her about how much I hate it when she just shrugs her shoulders at me and ignores whatever I just told her. "A good response now would be 'I'm sorry and I won't do it again' I said. She stared at me, sullenly, and shrugged her shoulders. Now she's sulking on the couch while I sulk in the rocking chair. We are two prickly, bratty peas in a bossy, bratty pod!)

Edited at 2016-02-15 03:23 pm (UTC)
heebie_geebie at 2016-02-22 03:27 (UTC) (Link)

Re: bratty is as bratty does

It's definitely different if it comes from you than if it comes from me, and I endorse whatever methods you undertake!

From me, my behavior has to shore up the unconditional love thing, though, to help keep the underlying sense of security about the world intact.
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