I spent most of last week, and a couple of days this week, serving on a jury. On the weekend in between, I attended the first Gaslight Gathering.
I was called to serve at the downtown courthouse. Even if in raw milage the Vista or El Cajon courthouse are closer, the downtown courthouse is, at least for me, the easiest to get to, since it is only a minor adjustment to my commute – I have to take the downtown bus instead of the bus to Sorrento Valley.
My jury summons was for 7:45 am on Tuesday (May 3). This required a bit of an adjustment since the bus downtown that leaves about the same time as my usual bus would get to the courthouse a bit after 8. So I had to take an earlier bus, and Tara had to leave work early after her midnight shift to get The Kid to school.
I arrived, made a brief stop at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in the block east of the courthouse, and then proceeded to the block west where the jury lounge was located in the – and yes this is the actual name – Hall of Justice. I picked up some paperwork – most of which was optional as it turned out – and a badge holder for the badge included as part of summons and found a seat.
Shortly we got our briefing – in three parts. First was a statewide video on the jury process, then a talk by one of the senior judges and finally the information on how to fill out the back of the summon sheet to let them know a number of key facts which would impact our service.
After that, I sat and read (except for when I visited the restroom) until a bit before 9. Early on they were calling people to the jury lounge – I presume to get further explanation on their reasons for being excused, or excused from longer trials and to give badges to the people who left their summons at home.
About 9, or a bit before, they started calling larger groups to the various courtrooms, or departments. I was called in the third or fourth group to Department 39, located in the older (circa 1961) courthouse. I fairly quickly found my way to the courtroom, and joined the rest of the jury pool (40 of us if I’m counting from memory correctly). We were then called into the court room, sworn in for our jury questioning. Then 24 of us were, I presume randomly, selected to sit either in the jury box, or the first row. I was the second one called, so had to sit in the jury box spot for juror number 2 – which was how I’d be known for the rest of the trial.
We were first given some instructions and an high-level overview of the case. We were told that the charges were battery on a peace officer, and resisting a peace officer. We were also handed a sheet with a number of yes/no questions on one side, and a number of open-ended questions on the other.
The judge then asked all 24 of us the yes/no questions. If anyone had a “yes” answer to the question, he then asked further about the details. Then we each had to answer the open-ended questions which included questions about employment, education, family, etc. I was only asked to expand when asked about my perceptions about court – where I needed to explain how during the adoption process we were frustrated by the judge seemingly making us jump through a ridiculous number of hoops, only to in the end realize he was following the laws and procedures put in place recently, and fully wanted us to adopt as both a parent and a grandparent were adopted as children. (I don’t think I mentioned that last detail, however). After only two or three of us, we were excused for lunch for 90 minutes – a standard lunch break needed to accomodate the connected jails rules about feeding inmates.
After lunch we finished up the judges questions, then allowed both of the lawyers to ask their questions. Then, after a brief recess, they began excusing jurors. At the end of the day, the defense lawyer said he was satisfied with the jury – but it was the end of the day, so we’d all have to come back on Wednesday. But, since the court was busy the next morning, we’d have to report at 1:30. So I caught my bus and headed home.
On Wednesday, I took the bus to work in the morning. About 11:15, I left to catch the regular bus at 11:30. I rode this to the transit center at the VA hospital on the UCSD campus, where I caught another bus downtown. This later bus turned out to be one of the articulated buses – which I’ve never managed to ride before. Unfortunately, being on board leaves me even more confused about how these things move – the engine and drive wheels appear to be in the back – behind the articulation – and I’m not sure how that works when going around corners.
I made it downtown a bit after noon, grabbed some lunch and headed up to wait outside the courtroom. We finished jury selection that afternoon – but in the end we’d run nearly through all of the 40 of us originally called into the pool.
At that point, we started learning about the case with opening arguments and testimony.
The case involved an incident that broke out in the East Village near the winter homeless shelter, and at least one ministry that feeds the homeless. A body had been found on a sidewalk. A police officer was flagged down to investigate. Two other officers by to assist, and an investigator for the Medical Examiners office was called. At some point a transient, the defendant, came by and stood just outside of the police line yelling and asking the M.E. and police officers to identify the body against their policies. At some point – one of the officers decided to move him along and told him that if he didn’t leave she’d arrest him.
He refused to move, and she proceeded to arrest him. After he similarly refused to put his hands behind his back, she took hold of his arm to put it behind his back – and he fought back viscously. In the end, it too the three officers on scene, and a fourth officer who was around the corner manning a command van, to subdue the defendant and arrest him. During the struggle both pepper spray and a taser were used.
We heard from all four police officers, the investigator for the M.E.’s office, and a Detective Sargent with the SDPD who is an expect in use of force – all for the prosecution, who rested their case on Thursday (as I recall).
On Thursday I had taken the bus downtown – but was well able to take the later bus so I could take The Kid to school.
On Friday morning, I drove to the Town and Country and parked before walking over to the transit center at Fashion Valley and catching the bus that Google had recommended – which left Mission Valley and headed through Hillcrest to downtown along 4th Avenue.
The defense presented their case on Friday morning. It consisted exclusively of the testimony of two other transients who had had confrontations with, actually the same confrontation, with one of the officers – but almost a year later.
We were sent off to lunch early on Friday since the third intended defense witness was not yet available – and as it turned out was not available.
Since I had nearly two hours for lunch, I decided to walk down 6th Avenue through the Gaslamp District to find somewhere to have a bit more leisurely lunch. In the end I ended up almost all the way down to the convention center at a mexican place (Rockin’ Baja Lobster, I think) that I’ve eaten at a couple of times. The only problem is that while I was first climbing up to the bar-height table, I bumped my left knee on something and it protested heavily (and is still occasionally griping). This left me unsure I wanted to walk all the way back – but the solution was obvious. I walked less than a block to the Gaslamp District trolley stop, and rode the trolley around to the Civic Center stop.
In figuring out which stop to get off at, I discovered I’d made an error getting transit instructions from Google. I had neglected to specify 220 WEST Broadway for the courthouse, and was given directions to 220 EAST Broadway. Although this was only four blocks further east, it changed the routing to use the bus instead of the trollies.
It took much longer than we’d expected to be called back after lunch, and when we were the judge informed us that he would excuse us for another half-hour or so while they worked on instructions and closing arguments. But it was possible that when called back it would be to excuse us until Monday. When we were called back, he explained that the program they use to put together jury instructions – which have to be given to the jurors in a written and spoken maner – was acting oddly and putting all of the numbers in in roman numerals, which would not work. So we were dismissed for the day.
So I caught a trolley to head back to the Town and Country. I actually caught a trolley at a stop further down the line than either of the two closer stops – Civic Center and American Plaza. I figured I’d be better off heading towards American Plaza, but after crossing the tracks, I realized I was on the wrong side of the street to make a legal pedestrian crossing – and the train I needed was heading into the station. So I simply walked – and not that fast – over to the Santa Fe Depot station (these stations are probably closer “as the crow flies” than they are as the trolley tracks run). I made it in plenty of time to not only catch the train, but get into a more forward car.
Once at the hotel, I brought the Conjecture stuff out of my car, got my badge (or more correctly was told my badge wasn’t ready) and put the stuff I had on the table. I alternated between sitting at the table and wandering around the dealers’ room until six when I closed the table. I then waited for my niece who was pet sitting for us again, and we headed home.
On Saturday we got a late start – in large part because The Kid had homework he needed to finish, and he was having both technical and other issues which slowed us down in packing and loading the car. So, I was a bit late for my set-up shift at the table. During the day I spent a fair amount of time at the table, but did do a few other things before I got the party room about 3.
The party on Saturday night was fairly successful – at least in terms of getting people to the party – Conjecture did not directly sell any memberships, but I think we did a good job of getting the word out.
However, The Kid continued to be a problem throughout the day – aggravated by the fact that his phone wasn’t charged so he was much harder to keep track of than we’d have liked – and finally Tara and I decided it would be best for the two of them to go home and leave me alone in the party room. (Once before in a somewhat similar situation, I actually drove home – but I couldn’t this time, I had no car)
Sunday was another good day. I did close the table earlier than we’d originally planned, and we got home in good time.
I had a good time at Gaslight Gathering even if I didn’t manage to make any panels (which is a bad habit of mine if I’m working at a convention). I followed up by ordering the missing base parts of my costume – at the moment my costume is more Western than Steampunk, but I’m sure Tara and I can figure out how to fix that.
On Monday I returned to court. We spent most of the morning with the jury instructions and the closing arguments. We headed into the room to deliberate about 11:00 or later, so our deliberations in the morning weren’t long. We continued to deliberate all afternoon without reaching a verdict, so we had to come back on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning we finally reached a point where we were hung – 10 to 2 – basically on the issue of if the initial arrest was lawful. We informed the judge who asked us to go back and see if any more instruction or a re-reading of any witness’s testimony would help. Shortly before lunch we decided to hear the testimony of two of the witnesses (the female officer and the M.E.’s investigator). Since it was close to lunch, we took a lunch break and returned to hear the testimony again.
But the hearing of the testimony for second time reinforced the feelings of most or all of us in the direction we were already sitting. So after informing the judge again that we were still hung, and taking a short break, we returned to court where we all confirmed that we agreed that we were hung and were dismissed – with one final instruction: we could now talk about the case openly.
As we came outside, we were greeted by other lawyers in the City Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices who asked us to stay and talk with them and the two lawyers who heard the case. We talked in the hallway for 20 to 30 minutes, and gave all of them a good idea on what they did right and wrong – and learned some things we didn’t know.
The one that I appreciated was learning why we were only hearing this case 18 months after the incident. As it turns out, the city didn’t file the charges right away, and the trial was originally set in January. Then the defendant, who was still homeless, could not be found until much later when he was picked up on the fugitive warrant.
We also heard all four lawyers expressing how frustrating cases involving the statute on resisting, obstructing or delaying peace officers are, due to the vagaries of the law – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this isn’t the first time a jury has hung in one of their cases involving this charge. In our case, this also hung us on the battery charge since we had to have a consensus on the lawfulness of the arrest before we could decide on either battery against a peace officer or simple battery. For what it is worth, I was voting to convict, feeling that the prosecution case had left me without a reasonable doubt, but I don’t begrudge the people who felt otherwise.
When all is said and done, I suspect in some ways the defendant was better off between being picked up and the trial (and perhaps still if he’s not been released, which is possible if the city is still considering a retrial). Although he was in the downtown city jail, he had a roof over his head, was getting regular meals, and did not have access to any intoxicating substances that he might or might not have problems with. He also was probably getting some form of medical treatment. I can hope that when he’s released (which will probably be shortly after the retrial or the city deciding to not try him again), he can find his way to getting help and getting off the street.
Going through this let me learn some other things. Having enjoyed various legal dramas over the years, I was able to confirm that real trials are a bit different than on TV. I expected how much of the boring stuff was left out to keep the TV show from being days long, and to keep it exciting. But there are other aspects that are done wrong. The judge informed us early that we’d be excused if a discussion that was a substantive part of the trial (i.e. something that needed to be recorded) was needed. And if he had any sidebar conversation with the lawyers it was probably about schedule. I also suspect, but cannot confirm, that when a juror is dismissed “for cause” it is done without the jury present. Several members of both the initial 24 and the remaining 28 were done by the judge as soon as we came back after discussion with the lawyers.
Unrelated to the trial was my realizing how compact much of San Diego is. From Mission Valley through Hillcrest and the various other neighborhoods around Balboa Park to downtown is a much shorter distance than it seems – even along CA-163. I completely confirmed this on Tuesday when I stopped in the Downtown Visitor’s center at Horton Plaza (which is run by the Center City Development Corporation) which has a nice 3-dimensional map of the downtown area and some of the nearby areas. Since we were still deliberating I kept myself from looking at the East Village – and specifically the area covered by the case – since I was otherwise unfamiliar with that area.