So, last week I had jury duty. My service finished up today. Exhausting.
I ended up getting picked for a jury on Thursday to hear a case involving a man charged with four counts — habitual violator, habitual violator DUI less safe, DUI less safe and giving a false name. The background of the case was fairly simple: a sheriff’s deputy patrolling around 2 a.m. near a strip mall saw a car parked in front of a gas station, which was closed for the night. He went to check out the car, thinking someone might be trying to break into the store, and found the defendant in the car and smelled alcohol on his breath. He said the defendant slurred his speech and was belligerent, so he arrested the defendant.
However, in order to convict someone of DUI less safe, there has to be proof that the person was driving in a manner that was unsafe. There was no proof of any driving. Sure, the defendant testified to driving to the parking lot from his sister’s house, but that’s it. The deputy didn’t see him driving. He could have driven perfectly fine, or he could have been swerving all over the road, hitting dogs and cats.
There also was no proof as to WHEN the drinking occurred. The defendant said he had a beer at his sister’s house around 6 p.m. Even if he had had a couple of beers, the effects would have worn off by 2 a.m. And, some people can drive perfectly fine after having a few drinks. But, he also could have consumed alcohol in the parking lot after stopping for the night (he was homeless and sleeping in his car). There’s no way to know. The deputy didn’t search the car.
We were divided from the start. There were three of us who voted not guilty on the two DUI charges from the start because of the lack of evidence. The others were pretty adamant that he was guilty. However, after reading the charge again, the sentence stating that just the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath isn’t sufficient enough to convict them of DUI changed the minds of everyone except one person. And, that is why we deliberated over two days.
I don’t know if that person went into this with a closed mind or what, but she would not think logically. We have to convict based on evidence. She wanted to convict based on her assumptions. That’s not how the justice system works. She said that since the defendant refused to take field sobriety tests or blow in an alchosensor that he is guilty. Not quite. It’s his right to refuse. That doesn’t prove that he drove drunk.
The only way to prove drunk driving is to have both the drinking and the driving. We didn’t have the driving. Even the woman holding out said she didn’t know what happened. EXACTLY! At that point, one person through up his arms and said, “See! You don’t know, so you can’t convict!” And, that is when the woman burst into tears, told us we were being mean and said she would go ahead and vote not guilty so she could go home.
Sigh. Mentally exhausting. In the end, she did change her vote. We convicted him of the habitual violator and giving a false name charges but found him not guilty on the habitual violator DUI less safe and DUI less safe charges.
Jury duty was a really interesting experience, but it was much, much harder than I thought it would be. I really feel now for juries on more serious cases. It’s tough.