Training Prosecutors: It WAS Entertaining

No, I didn’t get paid to trot downtown and spend 2/3 of a day in a mock jury trial orchestrated to train budding county prosecutors. Did it because an old friend, recent law-school graduate, worker at a grant-funded county project importuned. All volunteer…it was worth it. What a hoot!

So here was the scenario:

Boyfriend and Girlfriend go to a local casino to celebrate Boyfriend’s birthday. They have a nice dinner, imbibulating a few boozies to go with the food. After a couple of hours at the all-you-can-eat chow line, whereat Boyfriend scarfs up more BBQ’ed ribs than a starving African lion could dream of, they move on to the gambling room.

Girlfriend parks herself at a one-armed bandit. Boyfriend goes to the tables to play a game called Show Low, and as the evening and early morning wend on, he’s doing pretty well. He’s about $860 to the good, but more enticing to his feeble brain-pan, he’s now in the running for a chance at a lottery to win an expensive gift, and he’s also in the running to win a Bass boat, something he’s been coveting for quite some time.

She, however, is not faring so well. When she runs out of money, she applies to Boyfriend for a few bucks to continue playing the slots. As part of their live-in arrangement, they share incomes, so she regards this as a request for her own money.

He declines.

She throws a sh!tfit. The decibel level quickly accelerates. Just as quickly, the casino management asks them to depart. The argument moves into the parking lot.

In the ensuing discussion, according to Girlfriend, he throws her to the pavement, kicks her several times in the ribs, gets in his car, and drives away, thereby “abandoning” her in the casino parking lot. (In Arizona, that would be on an Indian rez, a good long distance from wherever the Belagana She and Boyfriend probably live.)

Nine-one-one is called. A cop arrives. As he’s interviewing Girlfriend, Boyfriend weaves his way back into the parking lot, where, despite creeping along at an ultra-cautious 5 mph, he knocks over three parking stanchions and inserts his car into not one but two parking spaces.

Girlfriend, meanwhile, has displayed several bruises to Cop, which she claims to be the outcome of the evening’s quarrel. Cop takes due notice but does not bother to photograph these alleged injuries.

BF staggers over and engages Cop in a quarrel, during which he expresses his suspicion that Cop, whom he calls “Mr. PlasticBadge,” is GF’s new boyfriend. Cop, not surprisingly, arrests the bastard for drunk driving and domestic abuse.

Fake Jury is asked to discern Boyfriend’s guilt in the matters of

a) driving with even a WHIFF of intoxication;
b) driving sh!tfaced (Arizona’s definition of sh!tfaced is a blood alcohol count of .08; Boyfriend’s was .094);
c) domestic violence in the matter of kicking the bedoodles out of the broad after he tossed her on the pavement.

Prosecution and Defense put on spirited cases. Fake Jurors learn a helluvalot about Arizona DUI and domestic abuse laws, after which we are despatched to a room to deliberate.

OK. In Arizona, it’s illegal to drive a vehicle if you’re even slightly impaired. (This would mean if you have the hiccups, to say nothing of having ingested the numerous hard-liquor drinks Girlfriend says Boyfriend consumed.)

In Arizona, it is believed that any blood alcohol count (BAC) over .08 indicates impairment. Boyfriend has registered over .09.

First off, Defense tells us Boyfriend is a Disabled War Hero, having sustained several concussions (six years prior…) and shrapnel to the knee in Iraq. The apparent unsteadiness on his feet and the inability to follow a point back and forth without jerky eye movements are the aftereffects of his war wounds. Next, Defense tries to insinuate that we have no way of knowing whether the crew of scientists who run the BAC tests have f*cked up said tests. Therefore, say they, we have a reasonable doubt.

Prosecution trots in a forensic chemist (called a “criminalist” in the dumbed-down language of the early 21st century) who bowls everyone over with her professionalism and expertise.

Girlfriend weeps on the stand.

Boyfriend,  limping in with a baroquely exaggerated stagger, proclaims his innocence.

All very informative. Soooo…

How do we hold in the matters of

charge 1: driving a vehicle with even a whiff of intoxication;
charge 2: driving a vehicle heavily under the influence;
charge 3: kicking Girlfriend while she was down?

When we went off to confer about this, I was amazed to discover that I was far from alone in thinking Boyfriend was three sheets to the wind when all these shenanigans occurred but that the evidence did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he beat the bejayzus out of Girlfriend, once he had her in the parking lot.

We suspected the bruises could have been sustained earlier. We worried that Cop failed to photograph these wounds. Our suspicions were aggravated because Girlfriend didn’t go to an ER to see whether she had any broken ribs or internal injuries. Several of the younger members of the Fake Jury noted that casinos have video cameras coming out the ying-yang, and that Prosecution was remiss in not at least subpoenaing videos of the quarrel inside the building, to say nothing of the probable videos of whatever went on in the parking lot.

Verdicts:

Guilty on counts 1 and 2, DUI
Not Guilty on count 3, domestic abuse.

Here are a few things I learned:

Police reports are not admissible as evidence. When an officer reports that X person said yyy, that is regarded as hearsay and is not admissible. Only what the officer actually saw and could measure on the scene is admissible.

Imagining a police officer should document wounds from an alleged domestic violence incident with photographs comes under the heading of “CSI syndrome.” Lawyers should try to elicit these tendencies from prospective jurors and disqualify people who expect concrete documentation of violence.

Even if you’re far from sh!t-faced, you can be convicted of DUI. Arizona, for example, makes it a felony to be driving to any degree impaired.

A good lawyer can put on one helluva show.

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Linda May 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

You do learn a lot by participating in a jury trial. About twenty years ago I was selected for a jury on a civil trial. I learned how frustrating a trial can be for someone like me who really needs to be able to ask a lot of questions to reach my own conclusions. Jurors are not allowed to ask questions. Ever. Luckily, since it was a civil trial we didn’t need to have a unanimous decision, just a majority one.

The next trial where I was selected for voir dire was at a criminal trial about 6 years later. I spoke up immediately to let the judge and attorneys know about my previous challenges being on a trial, and not agreeing that I could follow the judge’s explicit directions. This was very true, and not just me attempting to evade jury duty. After a few more questions about what types of material I read regularly (wherein the judge was stumped because he’d never heard of Utne Reader and Fast Company magazines), I was dismissed.

I haven’t been on a voir dire since. I’m just not suited to be a juror. I am too inquisitive.

funny May 15, 2013 at 9:10 am

The strangest things will exempt you.

When the “Judge” — who was really an instructor — remarked that lawyers need to be careful of “CSI syndrome,” I asked how a prosecutor or defense attorney would elicit that: what would they have to ask? He didn’t have a very good answer, and in posing the question, I didn’t have time to point out that I hardly ever watch TV (but when I do, it’s likely to be the NYPD: SVU or one of the detective shows on PBS). If I were asked how much TV I watch, I’d have to say “not very much,” but apparently that wouldn’t rescue the lawyer from a juror who thinks injuries sustained in an attack should be documented with pictures.

Evan May 15, 2013 at 7:45 am

Wow sounds like a fun day! Were they good as actors?

funny May 15, 2013 at 8:46 am

They were a hoot!

The prosecutors and budding new prosecutors were just doing their thing (as best as they could within the limits of the fakitude). The cop was a real cop, but the report he brought with him had been written for the show, of course, so he had to figure out what was in it so as to “testify.” The judge was also with the prosecutor’s office, but as a lawyer he was very convincing. The victim and the defendant were the only real actors, and they did a great job. Very fun.

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