After spending a week and a half on jury duty, in the same courthouse as 2 years ago,
a renewed confidence comforts that when an alleged crime comes to trial,
justice is possible, at least in my community. May it be so, someday, across our lands.
Therefore I’m re-posting this piece from a couple of years ago, below 🙂
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ~ Wm Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
The Judge states that jury duty is our civic obligation & should be served with pride. That she is there as a judge of the law. That charges are on paper, but not yet proven. The prosecution is required to demonstrate the burden of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. That we sworn-in jurors are to be judges of the facts, the facts based on testimony & evidence presented during the trial. That the accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is being charged with forgery & second degree burglary, both, felony offenses. A digital beeping is heard in the courtroom. Then a digital voice stating, “low battery, low battery.” It is the radio collar placed upon the defendant’s ankle. The court is recessed for this technical interruption. Hereafter, the names have been changed to protect those involved.
Mr. Accused Citizen, hereafter referred as MAC, entered on the Bank on Sept 1st and handed a check to be cashed made out to him for $1609 along with his ID to the teller. Upon looking at the check and thinking it may have been altered, she took it to her supervisor for approval. The supervisor also thought the amount looked altered, and the written payee name looked suspicious. She came out and told MAC it would take a few minutes to process. Supervisor looked up the phone number & called the customer of whose check was presented. Customer, an older woman, confirmed that the amount and name were not correct and she would come to the bank to confirm. She had made the check out for $69 to the water company, placed it in the mailbox to be picked up. The next day she notice her mail missing before the mail carrier arrived. The police were then called to the bank. When the supervisor came out MAC had fled the bank, leaving the check & his ID behind. After the police arrived the supervisor received a phone call by a younger woman claiming to be the customer; she says it’s ok to cash the check. Upon being asked by the supervisor her date of birth the phone is hung up. This is reported to the police. The bank teller, supervisor & customer testify as eye witnesses to these events.
Images from Bank’s surveillance camera shows MAC at the teller’s window. There’s the check which was altered; MAC’s first & last name are written around the water companies name. The amount is changed by adding numbers & words, from $69 to $1609. Displayed with the overhead projector, this looks like it was changed by a child.
The officer testifies that she found MAC walking down the street a week after the crime. He approached her and asks if she’s looking for him because of his ID being left in the bank. She reads him his rights, informing him that he is under arrest. She then asks for him to write down his name, the date and a few other words. He gives her the handwriting sample. He tells her the check was being cashed for an acquaintance who made the check out to him. Says he knows he did something stupid. He’s brought to jail and held for a couple of months until a hearing occurs and he is granted bail. At initial hearing the officer testifies that MAC told her that he saw acquaintance writing on & altering the check. This confession is not in her initial or follow-up written reports.
Walking peacefully upstairs with others to the jury deliberation room, smilecalm breathes deeply to relax inner anxious energies. Other jurors start speaking out on their views. There’s a general sense that MAC did not “mastermind” this crime, but that evidence implicates MAC’s guilt in the lesser offense of possessing, with the intent to pass on to the Bank, an altered or counterfeit check, knowing that the document is counterfeit. Were this decided, the requirement for burglary would also be met. After many voices speak out loudly, smilecalm remarks that some of us are more quiet, less competitive and would benefit from an orderly and inclusive discussion. To that request there is agreement. Smilecalm asks if we can read the written definition of these charges, which is done. We start to recount from memory & notes what MAC testified on the stand. He seemed angry, he swore, he apologized. He told of his being home that day. That Jen, the acquaintance, came by looking for her closer friend who was not at home. She then asked MAC to help her out by cashing a check. Said she was given this check by her grandmother to whom she had sold a wood chipper. She could have the check made out to MAC, and she would give him $200. She didn’t want to cash it herself because she had a warrant out for her arrest. He said Jen had not caused him any problems in the past, so he was willing to do her a favor and make a little money for the effort. She left, returning about an hour later with the check. MAC has no car, so she drove them both to the Bank & went in together. MAC said that after the supervisor came out and said to wait, he noticed Jen had left. He figured at that moment something was wrong so he left to find her. He knew then it was stupid. He asked “why is my life so much trouble?”
Fellow jurors argued that while there was no evidence that he had stolen the check from the mailbox, or that he had done the altering of words and numbers on the check, he must have known this check was altered. Somehow jurors remembered MAC saying he saw Jen writing on the check. This would create doubt in MAC’s story. Smilecalm said he did not hear him say that, rather, only that was stated by the police officer. The court testimony record needed to be re-read to the jurors. After some time the court recorder arrived and read his words. He indicates she brought the check already filled and he looks at it briefly, sees his name, the amount and that it’s signed, all while on the way to the bank. He never sees Jen writing on it.
Those in the room confide that they would not cash a check for someone that they don’t know well, who states they can’t cash it because they have a warrant out for their arrest, and that they would look carefully at the check scrutinize it. Exhibit 2b is passed around the room. It is a court document that shows that Jen was convicted of check & credit card fraud & possession of an illegal fire arm in this same court one month ago. Expressing what is true in his heart, smilecalm shares about his time with others living in poverty & despair, in urban areas & Indian Reservations. How it is possible to do what MAC had done, without realizing the crime or consequences. That if MAC truly did believe Jen’s story; that a check from her grandmother for an item sold was made out to him to cash, to help her out of warrant’s eyes, to make a couple hundred bucks, then there was reasonable doubt that he committed the crimes, as defined. Other jurors shared their experience with down & out, so called low-life relatives & acquaintances. How low self esteem & unmet economic, social & emotional needs can give rise to ill-advised actions. The energy of empathy and wisdom spread throughout the room. There was no longer any certainly that MAC knew before going into the bank that this check was “not true”, and therefore intended to defraud. With with collective sense of harmony for the sake of justice, Smilecalm offered his gratitude to each of them as they prepared to leave.
Returning to the courtroom, the judge asked for the verdict. She glanced at the paper, then looked over the 3 pieces of paper, one for each charge, over again. Nodding affirmatively, she handed the papers to the clerk to read. We the Jury Find the Defendant not guilty of forgery, … not guilty of 2nd degree forgery & … not guilty of 2nd degree burglary. Everyone in the courtroom looked surprised, including several bailiffs awaiting, as if expecting this defendant to continue playing out the sad role of a throw away in this society. The judge thanked us for our service and dismissed us. Walking out, I smiled to the prosecutor, to the weary public defender, to MAC, to the women in the gallery weeping, perhaps a mother & sister. A fellow juror commented that he appreciated the compassion conveyed during the deliberations by smilecalm, who smiled humbly in return. May all involved in this dance of justice be well, May we all find fairness, compassion & mercy when our judgment day comes.
“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.” ~Hada Bejar