Tag Archives: US Constitution

Review of Recent Federal Jury Experience

(week of 9/29/14 through 10/3/14 at U.S. District Court, downtown Baltimore):
This trial was dealing with a single male defendant from Monday through Thursday with deliberations beginning Thursday and completing on Friday on or around 5:30 to 6pm. The charges were four counts. One for direct personal involvement of committing an M&T Bank robbery in Baltimore on Wednesday, 9/25/13, two charges for aiding and abetting two additional different bank robberies in Baltimore County on Thursday & Friday (9/26 & 27/13) by other females with the final charge of conspiracy to commit bank robberies.

My focus will be primarily on our purpose and involvements during our deliberations, which, I feel, are of paramount importance why we should allow ourselves to be involved in this process.

One more point, for the moment, I am not identifying race. If you want to know, ask me in the comments to this and I will respond there.

Just to get the preliminary, leading to it, out of the way…..

On Monday we arrived for the jury pool selection process (which took awhile from 8:30 until about early afternoon). Once we were divided into two groups (I expect because of two separate scheduled trials) we were then “filtered” by questions from the Judge to allow some to be excused. The last question had some of the remaining folks try to convince the Judge to excuse them also. Not many were with the rest disappointed to sit back down. Then we were counted off for moving into the Jury box of 12 plus 2 alternates.

The prosecution’s case started and progressed through about 20 to 22 called witnesses, which included testimonies from 2 of the 3 females that were personally involved in the 2nd and 3rd bank robberies. Defense called only one witness, which was the employer of the defendant. The defendant was not called to testify. Upon completion of the defense, we were given instructions by the Judge on how to proceed with our deliberations and not to discuss anything about the case with anyone at any time outside of the room anywhere else. His instructions were also provided to us in hardcopy for our deliberation session(s).

The bulk of time consumed by the prosecution was presenting the evidence/information to the jury on cell phone usage and how the cell phone to towers works. This, along with the testimonies from various bank tellers and the means by which stolen money is marked/destroyed and/or tracked. Also in determining the ability and validity of fingerprint and DNA evidence in attempting to positively identify and place at the scene individuals responsible for the crimes – oh, and video/pictures as well.

I will not be expanding on that information here.

I would also like to begin the phase of the deliberation review by saying that everyone was well behaved and certainly willing to work the details of going “by the book” to come to a verdict on each of the four charges.

At an early point of our discussions, the (selected) foreman asked to take an informal an anonymous “vote” to see where we stood with a Guilty or Not Guilty verdict. Surprisingly, all but one was Not Guilty for a majority of the charges. There was no unanimous and consistent vote for any of the four charges. But the one individual was consistent with his Guilty verdict for all four charges. This stuck out like a sore thumb for almost everyone in the room and some voiced that they wanted to know if that person would be willing to open up so discussions of presented evidence could sway his vote to change.

So I did. I started by telling them that I had classes on the U.S. Constitution, Maryland Constitution and the Duty of a Jury. I explained that We the People are the 4th branch of government (as implemented by The Jury). (So far, so good, although I recognized some skepticism.) Where it really started the disagreements was when I said we also have to judge the laws (good or bad, and to disregard the bad). One blurted out (that’s for another jury) and I said, no – that is our job as well.

To give one particular, important point of the testimony, the male defendant was accused of robbing the M&T Bank – dressed to appear as a female. But there were problems with the evidence. Video was too dark for us to recognize him immediately (despite the bank teller’s positive identification and pointing to him at the table in court). 911 audio showed a chain of misinformation at first before being corrected to point out the person of interest was a male dressed as a female.

The reason it came to this point was that I noticed that many of the jurors were playing too many what if games. (Picture’s too dark, it could be someone else, it could be his brother (ahem – he doesn’t have a brother – he said he has 2 sisters), no picture of the car, why wasn’t cell data included from the other witnesses, why so many expert witness testimony which didn’t amount to conclusive proof, couldn’t they take simple measurements, someone said the robber was 5’6” and not 5’11”, etc.) It was necessary to occasionally remind them of certain points of testimony because of these instances of “what ifs.”
This kept continuing for quite some time unfortunately, which probably is one of the reasons why we were sent home on Thursday to come back Friday morning and continue deliberations.

A reminder was offered, by me, that we are only dealing with the one defendant’s verdicts – not the females (2 of the 3) who were called to the witness stand. I also had to point out that we are only dealing with a total of four people involved with the crimes of multiple bank robberies. No one else has been found and/or determined by anyone to be involved.

Eventually and throughout there was total agreement that errors and mistakes of omission belonged on both sides (prosecution and defense). We also would have preferred to hope that places of business (banks, gas stations, fast food, small convenience stores, etc.) would invest & replace cameras for higher quality imaging. And also place measurement sticks at each location where cameras are focused. Perhaps placing hidden cameras on counter-tops looking upward as well in order to see faces of those not looking straight at the teller. That could be a big help for the future.

To skip forward a bit, one real big hang-up (particularly for me) was when reading aloud the Judge’s instructions when determining the verdicts for the 4 charges. Everyone was interpreting it as – we had to have a singular, consistent (same) verdict for all four charges at one time. This is where my heels dug in and upset everyone. I knew that was not right. They believed otherwise. I let that go the first time it came up. Eventually though, I brought it up again. I said I wanted to pose a written question to the Judge on that. They resisted, at first. I pointed out that all I wanted was to ask a question and when the Judge tells us the answer, we can proceed. (Up to then, we had prior questions answered. They have to be in writing. So this was no big deal, to me.) I wrote it up, gave it to the Foreman and it was delivered. We received that answer maybe about 15 minutes later (about the same for most prior questions). The Foreman read it to the group. It was precisely as I expected. For each, separate charge a verdict for it must be unanimous, guilty or not. So one, two, three OR four can be guilty or not. Or some mixed, such as 1 & 4 guilty but 2 & 3 not.

The primary point here is what I had mentioned throughout our deliberations. You don’t usually ask questions that you don’t already know the answers to. This is especially true for law enforcement and other points of business. The group forgot that. I had pointed out earlier that “what you read and think you understand” may not actually be what was intended. I hope that everyone learned something of that.

This is especially critical when “affecting someone’s life” – which was so often said by members of the jury early and throughout the deliberations.

To bring this diatribe to a close, we found the defendant guilty on charges 1 & 4 but not guilty on charges 2 & 3 (as there just was really insufficient evident proof for those charges based on the totality of the presented information throughout the trial).

So, yes, eventually I was swayed to agree (based on the totality we had) to change my position on charges 2 & 3. Did I make some mistakes during discussions? Sure. They corrected me and I accepted them without issue. I believe they did the same as – over time – various verdicts changed back and forth. We had opportunities to review evidence and ask questions of it. This, I thought, was extraordinary to me as 30+ years ago in a couple local level jury trials I was on we were not afforded that luxury.

One more thing I would like to point out and it is just as important. I had noticed during those times the Judge was giving us instructions (prior to breaks, lunchtime, end of day, deliberations) that he was clearly knowledgeable and in agreement with the U.S. Constitution. He was definitely a no-nonsense, top flight Judge. So be careful not to use a broad brush for all judges. This one? Excellent and very fair.

Lastly, I recognize that not everyone will view Jury Duty as I do. Perhaps this will be helpful to see and realize this very important function that we can participate in is vital to both sides of the issue, prosecution and defense.

Past Examples of injustice:
Mr. Jewell was incarcerated on charges (some years ago – decades?) and released when the new DNA technology at the time proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not the suspect or offender. (Sorry, can’t recall the specifics other than a part of his name.)

The creation of the Camden Yards baseball stadium was allowed, despite the fact that residents affected had produced more than enough signatures to appeal the taking of their property for this construction project. How do I know this? I have worked with a man who was such affected.

When Irsay had moved the Baltimore Colts out of state in the dead of night, do you really know what precipitated that? He was informed that the Governor and Legislature was about to attempt to take the ownership of the team away from him under the notion of eminent domain. How do I know this? During the classes on the Maryland Constitution, we were shown/given copies of that pending legislation. Also, long since then, I had come to know the equipment manager of the Colts. He was never informed of the move underway that night. He learned of it just like the rest of us that same evening. By the news and watching the Mayflower trucks driving away.