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My Experience as a Juror

October 1, 2014

A few months ago, I was summoned for jury duty. The way Maryland works is that if you are not seated for a trial, you may have to keep coming back every morning for up to a week. Therefore, I was pretty happy when I was selected for a one day trial on the first day I showed up.

The trial was for assault. The prosecution had a video of the entire event and I think that the prosecutor thought that would make for an easy conviction. The defendant, who was also the plaintiff’s cousin, was married to the plaintiff’s ex wife, who had recently given birth to the defendant’s child. She also had a child with the plaintiff, who had partial custody of that child. The rest of the jurors joked that it could have been an episode of Jerry Springer. When the plaintiff’s child was transferred between visiting the wife and himself, they dropped the child off at a neutral 3rd party’s house so that they wouldn’t have to see one another. The plaintiff had a history of domestic violence and other assorted crimes and the wife didn’t want to see him.

On this particular day, the plaintiff showed up at the neutral territory in person and began shouting at the wife. The video of the event did not have audio, but the defendant and the wife testified that the shouts consisted of threats of violence and insults. The plaintiff said he “couldn’t remember what he said”, but the jury was convinced he just didn’t want to admit he threatened the wife.

The defendant, upon seeing his wife threatened, tore off his shirt, ran over and pushed the plaintiff. The plaintiff was not injured and did not even fall down. Shortly thereafter, the defendant, his wife, and the children hastily jumped in their car and drove away.

The trial was fairly short because it mostly consisted of watching the video a few times, plaintiff’s testimony, the wife’s testimony, and the defendant’s testimony.

Maryland’s requirements for other defense according to Wikipedia: (at the time, we were briefed by the judge)
Defense of others is a defense, and the defendant must be found not guilty if all of the following four factors are present:
1 The defendant actually believed that the person defended was in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm.
2 The defendant’s belief was reasonable.
3 The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend the person defended in light of the threatened or actual force.
4 The defendant’s purpose in using force was to aid the person defended.

1. We determined based on the shouting, threats and body language that the wife was in immediate danger.
2. The defendant knew the plaintiff’s violent history and capacity of violence.
3. A push is extremely low force, especially since the plaintiff was not injured in any way.
4. The force used distracted the plaintiff enough for the group to make their escape. The fact that they immediately fled the scene contributed to our judgement that the purpose of the action was to defend the wife rather than attack the plaintiff.

After about a half an hour of deliberations, we returned a not guilty verdict. Only two people on the jury did not immediately say “not guilty” when the jury foreperson asked for a quick vote. One more juror conceded that not guilty was the correct verdict after 10 minutes and the remainder of deliberations were spent convincing a juror who was a law student (and thus was being a bit nitpicky).

I was surprised that the prosecutor decided to take the case to court. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant were particularly sympathetic characters, although the wife certainly was. She had a baby to take care of and throwing her husband in jail would have put tremendous stress on her, even if he wasn’t a perfectly upright citizen. The plaintiff was a rat fink son of a bitch though. After hearing the details of his history of violence, if he came after my wife, I could easily see myself doing a hell of a lot more than just pushing him back. In my view, the defendant went above and beyond his duty to use minimum force. Given that the wife was recovering from giving birth, she would have been totally helpless to defend herself. Prosecutors: Just because you have a video of what happened doesn’t mean that you’re going to get a guilty verdict.

Even if events had been different, it would have been nearly impossible to secure a guilty verdict. If the defendant had beaten the plaintiff, even severely, my verdict would not have changed. If he had stabbed the plaintiff, I would still have likely said not guilty, although I think maybe some other jurors would have disagreed. If he had killed the plaintiff, I think I would have said guilty, since that would have been excessive force. If the wife had not been present, the children would have been in danger, so perhaps we still would have found not guilty. Only if there had been no one else at the scene would “other defense” not been a viable defense. I can’t imagine myself convicting someone for a push though. I just don’t think the State should get involved unless someone is actually injured, especially when the defendant and plaintiff have a personal history like that.

In the end, it was nice that the justice was done and that the case did not require too much delving into a moral grey zone. The defendant was clearly innocent and that’s what we found. Maybe they they will fight again, and maybe they will be back in court another day, but for now, he can be with his family and continue to be a contributing member of society. One overzealous prosecutor was dealt a setback, however slight. I feel very good about my actions that day, and I’m glad I had the experience. It’s not as bad as everyone seems to think. I had one interesting day and got to contribute to our system of justice.

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