Monday, May 14, 2018

Jury Duty Avoid at All Costs

My close-up look at our justice system started with this view

and ended with this envelope.

In the end I am neither pleased nor troubled.

Living in Charlotte my entire life and never being "summoned" for jury duty I was surprised, no actually shocked when I received the letter requesting my presence. In the words of Clark Griswold "Oh Eddie, if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn't be more surprised".

On the fifth floor of the Mecklenburg County Court House, tucked into one corner of the triangle shaped modern building is the jury assembly room. The county staff, try to help you make the best of the situation. The process of being a juror is simple, check-in, get your parking ticket stamped, and take a seat in one of the movie theater - lecture hall style seats. Wait for the brief introduction, swearing in and general rules followed by a "movie".

This past week the movie was Jumanji, which in itself is ironic because the plot is a group of strangers who are sucked into a alternative world where they must solve a puzzle while avoiding death and losing all of their three lives in order to escape.

The jury selection process begins when a judge requests 30 jurors. The jury pool staff asks that those called respond with "here" or "present" and then proceed to the lobby area. My name is the 23rd  called and I answer here. Welcome to the alternative world of criminal justice.

We line up just outside the Jury assembly room, against the cool granite walls of the fifth floor corridor. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Deputy introduces himself as "Deputy Dickason" and asks us to count off. Like nervous Marine Corps recruits it starts slowly and with his help 1, ... 2, he silently mouths the number 3, finally the chosen few get the idea, 4, 5, ..... 21 22, I say 23, and following me in quick succession 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29... Dickason waits, "where's 30?", his voice commands. Number 30 rounds the corner unaware, Dickason's eye roll and "there's always one" garners laughs and we count off again.

The deputy, long a veteran with the department gives a few basic rules and we are escorted into the court room. The Assistant District Attorney seated on the left and the Defense Attorney and the Defendant seated on the right.

Not surprising the defendant is black. What is surprising is that despite his dreadlocks he's wearing a well fitting suit and glasses. The combination gives the appearance of a mid management banker about 30 years old. My first thought is this clearly this must be some sort of mistake.

Katie Hughes the Assistant District Attorney and a Wake Forest Law School grad is young, attractive and relatively inexperienced and it shows. Having joined the DA's Office under Andrew Murray in 2016 she's one of dozens of lawyers who work the grind of misdemeanor and low priority felony cases. As part of the DA's crimes against property team her work load is intense. She has just enough experience to work this case by herself and she does so with confidence. 

Via LinkedIn

The defense attorney Thomas Blackburn may be one of the area's best. With 30 years of law behind him he is comfortable, warm and soft spoken, he's the essence of a southern gentleman that you would expect to give a passionate summation at the end and he doesn't disappoint.

The judge Karen Eday-Williams, a strikingly attractive black woman who has just been called up from the district courts to superior court with this case. She is clearly in charge and her voice booms against the courtroom walls thanks to a microphone placed directly in front of her. But she doesn't need it, as her voice is clear and every word she speaks carries a sense of authority.

Back to our Deputy Dickason officially the court's bailiff, he is the best part of the process, jaded, seen it all, and matter of fact, he takes the edge off the proceedings, calling us his "professional jury" and asking that we make him look good.

Seating the jury is a swift process, and while colorful it is just one step on the way to a verdict. The selection process begins as the court clerk calls out 12 names, and each takes a seat in the jury box at the direction of Deputy Dickason.

ADA Hughes introduces herself and outlines the case, the judge fills in the blanks and then Tom Blackburn addresses the jury. And in his words I find my possible escape. If I'm called and there are at least six jurors ahead of me, I'll politely explain that while I'm capable of thoughtful, unbiased and deliberate consideration my son is a fraud investigator with the victim's bank and I have numerous friends and family members within CMPD. Certainly I'll be excused as totally biased and unfit.

Jurors are questioned and those offering lame excuses are gently admonished by the ADA Hughes. A common tactic is to feign hearing loss, but deputy Dickason has that covered with loaner head phones, still one gentleman plays dumb putting the headphones on the wrong way and shouting answers at the ADA. Another explains he has to leave the country, and I silently beg the ADA to ask "are you is some kind of trouble?"

The questions continue, education, experience with crime, and yet some are not questioned at all and still others answer with just a simple nod of the head to affirm. Both lawyers listen intently to each juror and their answers.

Ms. Hughes then dismisses four of the jurors including those with lame excuses and the selection process begins again. I suspect she tossed those who are not focused or smart enough to pay attention. Four more members of our group sitting in the gallery are placed in the "hot seat" as Ms. Hughes calls it.

Two more jurors are excused, and with their removal, a CMPD Officer named Ericsson is called and like lightening my name also. We both take a seat in the jury box. And just as quickly the jury is dismissed for lunch, but not before the judge reminds us not to re-search or talk among ourselves about the case.

During the lunch break Ericsson and I discuss common acquaintances avoiding the topic of the case we are about to hear and idly chat with Deputy Dickason. We know a lot of the same people. After a hour break for lunch we are escorted back to the court room for the process to continue. As we walk down the corridor Officer Ericsson turns and suggests that he'll be dismissed and he assures me that I will be dismissed also.

Within minutes of returning to our hot seats, Officer Ericson is dismissed (with considerable thanks) by Tom Blackburn. I certain I'm going home next, but Blackburn glances my way and says he's satisfied, and with that I'm on the jury of 12.

One alternate also needs to be selected, so the process is repeated. But the first name called is a short Latino man who is obviously eager to serve his community and fulfill his civic duty in his new home country. But he admits that he only understands about 80 percent of the english he hears. He's dismissed by the judge before the ADA can make the request, he understands but is clearly heart broken over his dismissal.

Nine minutes later an alternate selected and "we the jury" are sworn in.

The trial begins in earnest with a video and testimony from a Food Lion assistant manager, followed by a Walmart loss prevention officer, a CMPD Detective, a CMPD Officer, a former CMPD Officer now working for the GPS Ankle bracelet monitoring company and others. There is so much circumstantial evidence that the case goes to a second day. The testimony is dull dry and endless. In total we will watch about 20 minutes of silent video, but the process of doing so will take hours.

Then there is a surprise, the defendant takes the stand early in the morning on day two. He is unintelligible, his rapid fire staccato explanation is at such volume that he is repeatedly asked to repeat himself and to back away from the microphone. Even so I understand only about 80 percent of what he is saying.

Public defender Blackburn's hope of a acquittal or hung jury has just vanished and he moves quickly to slow his client down and desperately tries to salvage the testimony.

Interesting fact, once the defendant takes the stand and offers his testimony his past criminal record can be used to discredit his testimony. A half a dozen prior convictions does not help his credibility.

After several hours of video that often does not play, which requires the jury to leave the court room while the judge debates the viability of the DVD player, the defendants testimony and cross examination the evidence is complete and its time for each lawyer to give a summation.

Blackburn's summary is short and to the point, he points to the fact that the GPS data proved his client didn't steal the credit card and therefore he didn't know the card was stolen. His summation lasts less than 3 minutes, there are no pregnant pauses or Law and Order dum-dums.

Note to public defenders if the defendant is going to invoke the “my momma” defense, momma should at least be seated in the court room. Family or lack there of weighed large on this jury and I suspect this is big on all juries.

Hughes summary is based once again on graphics and the computer system that is full quirks and fails. At one point Hughes presents a graphic with the 3 key points of law pivotal to her case. Sadly 3 seconds later and the screen is gone. The one screen that made her case went poof into power point oblivion never to return again. Its hard to say if this was an error or deliberate.

Random thought, the MeckCounty DA needs to have a group of IT/AV pros on staff. The poor ADA fumbled one PowerPoint exhibit after another. Using video surveillance evidence is great except when the ADA has no clue how to make it play. "Source not found" is the graphic I recall seeing on the computer screen in front of me most often.

Bonus suggestion to Mecklenburg County ADA if you talk with your hands don’t forget to turn off or at least put down the laser pointer before giving your long and passionate summation. The jury box looked like a dozen crazed cats fascinated by a red dot racing around the room as she gave her soliloquy.

The contrast between the two lawyers is stunning. Blackburn totally old school and Hughes struggling with technology and not connecting with the jurors who are distracted by the computer screens.

With both lawyers completing their summations we turn our attention to Judge Williams. She instructs the jury as to the point of law to consider and we are excused to the jury deliberation room.

Deputy Dickason tells us we need to select a foreman and before he can close the door, I am singled out as the chosen one. I apparently have a problem with saying no to women.

Suddenly my most disturbing nightmare has became very real. I am locked in a room with no windows, and only a single door with an armed guard for escape from a room where I am trapped inside with 9 angry women. Outnumbered, my only way out of this alternative universe is to get them all to agree!

While I sincerely appreciate my fellow jurors unanimously electing me “foreman” I didn’t expect we’d have a 2 hour discussion on intent.

Accepting the position or burden of foreman, I tell my fellow jurors that I am totally convinced the defendant is innocent. The look of shock is priceless, but I add that the hits just kept coming. Who wears a distinctive hoodie while attempting to use a stolen credit card and then posts a selfie in the same hoodie on Facebook? I end with "therefore I'm saying guilty".

On the first polling two jurors are hold outs on a guilty verdict, two otters are guility but are waffling.

The ankle monitor that cleared the defendant of breaking into the victim’s car a misdemeanor, is convicting him of possessing her credit card a felony.

In his own testimony the defendant admitted he tried to use the card. It was clear that the owner of the card had not authorized the defendant to use the card. So the point of question becomes intent.

As a whole we are confused about intent. Judge Williams has instructed us that in order to convict the ADA must prove 3 points, missing any one of the three and we must acquit.

  • the cardholder did not consent to the taking.
  • the defendant took the financial transaction card from the possession or control of another.
  • the defendant intended to use it.

  • To the First Point, the defendant did not have the card owner's consent. This was clear. The Second Point the card must be taken from the possession of the owner. While the defendant did not take the card from the victim he acted "in-concert" with someone who did. The defendant admitted he used the card that he got from his friend and it didn't work, the video evidence, GPS data, and store credit card detail proved this as well.

    But the question of intent becomes an issue. The two jurors are confused if intent is just to use the card or if he intended to use a stolen card. There is considerable concern that if he didn't know the card was stolen was he guilty given the points of law.

    Its clear we the jury are confused. We agree we need clarification on the law since we are interpreting differently. I write a note to Judge Williams, "your honor, with apologies we need clarification of the third point of law "intent" sincerely".

    Fifteen minutes later we are all back in the court room, but Judge Williams will only "repeat" her prior instructions. It doesn't help.

    Back in the jury deliberation room the debate resumes. After much heated discussion and various interpretations of the points of law I conduct the 4th polling and much to my surprise the voices sailed around the table clockwise with guilty. I ask if everyone is in agreement and answer is a overwhelming yes.

    I waste no time in signing the verdict form and delivering it to Bailiff Dickason. Who is genuinely surprised.

    No joy no satisfaction the day longing to be over.

    Within minutes we are back to the courtroom. As foreman I stand alone for the jury, it is a moment I never imagined I'd fine myself in. The words GUILTY of all charges and Yes your honor seem surreal and profound.

    The jury is excused and within minutes we are all going our separate ways.

    In a case that should have never gone to trial neither the state or the defense were brilliant. The case was weak, as was the ADA. The defense was eloquent but couldn’t control his client.

    In the end as it is with most criminal trials there are no clear winners. Judge Eady-Williams sentenced the defendant Mylieak Shawn Patterson to 8-19 months in prison, that sentence was suspended pending his successful completion of 24 months of supervised probation. 

    The defendant was convicted of a crime for which he never saw a dime, the resources of the state and county, the jurors, employees of Walmart and Food Lion, CMPD Detective and Officer cost us all thousands of dollars.

    The defendant Patterson it turns out is a career criminal a habitual felon that has been arrested more than 30 times in the last 2 years. He's only 20 and his prior arrests range from drug charges to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon to AWDW for apparently shooting at someone. 

    Not surprisingly he's been given a free pass being acquitted of most charges and given probation on everything else. This case was the state's last chance to put him behind bars at least for a few months.

    For those who know me as a law and order hard liner, and for Dickason who pointed out that he wasn't surprised I was quickly appointed foreman, I want you to know I didn't point the jury in any one direction. I simply let the conversation flow and only asked questions to keep the conversation progressing. I wouldn't hesitate to call anyone of the jurors my friend but only recall one or two of their names. Our brief several hours together forever etched in my memory. 

    And so it goes.


    Anonymous said...

    Probation? Are you kidding me? This idiot is gonna kill someone and until he does we just have to let this nasty monkey wander the streets? Where is the justice?

    Anonymous said...

    KEW should have gone into acting. She seems well-suited to present a showing of a particular kind.

    Separate from that, did the ADA present the priors before sentencing?
    Aren't there sentencing guidelines?
    In Mecklenburg, there are some judges that will let off cold-blooded violent criminals caught on tape. We have that reputation. VOTE THEM OUT.

    We have a few good ones.

    Anonymous said...

    And who said that Ringling Bros. was no longer operating....

    Anonymous said...

    Racist jerk!

    Anonymous said...

    Judge Williams total libtard no way she'd ever send a thug to jail. How the hell did she get to superior court?

    Anonymous said...

    When a judge's rulings are inconsistent with basic law as if they don't understand the law, I don't understand how they get promoted to Superior Court. Of course I don't understand how they got into the position of judge in the first place

    Anonymous said...

    I am soooo glad that I am retired and moved far away from the shit hole that Charlotte has quickly become. I now live in a small community that is predominantly white and most are retired. Guess what?
    No murders....
    No shootings...
    No stabbings...
    No robberies...
    No rapes....
    No break-ins...

    Coincidence? I think not.....

    Anonymous said...

    The entire judicial system has become a freaking joke with the race card being pulled continuously by certain people. The thugs that commit the crimes, now have more rights than the cops do. It's there get out of jail free card and especially with those people sitting in positions of so called authority.

    Anonymous said...

    Maybe if police would stand up for all citizens, not just for police, you would have a better result. Maybe if you would speak up about blue corruption and remove bad cops, you would have a better result.

    Also, PLEASE take a grammar and writing class.

    "THERE" = a place or location
    "THEIR" = the possessive word you were searching for
    "THEY'RE" = a contraction of they + are

    "so-called" requires a hyphen

    There should be no comma between "crimes" and "now"

    If you were the person posting on the other story about this time, let me add that

    "YOUR" = possessive of you
    "YOU'RE" = contraction of you + are

    Is it possible that your reports are holding you back?

    I do think our judicial system is largely a joke, but that's no excuse for winking and nodding while you let corrupt, bad cops stay on the job.

    Anonymous said...

    11:07, you're funny. Do you have future job plans. Look into teaching. The criminal element could use some teachers. Oh wait, maybe if teachers would spend time teaching instead of sleeping with their students..... Give it a rest moron. It gets old listening to people wine about dirty cops. There are bad apples in every profession. Do you cry out for other employees to step up in the banking industry, medical field, schooling, etc when there are issues?? I bet not.

    One can only speak out so much before they are pushed aside, cast out and/or targeted. I am sure you know this because you are a whistleblower in your profession, right!

    Cedar Posts said...

    I was a senior in high school totally freaked out that I wouldn't pass a history class because the teacher was obsessed with grammar and spelling. Never mind that I could correctly describe the member states and leaders of Hitler's "Axis Powers", explain why in detail Switzerland was neutral and point to each successive battle from D-Day to Japan's surrender in order.

    Didn't matter, she failed me with 69 forcing me to miss graduation and re-enroll at Myers Park the following August.

    What a freaking Bitch! Now a dead bitch!

    So anytime I see someone yammering on about spelling and grammar, I'm reminded that Mrs. Bitchzod's soul is clearly smoldering in the pits of hell. Just saying.

    Anonymous said...

    Wow, someone that tried to help you with grammar and spelling is a dead bitch? Angry?

    7:53, your statements that "the criminal element" could use some teachers are correct. But a quick check of police reports will demonstrate that many officers are woefully unprepared to write even basic reports, so your defensive point is noted.

    And yes, I do believe criminals in every profession should be removed and prosecuted when appropriate. The difference here is that police are public employees. Police have guns. Police have authority to handcuff and jail people and kill them then make 'explanations' later. This calls for stronger scrutiny and more urgency than a bank teller.

    If you're a good officer, you wouldn't want anything less standing in the same uniform.
    If you're a good officer, my thanks to you.

    Anonymous said...

    Was there no consideration of past crimes in the sentencing?