Saturday, May 03, 2008

If the Pillow Doesn't Fit, You Must Acquit

Less than three years after I last served on a jury, Travis County called me back for jury duty and I was selected yet again. I wound up spending Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday and Friday morning cooped up in a chilly courtroom climatized for three-piece suits. Damn this honest-looking mug of mine.

Some folks say they wouldn't want a trial by jury because your fate is being decided by 12 people (or six in this case) who were too stupid to get out of jury duty. Despite all the problems with our system of justice, I'm still a bit of an idealist about jury duty. I wouldn't lie to get out of it in the absence of dire economic hardship because I think serving on a jury is a quintessential American experience. It's absolutely a pain in the ass, but so is going to Disneyland.

We were deciding a 2004 theft case in which an interior designer allegedly stole pillows from a local globe-girdling furniture store I won't name here. The specifics of the case weren't all that interesting, but the designer had once worked for Vanilla Ice and the ridiculous, overpriced furniture at the store in question was the source of great amusement to Kate and I during a Saturday browsing tour months ago.

As it was, the state's case fell laughably short of beyond a reasonable doubt and the store owner's haughty, inconsistent testimony did her cause way more harm than good. The defendant had no previous criminal record and has been employed at another furniture store since 2004. I couldn't help but wonder if the state's attorneys actually wanted to lose.

It took us about 20 minutes to return a not guilty verdict. As foreperson, I got to stand up and read the verdict to the judge. The defendant's response was quite emotional. Even though the alleged theft was only a Class B Misdemeanor, as a licensed designer, a conviction would've jeopardized her career. I would've found her guilty had the evidence supported such a verdict, but I was really glad I didn't have to.

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