I celebrated my release from jury duty yesterday afternoon by eating a delicious brownie and finally talking about the trial. As you might expect, I hated being silenced about my experience and the trial.
The trial revolved around four 20/21 year old Latino defendants charged with gang loitering. One defendant was charged with a second count for violation of a gang injunction. Both crimes are misdemeanors.
According to the prosecution, the four defendants (plus two others) were members of a gang near LAX. On November 17, 2007, they were loitering at the corner of a park. The sheriff’s deputies who detained them and also testified witnessed them throwing gang signs, showing off their tattoos and calling out their gang’s name. They did this with the intent to establish their dominance in that neighborhood and publicize the gang. This caused non-gang members to be intimidated. The defense countered that some of the young men were (a) not active gang members (or were never jumped in), (b) all four of the young men were not at the park on that afternoon, (c) the young men were arrested at different locations in their neighborhood (not in a group), and (d) the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department targeted these young men as part of a current push to enforce gang injunctions. After a couples hours of deliberation, we found all four defendants not guilty. I don’t think the guys were angels. If I saw them on the street in a group, I’m sure I’d feel intimidated and avoid them too. However, the prosecution’s case and the evidence didn’t get us past the standard of reasonable doubt so we returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts.
Now, you may ask, why the hell would a criminal trial for a misdemeanor take eight days*? There’s a few reasons: (1) all four defendants had their own defense attorneys; (2) jury selection took two days; and (3) the judge had us show up in the afternoon for 4 of the 6 days of trial.
You may also be wondering why I didn’t try to get out of jury duty by doing something like saying I was racist. It’s simple. First, I’m a really bad liar. I’m sure I’d be even worse in a room with over 100 people and under oath. I saw other people do it. They stressed their antipathy and distrust of law enforcement or said they’d send all gang members to fight in Iraq. They got released. But I couldn’t do that because I don’t feel that way. Second, I don’t think any judge or attorney would believe I was racist against Latino males, especially after admitting that I was a doctoral student in education and conducted research on admissions to the University of California. Third, I wanted to do be on the jury and fulfill my civic duty. Yes, I know I’m weird, but I can explain. Prior to my most recent stint as a juror, I’d been called to serve three times. During those three times, I was always a full time student and had a flexible schedule, so jury duty was only minimally inconvenient. I was always annoyed though, because I never made it out of the jury room and most days just had to call in to the automated system LA County uses for jury duty. I was even jealous of my brother, Adrian, because he was selected for a jury the first time he was called for jury duty. He was probably 18 or 19 at the time. Last, I knew I could be a good juror ’cause I’m smart and open-minded and all that good stuff.
Overall, I enjoyed the process and found it educational, interesting and at times entertaining (of course, it was boring and painful at times too). There were times when I wanted to burst out laughing, such as when the prosecutor talked about the nicknames (or monikers) for each of the guys. One was named Ratón, and actually did look like a mouse. Another time, the gang expert, a detective with the sheriff’s department, said that kids these days were moving away from wearing baggy clothes to the tight jeans representative of the emo style. Additionally, I found two of the defense attorney’s rather handsome. One was rather swoon-worthy and resembled LOST’s Jack Shephard (played by Matthew Fox) in appearance and confident swagger. Another was less conventionally handsome than the Matthew Fox look alike, but I liked his style. Even in a suit, I could sense his hipster-ness.
I’m sure jury duty could have been a lot worse if deliberations dragged out longer than a few hours. But the jury — made up mainly of African Americans, three Latinos and 2 white women — was generally cool and friendly. I got to talk to a few of my fellow jurors like Juror #1, a Latina concerned about preparing her 13 year old granddaughter for college. Juror #3, a tall black Panamanian man in his 60s, wore Lakers gear from head to toe every single day. He described himself as the Lakers’ number one fan. Juror #11, a white woman from Santa Monica was friendly and asked about my research, same as Juror #5 another black man about my dad’s age who told me about how his wife is going back to school at UCLA soon.
If I would’ve not forgotten to show up on the date I was originally summoned for, April 28th, I probably would not have ever been on a trial. I’m glad I forgot.