Friday, August 12, 2005

Jury Duty: Body of Evidence

(NOTE: This case is now resolved, so I am free to discuss details.)

The following day, we had opening arguments and evidence. The broad strokes: Police office notices a speeding car, clocks the car for a few blocks, then turns on his lights. Driver does not pull over, but makes two turns, then pulls into a driveway and (at some point) gets out of the car. As the police officer pulls up, he thinks, "I've been to this house before!" He recognizes the driver from a previous encounter. The driver walks towards the house, the officer orders him back in the car, fears the situation is escalating, and calls for backup. The officer gets the driver headed back to the car, at which point the driver doesn't sit in the driver's seat, but leans in and starts going through the glove box. Backup officer arrives and thinks "I've been here before! On a different occasion than the first officer! And last time, I had the guy in handcuffs!" Eventually, the police get the driver away from the car, take him to the ground, and hand cuff him.

The charge was California Penal Code 148 (a) (1) - Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructing Officer.

The points of disagreement were: When did the defendant see the police car behind him? How far towards the house did he walk, when he did go back to the car, did the officer grab him and help him along, or did the defendant start back before the officer started "pushing" him? When backup arrived, which officer should the defendant obey? Did the backup officer allow enough room for the defendant to comply with his orders? Was excessive force used?

That last one was important - if excessive force is used, then the officer is not conducting his lawful duties, and the defendant is innocent.

What was not in dispute is that the defendant got out of his car instead of staying to talk to the officer. The officer recalls that the defendant immediately got out and started walking away, but the defendant says he only got out after the officer was "berating" him about not stopping. So, he stood up to talk to the officer man to man.

Unfortunately for the defendant, his attorney was a public defender, and appeared to be fairly new to the profession. Some things that should have been pressed on cross examination were not. For example, it turned out that a third officer who arrived at the scene and testified also returned to the house later, but the defense did not use that to establish the legitimacy of the defendant's claim of injuries suffered during the arrest. That may have had some impact, but in deliberations the amount of force used was found to be reasonable anyway.

The fact that the defendant did not dispute the key point of getting out of the car and walking toward the house, and that he generally appeared to be a very controlling sort of man, made it hard for us to acquit him. There were general credibility issues with him on the stand as well.

Despite the defense's assertion that excessive force was used, we found that it was obvious that the police were carrying out their lawful duties and that the defendant's actions that night resisted or delayed those officers, making the verdict guilty.

Our hope is that the judge will offer some type of anger management therapy to enable the defendant to live the next two years of his life without four more visits from the police.


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