Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Excused from Work

Apologies for the silence yesterday, but I kind of reached the state where I couldn't string together coherent groups of words. Besides, the judge gave me a note excusing me from work. I think that meant I was excused from work while on the jury, but since I am the boss, I could take it however I wanted, so I excused myself from work for the rest of the day (I did giggle a bit at being given a note to take to my boss -- maybe I should send it with my copy edits if I don't meet that original deadline). Yesterday ended up being quite a busy day. I sent someone to jail that morning, then stopped by the import shop to buy some accessories for the Browncoat Ball, got home, had lunch and was on the verge of collapse when I got some potentially very good news that left me wired while also tired, so that a nap was out of the question. I mostly just read magazines since my brain was shot, then watched TV in the evening and went to bed early. I guess it was my post-convention collapse combined with an added post-jury collapse. It's quite understandable to be so tired after five days of emotional exhaustion and being around people, but now I have a ton of work that must get done today, and I'm still tired.

Now that the trial is over, I'm allowed to talk about the case. I'll keep it kind of vague, since by "talk about it" I suspect the judge was thinking more in terms of talk to family and friends rather than blog about it to hundreds. It was kind of a disturbing case, not because of what actually happened but because of all the things surrounding it. It was a domestic assault case, and so many things about it highlighted what a problem that is in our society. First of all, during the jury selection process, the prosecutor pointed out the legal definition of assault, that it involves causing bodily harm, which could be something as minor as causing pain -- something like a slap that might not leave bruises or marks. I was surprised by the number of people (mostly men, but a few women) who said that even though that was what the law was, they didn't think they could convict someone for a slap (it was a misdemeanor case, so it's not like we were sending them to the gallows for a slap). It got those people out of serving on the jury, and then the case turned out to be much more than that, as there were photos of all the bruises, welts and red marks. Those were horrifying, but I still think I was more horrified by the number of people who thought that a husband slapping his wife was no big deal and that it was extreme to punish him for it.

Then there was the question during jury selection about what we'd think if the victim recanted. When they re-did the family violence laws in Texas, they changed things so that it's the state that presses charges, not the victim. The main reason is that so many abuse victims do recant and want charges dropped, either because that's the cycle they're in -- get knocked around, get mad enough to call the cops, then the abuser apologizes and she regrets calling the cops and drops the charges, and then it happens again -- or else because the abuser intimidates the victim into dropping charges. The way it is now, if you call the cops, then it's in the system and there's no changing your mind. That also means that it isn't the victim's "fault" if charges are pressed (not that this will stop abusers from blaming their victims). A lot of people on the panel said they couldn't convict if the victim recanted. I thought it was pretty widely known that this is incredibly common in domestic abuse cases, but these people seemed to think that if the victim changed her mind, the abuse couldn't have been real (or else they didn't want on the jury and were just saying things). Again, the actual case turned out to be very different because there were other witnesses, a tape of a 911 call, a statement in the victim's handwriting, the photographs, and the victim never said her husband didn't do it, just that she no longer remembered what happened.

As a jury, we were in absolute agreement that there was no doubt whatsoever that the guy was guilty, and our main motivation for wanting to make sure something was done wasn't any kind of vengeance or vindictiveness. We were really worried that this couple was stuck in that kind of cycle, that if he got away with it this time, he'd do it again, and maybe do worse, or that the children might be involved. Unfortunately, we couldn't mandate counseling (he'd rejected a plea deal that involved mandatory counseling). The whole thing was just very, very sad. I so wanted to take that young woman aside and stage an intervention, to tell her she didn't have to put up with that kind of treatment, that someone who really loved her wouldn't do that to her. We got to talk to the attorneys afterward, and even the defense attorney said he'd had to do the best he could with what he had (I did nearly have a hugely inappropriate giggle fit during his closing statement when I had a sudden, vivid image of Richard Gere tapdancing in the movie Chicago), but he knew the guy had done it, if maybe not quite in the way it came out in the trial. I guess I'll add this family to my list of things to pray for, because they need help.

My first jury experience was a miserable one, mostly because of the other jurors. We ended in a hung jury. But this was a good group of people who were all reasonable and conscientious, and I didn't mind being locked in a room with them (I minded being locked in a room, period, but it wasn't so bad with these people). There is a certain psychology at work in this kind of situation, where you find yourself bonding pretty deeply with complete strangers thrown together at random, and then you all go your separate ways afterward. This may have gone some way toward curing my post-traumatic stress from that earlier experience. Still, the trial process is very difficult for me because it goes contrary to the way I think and make decisions. I score pretty high on the "N" part of the Myers-Briggs test. I may try to make pro/con lists and look at things rationally, but I almost always go with my gut impulse or that funny feeling when making a decision. I go with what feels right to me. That may be why big decisions are easier for me than minor ones. I struggle to order in a restaurant because ultimately it doesn't really matter what I order, so the gut instinct doesn't need to kick in. On big decisions, intuition works. I knew this would be my house the moment I walked in the door. I knew the agent I approached was the right one for me, so I didn't even contact anyone else. Fortunately, in this case, my intuition matched the facts and the law, so I wasn't having to struggle with knowing he was guilty while some minor, nit-picky bit of legal wrangling meant we shouldn't be able to convict. That's when my head explodes.

And now I'd better get all that work done.

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