I, the Jury by
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Prompted By Jury Duty

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I’ve only been called for this service twice, and actually served but once. The second time was in Chicago. It was  murder trial; the defendant was a gang member. I really didn’t want to serve on that jury. During voir dire I made sure that everyone knew I have multiple science degrees, as supposedly prosecutors shy away from people with professional training in second-guessing. I also made it known that as I live in an active gang area, I’d be very nervous about convicting a member. All of this is absolutely true, and it seemed to work, as I was excused.

All of this is absolutely true...

The first time was in Quincy, MA. I could not wriggle free, so I was empaneled, if that’s the right term. A guy had been pulled over for a traffic violation, and the cop discovered that he had another or two outstanding MV violations. The officer’s response was to handcuff and arrest him. A block from his house. With his little daughter in the back seat screaming and sobbing at seeing her Daddy being arrested. His pleas that he at least be allowed to get her home before being taken away were ignored.

We decided that, even if he were legally in the right, the cop was being a total dick, and we could not rule out a racial motivation on his part. We gleefully practiced jury nullification and found him innocent.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.


Tags: Trial, jury
Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Dave, such awful stories are too much in the news these days.

    Let’s not defund the police, let’s reform them.

  2. Yea! Sometimes this kind of “jury nullification” is more than justified. You probably went some way toward restoring the defendant’s belief that there could actually be justice in America.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      I am not a lawyer, but I do believe that jurors stand as a final line of defense between individuals and the power of the State. That might let some guilty go free, but I think that that is a reasonable price to pay for that safeguard.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Good for you, Dave. Racially biased treatment, especially in front of a child, should not be rewarded.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Well that cheered me up. Hooray for juries, every now and then.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Good stories, Dave. Thanks for sharing them.

  6. Dave. When did this happen.? If years ago it is truly impressive. If now, it is an excellant example of why we need to reform police departments. whenI lived in Harlem in the 1960s I observed police criminal behavior. (see the Knapp report,) I could nothing about it. Now, there are groups that are providing public testimony.
    I never revered the police. My father, a refugee from Poland who was the object of much abusive behavior, always began to sweat when he saw a policeman near our home in North Hollywood.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      I lived in MA 1990-1996.
      I was raised to respect the police, as I was raised to be respectful to anyone. But I can see how someone not raised white middle-class (lower, but still, the white part is the important part) might have a hard time with that.

      I was once a defendant (well, I was contesting a ticket) in a motor vehicle case. I expected the cop, who had been aggressive, threatening and verbally abusive toward me, to lie on the stand, but she never showed up at all so I won by default.

  7. Suzy says:

    Good story, Dave, about both of your jury experiences. Saying you lived in an active gang area was absolutely the right thing to do in that Chicago trial. Had they explicitly said that the defendant was a gang member, or did you just infer it? And in the Quincy case, good for you! Even if the cop had the facts right, the way he acted was enough reason to find for the defendant!

    • Dave Ventre says:

      We were told of his gang affiliation and specifically asked if that might pose a problem for us. We had just moved into the neighborhood and I didn’t want to have to sell our new condo and go into hiding. The accused wasn’t actually from our ‘hood, but I was taking no chances.
      I’m not sure if my decisions would have been swayed by fear of being murdered, but I knew that they might be.

  8. Jim Willis says:

    Dave, sounds like you had two extreme kinds of cases confronting you. I’m glad you were excused from the first one, and I think your jury made the right call on the second one. I remember once an officer threatened to arrest me late at night on a lonely parkway because he didn’t think I slowed down enough when I passed his squad car on the shoulder when he was inside writing out a speeding ticket for a motorist he had pulled over. The judge felt he overreached and the charge was dropped.

  9. pattyv says:

    Dave, both experiences worked in your favor from opposite directions. Judging a gang member can definetly have fatal consequences, your participation in the MA case helped curtail a pompous cop. Good for you!

  10. John Shutkin says:

    Great stories both, Dave. And you got all the legal terminology just right.

    Your second case was, in fact, an example of jury nullification, something which usually is considered a bad thing. And it often is — such as when a racist white jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, the punk who drove up to a demonstration in Wisconsin and fatally shot two people in 2020. But, even as a lawyer, I am just fine with nullification in the context of a cop being “a total dick” (though I don’t think it is phrased exactly that way in the law books).

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