Jury duty, Part II: the trial – the prosecution

22 Sep

The judge explained that a trial in reality is far from what is depicted on television. All of the drama and surprises wrapped up in a 45 minute (allowing for commercials) program is hardly what happens normally.

He explained that the defense and prosecution would give opening comments, and that those comments were brief overviews of how they planned to proceed.

He asked us to pay attention to witnesses and their testimony, as well as to the evidence produced by either side. He said it was our job to weigh the evidence and to judge whether or not a witness’s testimony is believable.

He explained that if the trial carried over into days ahead, we should not watch television news accounts or read newspaper accounts of the proceedings. We should not discuss the trial with fellow jurors until ordered to the jury room to reach a verdict or verdicts. We should not communicate anything about the trial by any electronic means or devices until the trial was over, at which time we were free to discuss anything we liked.

Then, he told us to come to unanimous decisions on the four counts the defendant is charged with if possible, but to hold to our convictions we felt were reasonable.

The bailiff passed out spiral note pads and pens to each juror.

Opening comments

The defense

The attorney for the defense was a tall, thin, silver-haired and moustached gentleman. He wore his hair on the long side, and because he wore a white cowboy hat when not in court, the end lengths of his hair tended to curl in soft waves outward.

He was from the area, and his dialect was southern — but not exaggerated.

He approached the jury box with a legal pad in his hands. To my best recollection, he told us that the defense stipulated to a number of facts in the case:

That a flat-screen Sylvania television set was stolen on a specific date from the trailer home of the victim;

That the defendant, an attractive woman in her thirties, did have possession of the television at around 1 pm the day of the break-in and theft;

And that the defendant pawned the television to a local pawn shop around that time, several hours before the victim even discovered the television missing.

He then said that the defense would be unable to produce one scintilla of evidence linking his client to either the break-in or the larceny; or that she knew the television was stolen.

The prosecution

The assistant district attorney stood from her table. She was rather short and on the stout side physically, with short, dark hair. Her demeanor was one of business. She  began to talk to the jury about a point in law that allows consideration of proximity of time and circumstantial evidence as sufficient to convict — even without direct evidence.

She argued that the defendant possessed and pawned the stolen television within hours of the break-in time frame. She told us we would see video, captured in the pawn shop, of the defendant entering the shop with the television, and completing a transaction. That transaction was for $75.

Witnesses

In American courts of law, the prosecution presents its case first.  The assistant DA called the victim of the break-in to the stand.

The victim appeared to be of simple means, and worked as an in-home caregiver to elderly clients.

On the day of the break-in and larceny, she testified she returned home around 3 pm to find the front door of her mobile home ajar. She said she was in the habit of locking her house, and lived alone. She said she had given no one permission or a way to enter her home.

A FedEx package was on the stoop — which contained a shipment she was expecting.

The victim said she opened the door slightly, and noticed a top drawer in a desk pulled out slightly. She also noticed her television was gone.

Afraid to enter, thinking the burglar might still be in her home, she went next door and called the sheriff’s department.

When a deputy arrived and investigated, other items were discovered missing, including a wooden jewelry box with jewelry.

The defense attorney did not cross-examine.

The assistant DA then called the deputy sheriff who investigated the scene. He was a youngish-looking man, and somewhat nervous. Not long on the force, and unaccustomed to testifying in court, perhaps.

The deputy told the court that the victim had the original box the television came in, and was able to take down the serial number for the television.

He was able to have a search done for the television on a website called Leads Online. The deputy testified that the site is where legitimate pawn shops upload information about various items pawned, and includes identifying information like serial numbers.

He was able to locate the television by serial number on the website, which also included the name of the shop and its address. A local pawn shop.

The deputy then called the shop and met with one of the store managers. The manager was able to find the date of the sale and the approximate time by pulling the sales receipt from his computer. He was then able to produce video that covered the time period the television was brought in and sold.

Asked if the deputy followed up on the address and phone number recorded on the sales receipt, he said he called the cell phone number, but got a recorded message that voicemail was full. The address was in a neighboring county, and he called the sheriff’s department there and the name on the receipt did not live there, according to that department.

The defense attorney objected to the statement as heresay, which the judge sustained.

Adjournments

We were then adjourned so that the court could set up to show the videos from the pawn shop of the sale.

In the jury room located behind the courtroom we shuffled in and sat around a long table. The judge had constrained us from discussing anything about the case yet.

Our jury was comprised of 11 men and two women. One of the men was an alternate. Quiet at first, the men began discussing football, and the two women sat silent.

The bailiff knocked on the door and invited us back into the courtroom.

The video

The assistant DA then called the manager of the pawn shop to the stand. He testified that another employee had facilitated the transaction, and answered questions about how pawn shops operate.

He told the court that legitimate pawn shops are very aware they are seen as an avenue for thieves to unload stolen property for cash. He said in his operation, careful documentation, proper ID, and signed receipts are used to ensure pawns or sales are legitimate.

He was shown a receipt for the transaction and asked what information was included. Along with the address and phone number of the seller was the driver’s license number of the seller, plus make, model and serial number of the television.

Projected onto a screen at the  front wall of the courtroom was a rectangular image that contained three smaller rectangles — the video camera surveillance angles we were to see.

The witness explained each angle, and noted the day and time stamp, which were about a quarter past 1 pm on the day of the break-in.

The back wall camera recorded the defendant coming into the pawn shop, carrying the flatscreen television width-wise. She approached the store counter, which was in the foreground.

The witness described what occurred, from the employee greeting the woman, putting the television on the counter, and then checking it out to make sure it worked.

The defendant then produced her ID — her driver’s license, and the employee went to a computer screen to pull up information as well as to enter the transaction.

At that point the assistant DA asked if the information that came up from her driver’s license was different in some way, would the new information be inputted? The witness said yes.

It appeared that no new information was inputted. The witness said that there was existing information because the defendant had done business with the shop before, and that information came up when her driver’s license number was inputted.

Continuing the video, a sales receipt was printed out, which the woman signed, and the employee then counted out cash, which he handed to her.

She then left the store.

On cross-examination, the attorney for the defendant had the video backed up to just before the woman entered the store with the television.

As she appeared outside the store through the storefront window, her attorney asked the frame be stopped.

“That appears to be a gentleman with her,” he said, pointing to a man walking beside the defendant.

The video continued, and the man opened the door for the defendant.

“He opens the door for her, but he does not go in,” said her attorney. “And then he leaves the front area headed into the parking lot.”

At this point, the prosecution rested.

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