It was an interesting day. I awoke at 4:30am and started the day by drinking two double espressos at home. I arrived at the Moore Justice Center in Viera around 7:30am and had my first cup of coffee almost immediately and followed-up with four or five more cups and a coke before making it to a courtroom around 1:30pm. Just so you understand, I slept less than 3 hours before doing all of that.
Could I have passed a Field Sobriety Test?
Judge Cathleen B. Clark controlled her courtroom well and she was nice - something I never thought I'd say about a judge. While I abhor the system she chose to work in, I admit that we need more like her instead of what we usually get. Judge Clark was liberal with both the state and the defense during voir dire, allowing more time for questioning of the jury pool than my own judge in my racketeering and conspiracy trial. Seriously. Perhaps equally as long as Paul Bergrin had to question the jury pool in his massive federal case.
By this point, you may realize that this was a DUI trial. As a longtime LEAP and NORML supporter, I really do not know what a Field Sobriety Test (FST) is, but I didn't want to sound completely clueless and ask. Well, I just Googled it and it's exactly what I thought it was, so that's a good thing. It's the test that cops give at a traffic stop if they think you are intoxicated - stand on one leg, walk and turn, check your eyes etc.... At one point the jury pool was asked if we could think of any valid reason not to submit to a FST as a driver. Most potential jurors came-up with at least one reason. I offered several in the course of the conversation. At the time, I thought a breathalyzer was a FST also, and perhaps it is, but can't find any info on it now.
I stated that I wasn't entirely sure that I could pass a FST at that moment. So much coffee / caffeine and so little sleep had me blurting out numerous thoughts as we progressed through the voir dire. If you know me at all, you know I'm weird enough to say what I really think just about anywhere. Of course I tried to guard my inclination to be too brutally honest at the wrong time as I believed the defendant might need someone like me on the jury, someone that knows what the state is really all about, someone that knows what time it is.
As it turned out, most of my fellow citizen jurors knew what time it was too. That's a good thing and I can only hope that the defendant was acquitted. He looked to be my son's age and I doubt that he would have taken it to trial if there wasn't too much at stake. I do not recall his last name or I'd look-up the case in the clerk's office online.
It was easy to figure out some of the issues with the case by the questions the prosecutor and the defense asked. I'll start by stating that the case should never have been filed to begin with. This seems to be par for the course in Brevard County, Florida. Cops here will arrest a ham sandwich and force the victim defendant to prove innocence or prove a negative, at least this holds true if you're not one of their informants. On the other hand, their informants get away with murder - literally.
Issues of the Case
Now this is my perception of the situation derived from the questioning of the jury pool and is not absolute. At the end of voir dire, I was excused (go figure), so I am not aware of all the facts:
The defendant refused Field Sobriety Tests.
The Palm Bay PD cops neglected to make a video recording.
The only witnesses were Palm Bay PD officers.
The defendant refused whatever plea deal the state offered.
The defendant did not intend to testify in his defense.
The state really had no case.
Much of the questioning in voir dire focused on potential juror trust of law enforcement and discussions were geared to reveal encounters and past experiences with cops. Good grief. For a moment, imagine me attempting to respond to some of these questions without mentioning my previous case and without lying. Not an easy tightrope to walk, especially when you have had as much caffeine as I did that day.
At one point there was no way around a response that I did not trust cops and would never give permission for anything for any reason, such as a FST or a vehicle search. But I was not alone in those thoughts, which was a learning experience for me. I didn't realize how many of my fellow citizens have suffered at the hands of an overzealous cop hellbent on locking them in cage or simply harassing them. It did take some time for most to open-up about their experiences and thoughts though and perhaps that's why the judge allowed so much time for voir dire.
So what did I learn?
Mainly I learned that the state will take anyone to trial regardless of the quality of the evidence. In my case they went for quantity versus quality. In this case it was just slim pickings. The state expected the jury to simply believe what the Palm Bay PD officers stated, with no corroborating evidence whatsoever. Now that's scary.
With such a flimsy excuse for evidence there's no way in hell I could have come-up with a guilty verdict. At the time, I was reminded of a joke:
How can you tell when a cop is lying? He opens his mouth and speaks.
When a cop is testifying they don't call it testilying for no reason. Cops falsify arrest reports and statements and commit perjury on the stand with impunity - that's a fact!
I always thought that DUI cases were based on scientific evidence, not the word of cops making their quota for the night. I stated something to this effect when the prosecutor was asking questions that reflected no evidence in the case. The prosecutor sort of brushed it under the rug. She was nice - certainly far more personable and nice than my persecutor, John Craft, formerly with the Statewide Prosecutor's Office and now an Assistant U.S. Attorney. She was not intrusive, but it was obvious that the state was shopping for a jury of cop-lovers.
If you believe cops just because they're cops, you would convict this defendant, but if you were me, well, he would have been acquitted or it would be a hung jury - take your pick. I don't care how long we all had to return to the courthouse, I'd never, ever convict on the word of a cop. I'm not that stupid. I learned what time it was long ago.
During voir dire there was a second prosecutor that spent most of his time on a laptop and pointing to stuff for the lady prosecutor as she questioned us. I must imagine that he was searching Google and Facebook for jury pool names, including my own. If he looked at my FB timeline, he probably saw this:
I also learned that the very great majority of jurors / citizens expect to hear from the defendant. Of course I already knew that from my own case. If the defendant doesn't fill-in the blanks for the jury, the prosecutor will. And yes, I testified in my defense in my case and was drilled and screamed at for most of an entire day by a very experienced (and overzealous) prosecutor. We had arguments and screaming matches while I was on the stand - literally.
So hopefully I got over my PTSD concerning the court people and courthouses by confronting the issues head-on with this jury duty. I even laughed with a cop today, which is a first in a long time (at least 12 years) for me. As reluctant as I was to go, I am happy that I did. I learned more than I'll say, but I'm one of those people that's always testing, searching for vulnerabilities, and I found what I was seeking.
I also met some nice people and had lunch with a couple of wonderful women. A big shout-out to Carolyn - it was great discussing Paris and the rest of Europe with you. Good times, no doubt. And a big hello to Noella, retired corrections officer... I've never encountered a corrections officer that was not nice to me - well, one of many when I was arrested - but I understand it's a job and a lifestyle. It was great to meet you both!
For the record, I wouldn't Call the Cops if my neighbor was a serial killer!