The long broken arm of human law.

Today I sat on a jury, the first time I’ve ever had to do so.  The trial has concluded and the judge instructed us that we are free to discuss the case with whomever we please now, but I’m still going to be vague on personal details so as not to harm the defendant’s reputation any more than he himself has already harmed it.

Last Friday I had to go to the county court for jury selection.  The defendant was charged with drunk driving, so naturally the prosecutor and defense attorneys probed us for our beliefs about things like whether the government should have the right to set a legal limit on body alcohol level, our feelings about the police, whether we ourselves drink alcohol and so on.  The gentleman seated next to me worked for the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, and when asked if he agreed that the government had the right to set the body alcohol limit at 0.08, he said, “No.  It should be 0.  Our research indicates that any alcohol impairs driving ability.”

Needless to say the defense asked for him to be excused, so the judge thanked and excused him. I thought, “Gosh, that guy sure has strict ideas about alcohol and driving. Seems to me like most people can handle having one drink when out to dinner and then driving home.”  But now I sort of see his point but for different reasons.

I’ll give you the short version of the story – if you’ve ever sat on a jury for a criminal trial, you know these things are not exciting events like on TV that wrap up nice and neat in an hour.  They go on and on and on while the lawyers ask what to the lay person appears to be a large number of very stupid questions (“Trooper, we see in the dashboard video that you are writing something in a notebook.  Did that pertain to the subject you were placing under arrest?”  Uh no, shucks, that was just my grocery list, sir.) but no doubt they have their reasons for doing it like that.  Still, at one point even the judge encouraged the prosecutor to sort of, you know…skip ahead a bit, brother.

Basically, the defendant was a young guy from Chelsea who went to a tailgate party before a U of M game and had some drinks.  Apparently he had a buzz going and walked around Ann Arbor with some friends for awhile before driving home.  He got pulled over on the highway for a burned out headlight even though he was driving just fine – not speeding or swerving or anything like that.  When the state trooper pulled him over, he smelled alcohol on one of the passengers and had the driver exit the vehicle.  What started out as a warning about one burned out headlight turned into a criminal investigation.

The trooper claimed the driver failed the field sobriety test, but the dashboard video does not support his claim.  The video shows the young man being compliant and passing the FST; conveniently, the trooper had no audio because the mic battery was dead and he did not replace it.

The trooper arrested the young man and took him to the county jail, where the young man consented to take a breathalyzer test, which showed his body alcohol level to be 0.09 with a margin of error of 0.01.  The legal limit is 0.08 or above.

The entire thing was kind of sad because the young guy testified that he felt fine and thus assumed he was okay to drive.  The dashboard video of how he was operating his vehicle and how he performed on the FST supports his claim that he did not feel any intoxication.  Without the breathalyzer data, there would have been zero evidence of intoxication.  It’s surprising that the trooper arrested him, given how not drunk the young man seemed.  It’s a shame about that one headlight.

We the jury of course really had no choice but to find him guilty.  It bummed us out badly to do so, though, because we all agreed that who among us had never had to make the determination that even though we’d had a couple of drinks, we felt fine and were able to drive with no problem?   None of us had ever taken a breathalyzer test and had no idea what a 0.08 feels like – how do you know if you have an elevated body alcohol level if you feel just fine?

And because the law allows you to drink some amount of alcohol and still drive, you either have to carry a portable breathalyzer with you or use a subjective “How do I feel?” test to determine if you are probably within the legal limit.  This young man said he felt fine and I believe him.  I believe probably nearly anyone who felt as he obviously felt would have deemed themselves able to drive.  Yet he was in violation of the law.  It turns out your feelings aren’t really a very good indicator of what you should do in some circumstances.

Which takes me back to the recommendation that the guy from U of M Transportation Research made: set the legal limit at 0.  I sort of now agree with that; if everyone knows ahead of time that any alcohol in your system makes it illegal to drive, then we can feel justified in convicting anyone who has had anything to drink because they will automatically know for sure that they shouldn’t be driving.  But as it stands right now, people are told they can drink some amount of alcohol and still drive, which causes me to have sympathy for those who are convicted even though they felt and behaved as if they had not been drinking. How would they really have known they shouldn’t be driving?

So why do we allow people to consume some amount of alcohol and then drive?  Isn’t that terribly unfair to expect that people will just somehow “know” what their body alcohol level is?  I think it is unfair and so did the rest of the jury.  As we sat chatting and waiting for the bailiff to take our verdict, an older gentleman and I decided that it’s probably due to lobbying by the alcoholic beverages companies and the restaurant and bar associations that the law allows for some alcohol consumption before driving.  So what if it means that once in a while, a young man will have his life ruined?  There’s money to be made on booze!  And you can’t make money if people are hesitant to consume your product because they might end up with a criminal conviction and a suspended license, can you?

We returned to the courtroom and the judge asked our foreman to read the verdict.  I kept my eyes fixed on the judge though they were blurred with tears; I couldn’t look at the young man, who works at the local lumberyard here and has a new baby with his girlfriend, the same girlfriend who was the passenger who smelled so strongly of alcohol in the car that night, as the foreman said we found him guilty of driving while intoxicated.

The defense attorney demanded a jury poll.  We each had to say we agreed with the verdict.  It was kind of hard to get the words out because while I agreed that the verdict represented justice according to the law, I now believe that the law itself is unjust in allowing people to drink and drive.  It caters to the booze purveyors and sacrifices hapless and foolish young men.

We returned to the jury room and the attendant brought us each an envelope with forty dollars in it.  The four young men pocketed their cash and departed.  The older gentleman and I sat a moment talking quietly together and then took our envelopes of cash over to the defense attorney and his client who were taking care of some paperwork.  I tried to give it to the young man, but he just stood looking at me like I was nuts and did not take it.  Come on, I silently pleaded, take it and absolve me of this guilt I feel.  The older gentleman took my envelope and his and gave them to the defense attorney and escorted me out onto Main Street where smiling people were visible through the plate glass windows of Smokehouse 52 happily sipping their beers.  The older gentleman gave me a hug, wished me well, and we walked off in our separate directions.

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “The long broken arm of human law.

  1. Jury nullification. I’d have a hard time being on a jury and finding anyone guilty of almost anything, considering the government threw the rule of law out and behaves abominably while still expecting us to “behave” and obey. That sounds like a rough couple of days

    Like

    • Indeed.

      The prosecutor purposefully tried to confuse the young man while cross examining him (is that the right word?). The young man was not quick witted or able to keep up with the prosecutor’s verbal barrage. He didn’t know how to answer or even what he was answering. The defense attorney did point this out to us and the entire jury agreed. Furthermore, the trooper knew he had a broken mic but did not deem it necessary to return to post that evening and have it fixed, so we were just supposed to accept his testimony that the young man messed up counting during the field sobriety test. Personally I did not believe him and I think the other members of the jury disbelieved him as well.

      But the body alcohol level results from the breathalyzer were pretty much indisputable. That was the sole reason we returned a guilty verdict. I think we each hated to do it, especially the older gentleman and me.

      That sounds like a rough couple of days.

      It was. I came home and crawled into bed with the covers over my head this evening. Later my husband sent the children in with the puppies to cuddle up with me for comfort.

      Like

  2. Ah you think you’ve got troubles, I hung the jury on an assault case and the man who allegedly got beat up later went on to get himself elected judge. I always think I’m going to be toast if I ever get into trouble because he knows exactly who I am. I’m the juror who thought he was a liar and trying to use the system to harass someone. 😉

    As to the DUI’s, it’s not just the alcohol companies that make money off of that .08, but also the government. A huge percentage of a county budget comes from the number of fines you can collect. DUI’s are profitable and cops often have quotas.

    Like

    • Hahahaha, that’s hilarious.

      Horrifying detail: That state trooper often patrols a section of highway I drive on frequently. Since I am critical of his testimony, I hope he doesn’t ever read my blog. I was the only female on the jury, so he wouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out who I am. 🙂 I’ll really have to keep my eye on the speedometer now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. He should’ve been found innocent. The trooper had no cause to arrest him, and the defense attorney should have been on the trooper about his mic. Also, after passing the test, he should have been allowed to go, but unfortunately his defense attorney sucks at his job. What a bad deal for this kid.

    Like

    • The trooper testified he smelled intoxicants in the vehicle. He said the defendant smelled of alcohol, which I’m not sure really indicates much of anything since it could just have been that someone at the party sloshed beer on him or something. But the young man testified that he told the trooper that he had consumed alcohol that evening. The trooper testified that the young man said he was drinking from 9:00-10:30 p.m. (he was pulled over around 11:00 p.m.) The young man testified that he told the officer that he was drinking from 4:30-7:00 p.m. One of them is misremembering what was said. Nevertheless, he told the officer he had been drinking, which is not an unreasonable justification for the arrest.

      Like

  4. I thought about whether or not we could work the “Breathalyzers are unreliable!” aspect, but the defense attorney didn’t really question that too much, so I figured we weren’t supposed to either.

    Like

  5. I am sorry that you had that experience. That you have doubts to the veracity of law enforcement at the state level worries me. Small town cops are one thing, state troopers quite another.
    A few days ago, getting lost on youtube, I stumbled over police videos. Some were outrageous. I am beginning to form an opinion that if you have dealings with law enforcement, it may be good to have your own camera.

    Like

    • That you would feel the need to climb into be and have contact with the kids and puppies tells me that somethign wrong happened spiritually.This may not be a Christian viewpoint but, if I turn my head fast enough, He’ll e there, nodding His head.

      Like

    • Yeah, I don’t know what the penalty was. I think sentencing happens at a separate court appearance. I’m sure he’ll have his driver’s license suspended and have to go through a bunch of classes and stuff to get it back. It won’t be quick or cheap and he’ll have to have his girlfriend drive him everywhere now.

      Like

  6. FTSs are mostly for show. The real deal are the tests. That’s because experienced drinkers often won’t even show physical symptoms when they have a low BAC. I’ve heard stories of some experienced drinkers who actually practice doing FSTs while drunk, and can “pass” them even while drunk. Mental symptoms, however, come before physical symptoms. So that young man might not have been physically impaired, but he would have been mentally impaired at a .09. Peripheral vision and reaction times are the first to go.

    As for the trooper and prosecutor… I have friends in law enforcement, as well as friends who are prosecutors and defense attorneys. One thing I’ve heard from those friends is that while there aren’t a lot of “bad” cops, there sure are a lot of lazy and sloppy ones. Sounds like this is what you had here. I’ll bet you that prosecutor was pretty ticked with the trooper for not having the sound working. That is probably why he grilled the defendant so heavily- he knew that his case wasn’t as strong as he would like and was hoping the defendant would oblige him by incriminating himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if the trooper was misstating or misremembering the guy’s statements about when he drank. The stop likely took place a while ago, and he’s probably made a number of other stops since. But even if it was the early time, it doesn’t matter. The BAC was over the legal limit.

    As for the legal limit, it used to be much higher in most states. Its been steadily dropping over the years. The thing is, this number is not hidden. “I feel fine” is not a valid excuse. If you have been drinking, then you should make damned sure you are safe to drive. Portable and cheap BAC testers are available. No reason why someone who can afford to drink cannot afford one.

    On another note, I’m a bit surprised that a plea agreement wasn’t made in this case. It wasn’t a super-strong case for the prosecution. Sounds like it might have been a first offense too. So I wonder why it went to trial.

    Like

    • Thanks Donal, your comment cleared up a lot of points I was confused about.

      I’ve heard stories of some experienced drinkers who actually practice doing FSTs while drunk, and can “pass” them even while drunk.

      First of all, the young man testified that he had done a couple of self-tests while walking back to the car and discussing with his girlfriend which one of them was okay to drive. The prosecutor really hammered him on that point, asking him repeatedly about why he was “practicing” FST tasks. I’m not sure the kid was practicing; maybe he was, but I just assumed he was trying to figure out if he could walk a straight line and stuff like that so he’d know if he was okay to drive. But now I understand why the prosecutor really went after him about that.

      Mental symptoms, however, come before physical symptoms. So that young man might not have been physically impaired, but he would have been mentally impaired at a .09.

      This was another point the prosecutor really attacked him on, but I didn’t understand why until now. The young man testified that he felt fine walking around downtown and didn’t feel intoxicated until he went into a restaurant with his friends. He sat in the restaurant for awhile feeling drunk, but when they got up to walk back to the car, that’s when he said he started to feel fine. The prosecutor really queried him hard on his feeling fine while walking but drunk while sitting and even asked him rather archly, “And were you operating your vehicle while standing up or sitting down?”

      The defense attorney probably shouldn’t have let the kid testify. He came across as a bit slow-witted and not entirely serious. He even used that as an excuse on the stand for something foolish he’d just said: “Well, I’m a light-hearted person.” I thought to myself, when he said that, “No sir, what you are is a foolish person.”

      One thing I’ve heard from those friends is that while there aren’t a lot of “bad” cops, there sure are a lot of lazy and sloppy ones.

      That seems reasonable. The trooper didn’t strike me as a “bad” cop or even necessarily a lazy one, but it was definitely sloppy not to get the mic fixed. I was astounded as he testified that he had been having trouble with it for a while (he didn’t say what “a while” meant). He could have gone to the post in Sylvan Township within 15 minutes, but he testified that it had to be charged and you had to take it apart and *whine whine it’s all just so difficult*. While the trooper was kvetching about how haaaard it is to get a replacement battery, I thought, “Dude, that mic is for YOUR protection as much as anyone else’s! How foolish not to take that seriously!”

      Basically both the cop and the kid acted like fools in this case. It annoyed me greatly. But only the kid broke the law. Hopefully this will be some kind of wake-up call for him to start taking his choices a bit more seriously.

      Did I add that while this drunk driving conviction was hanging over his head, he knocked up his girlfriend OOW, who already herself had an OOW child with another man? Hey, I might lose my license and thus my ability to get to work, let’s have a kid! Like I said, he’s operating in fool-mode in a number of areas of his life, but only the criminal ones were of concern to the jury.

      But even if it was the early time, it doesn’t matter. The BAC was over the legal limit.

      Exactly, and that is pretty much the sole reason we returned a guilty verdict.

      As for the legal limit, it used to be much higher in most states. Its been steadily dropping over the years. The thing is, this number is not hidden. “I feel fine” is not a valid excuse. If you have been drinking, then you should make damned sure you are safe to drive. Portable and cheap BAC testers are available. No reason why someone who can afford to drink cannot afford one.

      See, I think it would be much more just and fair to simply outlaw drinking and driving. Then there is no question about it, no need to make a judgement call about how you feel, or whatever. But of course, the booze industry would raise such a fuss. Still, the guy from UM Transportation Research said any alcohol impairs your ability to drive safely.

      On another note, I’m a bit surprised that a plea agreement wasn’t made in this case. It wasn’t a super-strong case for the prosecution. Sounds like it might have been a first offense too. So I wonder why it went to trial.

      It was a first offense and I too was surprised it went to trial. Maybe the kid rejected the plea or something. He could maybe have plead to driving while impaired or whatever that lesser charge is. So now he’s got a “driving while intoxicated” conviction, which is the more serious charge as I understand it.

      One thing that really stood out to me is how much women are influenced by empathy though. The four younger guys on the jury were like, “Yep, that’s kind of a rough shake for the dude. But his BAC was over .08, so he’s guilty. Welp, let’s return the verdict, get our money, and leave.” I was all like, “Oh, but maybe, but what about…?” *sniffle, sniffle…”What about his baby? Let’s all give him our jury fees!” *sob* I kind of doubt if any of them are still agonizing about the verdict and the baby. 🙂

      Like

  7. Seconding jury nullification. It is your right as a citizen to protest an unjust law by refusing to convict someone accused of such a law. It’s also, incidentally, a very good way to get OUT of jury duty. When the judge/prosecution/defense asks you “Will you agree to uphold the law?” you can tell them that your conscience requires that you do not uphold any unjust/unfair/unBiblical laws. Or, you can just say “I know about jury nullification” and you’ll be dismissed almost immediately.

    Like

  8. I could be leaping to conclusions at my end but, you shouldn’t come away feeling “dirty” from jury service. I think that there is something wrong that your subconscious has picked up on. I’ll bet yopu a doughnut that, in a year or two, you’ll read all about it in the local paper.It happended in my old home county in California.

    Like

  9. Actually, blood alcohol is pretty easy to figure out. They have tons of charts for it that based on weight and gender–for a 210 lb man like myself, it’s about five drinks in an hour. So if he’s my size and was apprehended four hours after drinking his last drink, we’re talking about 9-10 drinks in him. If the officer’s record is more accurate, about seven to eight drinks.

    http://dui.drivinglaws.org/drink-table.php

    It gets a little more difficult to calculate if you’re drinking mixed drinks with an unknown # of shots of liquor in them, or if you’re drinking stronger beers than usual, but as a rule, you’ll know when you’ve had quite a bit, really. This guy should have known simply because he had to pee.

    So I don’t feel too bad for this young man; he’d clearly been drinking a lot, and at his BAC, he was significantly (5x I’ve heard) more likely to get in an accident, even if the police don’t see obvious swerving.

    At .05% limit (many European nations have this) and 100 lbs, yes, a generous glass of wine will get you there. However, .08% still allows someone to have a drink and know they are safe to drive.

    Like

  10. When i bowled, I was always the DD (designated driver). I did not drink alcohol. But I did bowl with a lot of police officers, and guess what — they abuse the system. A lot of them would drink and drive — some just had me drive them home along with whoever else not.

    I don’t see how the officers can get away with DUI and not getting caught, fined and jailed. They are suppose to uphold the law. So in a lot of respects, it is biased.

    Like

  11. One big argument against a zero BAC limit; the effects of alcohol are not linear with the amount, but rather the alcohol interferes exponentially with neurotransmission until the body dies. So if you’re 5x more likely to get in an accident at .08, that doesn’t mean that you’re 2.5x more likely to get in an accident at .04 and 1.25 at .02. I would guess that in reality the risk would be indiscernable to a certain point–say .04 or so–and then would start rising rapidly.

    That is a big reason why Scripture actually notes that there is a good use of alcohol, and a bad use–drunkenness. Since the Bible describes feeling no pain, red eyes, and the like, but not passing out or a coma, I’m guessing this is somewhere around .15%, which is interestingly the level at which most people arrested for DUI have “achieved.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s