Judicial Process class attends trial
May 5, 2010
The Judicial Process class spent the day at the Madison County Criminal Court Complex watching a trial. After spending time studying the criminal process, the students got to see the courts in action. The case the class saw was an evading arrest charge. The defendant drove a car through Jackson and the police thought that he was driving under a suspended license. When the defendant pulled in the driveway and got out, the police identified him, turned on their lights, and asked him to stop. The defendant then ran and the police caught him. The defendant claimed that the police were in an unmarked car, did not turn on their lights, and did not ask him to stop. He simply walked in the backyard two houses down to help an elderly lady fix her computer.
The trial began with voir dire as the attorneys chose the jurors. The jurors were a mixed lot as one would expect. In the jury selection process, several potential jurors with police ties were struck as were a couple of jurors who had prior run-ins with the law. The prosecuter, Jody Pickens, began the case by laying out the state's case and calling two police officers to testify. After this, the state rested and the defense, led by Jackson City Councilman Ernest Brooks, began.
The first defense witness was working the backyard, heard a commotion, and came out front where he saw the police officers bringing the defendant to their car in handcuffs. The witness claimed that the police car lights were not on supporting the defedant's case. On cross-examination, the prosecution brought out that the witness is the brother of the woman the defendant was living with and the DA challenged his credibility. The defense then called another witness who was not present (we later found out that he did not respond to the subpoena because there were outstanding arrest warrants for the individual).
The defendant then took the stand and told his story. During the first witness's testimony, he referred to the defendant as a "Dr." and the defense brought out that he was a doctor though he was currently working in an academic position at a local university. On cross-examination, the prosecutor challenged his credibility by brining up past convictions for distributing oxycondone and check kiting and that he had lost his medical license.
The jury then went to deliberate and the attorneys and judge, Roy Morgan, talked to our class about the trial and the criminal process. Both attorneys and the judge expected a quick verdict. The defense attorney said it was a difficult case with a difficult client. He said that he tried to get the defendant to take a plea deal but he refused. After about an hour, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty.
The class then talked to one of the jurors who was a former Union student. She said that it took them 15 minutes to elect a foreman because no one wanted to do it. On the vote to convict, the original vote was 10-2. The jury talked about it and then revoted and the vote was 11-1. The one not guilty said that he would go along with the rest of the jurors but the jurors would not let him do it. They made sure that he was convinced that the defendant was guilty. In the discussion, the Union graduate started reading the conviction sheet and read that the defendant was traced as driving illegally because he was under house arrest and had to maintain a ankle bracelet to trace his movement. When the jury heard this, they understand why the police followed him and why they were so specific in the directions they gave. The jury convicted him on the top count at that point.
Overall, the class learned about why some people are struck from juries, the difficulties presented by certain clients, and the differing skills of attorneys. They developed greater faith in the judicial process because the jury did its job and would not allow a conviction to occur unless all jurors were convinced. This was a great opportunity for students to connect legal theory and practice and see the courts at work.