Friday, March 27, 2009

So Grim, So True, So Real -- Part II

First, the answers to the questions:
1. We found the driver to be negligent solely by the act of drinking and driving.
2. We said no. What little bit of witness accounts we got say that he wasn't driving eratically or over the speed limit. It's extremely subjective, for sure.
3. We said no for basically the same reason as number two. We know he was over the yellow line when the accident ocurred, but we decided that either he swerved to avoid the other car if the other car was coming into his lane (which is not something totally unreasonable) or he took the turn wide (dangerous but not entirely unreasonable or "grossly" negligent). Again, very subjective. This was the huge thing since it made him not guilty of manslaughter, the worst charge.
4. This was the toughest. Was the other driver partly at fault because she was drunk? Because the teenagers saw her straddling the yellow line, did the defendant swerve to avoid her and, when she swerved back into her lane, they hit (therefore both/neither at fault)? We argued this back and forth for an hour. Then, at a total impasse, we broke for lunch to step back and mull it over. In the end, we found that the defendant was at fault (and therefore guilty of two of the homicide charges, four counts total). You're not allowed to speculate, you're only allowed to go by what the evidence says. And since nobody saw the cars right before impact, the only evidence we had was that, at the exact moment of impact, the defendant's car was in the wrong lane and the other car was in the right one. It might not even have been the alcohol, he could have just taken the turn wide. Either way, the evidence was what it was.

So we had witnesses crying, we had the slick defense consultant, we had overdramatic closing statements. It was way more like TV than I ever thought it would be. I'm sure most trials are not like that. Basically, the trial is a play that the actors are putting on for fourteen people sitting in a little box. They all talk to you. They make sure you can see every picture and piece of evidence. At the end, twelve of those fourteen people go into a little room and decide how the play is going to end. It's crazy, but it's fascinating and it gave me a lot of faith in our justice system. You can see how everything is set up to ensure a fair trial and to protect the defendant as much as possible. Again, I'm sure that's not true in every case.

The most intriguing part for me was the deliberation. For two days, we had heard all of this testimony and seen all of this evidence and we weren't allowed to say one thing about it out loud. Couldn't tell friends and family, couldn't talk to the attorneys or witnesses, couldn't talk to the other jurors. Finally, they shut you into the room and everything just comes blurting out. You talk about who you liked and didn't like, which witnesses annoyed you, what testimony moved you. When you get down to business, it becomes the MBA project from hell. Everybody has done some sort of group project, but in business school you work on a lot of case studies and you approach all of them in a specific way. Twelve people working on a group project, all have to agree, you've been given some evidence but in pieces that need to be put together. My business school training definitely allowed me to take a leadership role as a consensus builder, first finding all of the common ground and putting it aside and then working on the few differences in opinion. The hell part comes from the fact that someone's life hangs in the balance and nobody is going to tell you if you got the right answer. As the verdict was read, I looked at the attorneys to see if there was any reaction as to whether they were surprised or disappointed. Nothing. So we know the defendant's family was happy that we found him not guilty of the worst charge, manslaughter, but otherwise we wait until he's sentenced and call up the judge so we can find out and get closure.


angie said...

I'd love to talk with you sometime to hear more about the deliberations and thinking behind that particular combination of verdicts. Specifically, I don't see the logic for saying yes to the fourth question in the context of the answers and reasons for the first three questions. But maybe I'm just not clear on what the "reasonable doubt" threshold really means.

Josh said...

Definitely. We can talk more about it at length, but as we understood it, "reasonable doubt" means any doubt that a person could reach, through reasoning, given the specific evidence. It's so hard to take speculation out of it, but you're instructed to by the judge.