Sunday, November 23, 2014

Justice

And the sum total of this week's output is almost exactly fuck-all.

Given what I know about next month's plans, next month is probably going to be largely fuck-all as well.

In this case, jury duty ate most of the week. Jury duty, work stuff and vacation planning.

Unlike most of my friends, associates, coworkers, people I randomly poll on the streets, whatever, I'm a big fan of jury duty. So long as you don't get roped into a trial for something tragic, like a rape or a murder, it's  good people-watching. You get a ring-side seat into the messed-up decisions other people make. It's not only high comedy, it's a good dose of perspective. Once you sit through a single meth trial, all the shit that's happening in your life doesn't seem so bad in comparison.

On top of that you get to take a few days off from work. The courthouse in Kalamazoo has great coffee, very comfortable couches, television, wi-fi and the people who work there are all pretty entertaining. It's downtown so you can eat out during lunch at a wide variety not-very-bad places. The other jurors tend to be fun to chat with. And you even get paid a little for it. Score!

The trial this week was my second. It wasn't nearly as fun as the first, but only because the people involved weren't quite as colorful.

My first trial, which happened a few years back, was a meth case, which makes for the best people-watching and stories. Some guy got pulled over by a cop with his under-aged girlfriend and his even-more-under-aged ex-girlfriend. All three of them gave the cop different fake names for the driver. In the back of the car, he had something like thirty or forty boxes of Sudafed, plastic tubing, empty two-liter bottles of pop, tin foil, an entire container of Morton's salt and other meth-mining paraphernalia. During the trial, his junkie dad was in the audience making loud Jerry Springer-style comments.

The trial took a day and a half. We drank the courthouse out of coffee. Got up early, stayed there late. One of the potential jurors during the selection process got disqualified by the prosecution because he flat-out told them that he didn't think meth was addictive and he used it all the time.

A detective taught us how to cook meth. Afterwards, we hung out with the prosecutor, the judge and the defense attorney and we all made fun of the idiot on trial. The trial was one of those package deals, a regular three-ring circus of people being brought up on criminal charges, all mostly simultaneously. His father was caught destroying a meth lab while the police kicked in his door, for example.

The verdict was guilty. The few remaining hold-outs on the jury panel (there's always a few contrarians) felt a bit better about returning the guilty verdict once they found out about the other people on trial and more of the back story behind it all, which was the usual meth-related redneck cluster-fuck.

It was pretty great.

This time around wasn't quite as silly.

Two neighbors got into a scuffle. One of them allegedly made a threat with a baseball bat. The other one called the cops. Charge: aggravated assault. Under the law, assault is not only just physical contact, but creating a threatening enough situation that the victim is afraid they'll get injured or killed.

The two neighbors have history going back a few years. They used to be drinking buddies, would go to the races together, but recently had a falling out over an unspecified event, or a series of unspecified events.

We got the impression that the accused neighbor was something of the neighborhood bad egg. Thirty-something guy, rail thin, probably alcoholic, regularly stayed with his father who owns the house.

The accused neighbor was in the habit of taking his rather friendly white lab out for bike rides around the neighborhood. The dog would pull him along. The morning of the altercation, some of the neighbors complained he was drunkenly threatening their kids with said baseball bat. But the cop gave the impression that it was just kids being kids and responding to the tension and that the accused neighbor is actually usually reasonably friendly and polite, albeit somewhat "acerbic."

The cop had a hard time keeping a straight face during the proceedings, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say there's probably been quite a bit of catty back and forth between the two parties. He also called the judge "Babs" on the way out.

Later on during the day of the incident, the accused complained about the builders working on his neighbor's house blasting their music and being obnoxious. There was some back and forth. According to the accuser, his neighbor came out with a pipe or bat and started banging on his own truck, loudly. Told him he was going to "kick his ass" and kill him. The accuser called the cops, afraid for his life. Allegedly.

But.

The accused neighbor had really dodgy security camera footage from a system he'd installed at his dad's house (where he was staying). We got to watch that; we also met his dad who was...colorful, to say the least. Old crotchety man, garrulous, collects motorcycles. Direct quote to the defense attorney: "I was watching TV at the time, in my underwear. I'm in my underwear a lot at home." His testimony involved a description of his flower bed, used the phrase "get off my lawn" repeatedly.  Judge had a hard time keeping a straight face during his testimony.

During the security footage, you could see the defendant wandering around, sometimes with the bat, sometimes not, getting increasingly drunk as the day wore on. I wish I could have kept a copy, dubbed it with Yakkety Sax.

Verdict: not guilty. We're pretty sure he actually did threaten his ex-friend with a bat, it just didn't seem that serious from the footage. His neighbor was most likely playing up the threat to fuck with him. The neighbor claimed he pounded the truck hard for several seconds while screaming death threats. From the footage, he actually just tapped the bumper lightly, twice, yelled something very brief, swayed drunkenly, and then put his mower away. No audio.

It's one of those situations where we stopped halfway through deliberations and were like "Uh, HOW much taxpayer money is being spent on this?"

We were all in favor of returning a verdict of "grow the fuck up, the both of you", but the court wouldn't let us.

Totals: not gonna bother here. 0. Zero's a good guestimate.

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