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Jury Duty: Not Like TV (or: Longest Post EVER)

Prepare yourself for by far the longest blog post ever – if you’re at all curious about real life jury duty or enjoy all those cop & lawyer shows then give it a go - this recount of the trial and details given for evidence will blow your mind, make you think twice about the effectiveness of our police officers and the impartiality of our juries…

Shortly before leaving on my trip in January, I was summoned for DC Grand Jury Duty.  I was able to have it rescheduled to begin on June 7 and made it back to the US only a few days before it was due to start.  After thinking about it I really felt that I would not be comfortable spending 27 days of 8:30AM to 5PM in an “office” for $30 a day, especially with the changes to the economy going on right now – I’d rather enjoy that time.

Upon arriving at the courtroom for Grand Jury Duty, I quickly noted that there were over 40 people in the room, considerably more than the number required for the Grand Jury.  Once we were checked in, the clerk asked who would like to be excused and over fifteen people stood up – leaving plenty for the Grand Jury.  All of us who were excused were only excused from Grand Jury and instead told to report downstairs to Petit Jury Duty, the more typical one where most people spend all day sitting in a room and never get called.

In the early afternoon on Monday I was called as the fourth name in a large panel for a trial involving possession and distribution of crack-cocaine.  None of the questions on the jury form disqualified me, and one by one the Judge called us up to quickly review – it’s interesting to note that the lawyers were not allowed to ask any questions.  My conversation with Judge Anderson went like this:

Judge: “You did not circle any numbers on your form, is that correct?”

Me: “Yes ma’am.”

Judge: “Did you understand the questions?”

Me: “Yes ma’am.”

Judge: “What do you do for a living?”

Me: “I am currently unemployed, ma’am.”

Judge: “What did you used to do?”

Me: “I worked as a manager of strategic technology initiatives in the information technology sector.”

Judge: “Where do you live?”

Me: “Chinatown, approximately five blocks north of here.”

Judge: <smiles> “That’s convenient.”

Me: “Indeed ma’am.”

Judge: “You may sit down.”

Three hours of sitting in jury chair #8 with the lawyers staring at us, comparing notes, scribbling, and the clerk slowly telling people to go home and replacing them with others in the jury chair, I was confirmed as Juror #8 (or #255, my jury number, depending on how they felt at the moment) in the trial of the Government vs Robert Hill.

What I Learned

Prior to summarizing the case and the jury experience, I’d like to share some lessons that I’ve learned from this entire experience (which I do recommend people participate in as a critical piece of our society):

  • At least on low profile cases, the lawyers are not remotely as polished as one might expect.  I would consider myself a drastically superior public speaker than both lawyers, though a least the prosecutor did show signs of having either a bit of formal training or at least reading books about it.  Their bearing and speeches were often horrible.  Lawyers on TV never say “umm” do they?
  • Lawyers are not the geniuses we seem to think they are.  In questioning, cross, and redirect both the prosecution and the defense repeatedly failed to ask questions about critical details or respond to important points.  In some cases this left unanswered questions that easily could have changed the verdict – I felt with no training at all I could have done a better job of questioning the witnesses.
  • Court is really boring at times.  Every piece of evidence had to have the chain of custody confirmed in detail, each photograph needed multiple confirmations, etc.  I really felt that this stuff was all ultimately irrelevant to the case even though I understand how important it is to show it.
  • I never ever want to be on trail by a jury of my “peers.”  EVER.  Holy crap this was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever learned about people, even though I already knew it.  I felt like maybe five people on the jury took it seriously, the rest just wanted to “get it over with and go home” and acted accordingly.

The Trial: Government vs Robert Hill

The Government brought to trial two separate incidents in one trial as follows:

11/24/2009:  Possession with intent to distribute crack-cocaine, possession of marijuana, unlawful entry

1/5/2010: Distribution of crack-cocaine, possession of crack-cocaine, unlawful entry

The basic narrative provided by the prosecution went like this:

On 11/24/2009, a number of officers from the 7th District Vice squad of Metro PD were on a routine patrol in a caravan of three cars on 30th St SE when they noticed a “suspicious individual” turn around and “flee” into a building at the sight of them.  They responded by getting out and gaining access to the building, a six unit apartment building (two units per floor) at 3016 30th St SE.  After a cursory search of the hallways, the individuals were not located and two officers elected to hide under the basement staircase to see if he returned.  All other officers left the scene and approximately five minutes later the officers heard the door of the apartment directly above them open and an individual walk out onto the staircase.

This individual was in mid-conversation on his cell phone and made a comment that “those dumb ass jump outs couldn’t get me,” at which point the officers proceeded to jump out and get him (seriously…).  They then searched the open Unit #4 from which the defendant had exited and found 30 bags of a “white rock-like substance” and three bags of a “green, grass-like substance” later confirmed to be crack-cocaine worth an estimated $20 per bag (“dubs” rather than “dime bags”) or $600 total plus a minor amount of marijuana.  Unit #4 was also a vacant unit, thus the defendant was charged with unlawful entry.

On 1/5/2010, a buy/bust operation was in progress when an undercover police officer approached the defendant asking to buy crack-cocaine.  The defendant led the undercover back to 3016 30th St SE where the officer watched him enter Unit #4 and return with a dub of crack-cocaine.  The undercover officer then left the scene and called for an arrest team who arrived to find Unit #4 had a (friendly) pit-bull and four remaining dubs of crack-cocaine but no occupant.  Upon further search of the premises, the police found the defendant hiding behind trash bags on a back staircase (he apparently did not jump out at them) where he was arrested.

While being taken out to the street for identification, he was walked through Unit #4 whereby he made the statement “What are you going to do with my dog?” confirming his association with this apartment.  On the street he was identified by the undercover as the individual who had sold him drugs and the arrest was completed.

Throughout the entire speech, the prosecutor kept indicating that this entire situation was about a “series of choices” and delineating each point as a “choice the defendant made.”  This was an admirable attempt at providing a thread in narrative to bring a speech together, showing she had some public speaking training – however I felt it was implemented poorly and in fact hampered the speech due to the specific content (not to mention the feeling that it felt quite formulaic, I bet she does all her speeches like that).  This trial wasn’t at all about a “series of choices the defendant made” in my opinion, but rather that the defendant was an arrogant, naive, and slightly stupid drug dealer – she would’ve been much better off emphasizing those points (subtly, of course).

The defense attorney then took the stand and clarified the “true” story, indicating a conspiracy against the defendant and that he would prove the officers were confused or lying about what happened.  His tale of the real story was as follows:

On 11/24/2009, the defendant was visiting his girlfriend in Unit #6, on the third floor directly above Unit #4.  It was a cold, dark, rainy night and the defendant had ordered Chinese food for delivery.  He went outside to see if the food had arrived yet, opened the door and saw that it was raining and there was no delivery guy, then went back inside and up to Unit #6.  After around five minutes, he went outside to check again, whereupon he was set upon by police officers who roughed him up then broke down the door to Unit #4 and decided he was the bad guy.  The comment about “jump outs” was not indicated on any police report of the incident and was made up by the police officers to help ensure a conviction.

On 1/5/2010, the defendant was leaving his girlfriend in Unit #6 to head home for the evening, as he was apparently under curfew as a result of the situation on 11/24/2009.  His girlfriend asked him to take out the trash down the back way as normal, which he consented to do (he is an excellent boyfriend apparently).  As he was walking down the back stairs carrying four bags of trash, he was set upon again by police officers who roughed him up and arrested him.  The comment about “my dog” was not indicated on any police report of the incident and was made up by the police officers much like the previous comment.

Thus we have the beginning of what appears to be a classic “evil black man sells drugs” vs “evil cops pick on innocent black man” case.  Buckle your seat belts, because what happens next just made the entire situation worse…

One by one, the prosecution called her witnesses in this case, consisting primarily of the police officers involved in both incidents as well as a DEA chemist (to confirm the drugs were drugs) and a highly decorated experienced undercover officer to testify to the conduct of drug dealers and police interactions with them as well as the value of the drugs.

For each witness, the prosecution would ask questions to begin, then the defense attorney would cross examine, after which the prosecution would be allowed to redirect.  I will summarize each witness and their relevant testimony according to my memory and (extremely extensive) notes – pay special attention to the bolded red bits (the comments after experience contains my snap judgment of them):

Witness 1:  Officer Richard Peake, MPD Vice, 7th District, 3 years - average height/size white male, married, wearing standard police uniform.

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 11/24 - Confirms basic story outlined above, adds details that it is a three car caravan, standard silver police Impala, all officers are in plainclothes but wearing POLICE branded tactical vests
  • Indicates he saw a tall, slender black male leaning out from the doorway of 3016 then flee into the building.  Confirms the defendant is the individual spotted on this night.
  • Notes that he “stood by” while Officers Lytle and Ignus (sp?) “open the door”
  • Confirms story of waiting in the basement and states that upon hearing the door open and footsteps above, he “peeked” (Peaked?) out and saw the defendant standing by the main door talking on his cell phone
  • Overheard: “Them dumb ass jump outs were too slow, I locked the door in their face” (verbatim)
  • Describes Unit #4 as clearly vacant with broken glass on the floor, ripped up carpet, and some furniture
  • 1/5 – Confirms basic story outlined above, indicates that he arrived on-scene after the other officers had already taken the defendant into custody.
  • Indicated he found the four bags of cocaine during a search of Unit #4 and passed these to Officer Craig to enter into evidence

Cross (Defense):

  • 11/24 – Indicates that he had been at this location before.
  • Unable to remember details about the building, including the color of the front door or whether or not an iron fence existed on the property
  • Indicates that he did not look through the security window on the front door
  • Indicates that he went up the entry stairway first and that it is impossible to see the door to Unit #4 until over halfway up the front steps and that the door opens inward (away from staircase)
  • Confirms that when originally spotted the defendant was only leaning out of the main door, only his upper showing.
  • Can not remember if it was raining, however the incident report indicates it was and therefore confirms it was after seeing the report
  • Clarifies that the defendant closed the door in a “fast manner” and stops using the term “fled”
  • Indicates that he does not know how the other officers obtained entry to the building even though he was standing right there, confirms the door was of the auto-locking variety and that it was locked
  • Is “pretty sure” that the door he heard when standing below was the door to Unit #4
  • Indicates that the defendant had no key to Unit #4 or the main building when arrested
  • Confirms statement about jump outs was omitted from report
  • 1/5 – One of the last officers to show up on-scene, defendant was already arrested
  • Indicates that pre-recorded funds were not found on the defendant (the money used by the undercover to buy the drugs) or after a search of the premises

Redirect (Prosecution):

  • 11/24 – Confirms standing directly below the door to Unit #4 and is “pretty sure” this was the door heard
  • Indicates that there was no mention of “Chinese food” or “take-out” overheard on the cell phone conversation

Witness Review:  Officer Peake seemed a little nervous to be there (maybe due to inexperience), however he was very specific on details which he remembered.  When asked about details he did not remember he did not attempt to embellish or guess but was quick to indicate that he couldn’t remember (“I do not recall”).  He rarely made a statement with 100% confidence but rather quantified everything with statements such as “I believe” or “pretty sure.”  I was inclined to find his testimony believable but also felt that he responded emotionally to the “dumb ass jump out” comment when stating it and clarifying that he understood what it meant.

Witness 2: Officer James Craig, MPD Vice, 7th District, 13 years – HUGE (6’5”+, 250lbs), white, wearing standard police uniform

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 11/24 – Indicates that he was part of the arrest team responding to a call at 3016, call indicated officers “had a situation” and needed backup
  • Upon arrival, officers were attempting to gain entry to the building.  He stood at the front right corner to observe the windows and side of the building in case anyone tried to throw something out or jump out.
  • It was dark, but officer had his “special police issue tactical Stinger flash light” (said this in a tone of voice that sounded like he was about to whip it out and show it off because it was so cool)
  • Observed the defendant (ID’s him in courtroom) through the window of what was later determined to be Unit #4
  • Was standing 30-35 feet away (prosecution demonstrates the distance in the courtroom, an apparently common occurrence since the judge knows the distance from the witness stand to each row of seats)
  • Left with other officers, returned later and recognized the defendant with Officer Lytle after he was arrested
  • 1/5 – Was on patrol and responded to a “lookout” call from an undercover officer for a tall black male wearing dark clothing and “a black hat or something on his head”
  • Arrived after defendant was in custody, recognized him from 11/24 incident
  • Acknowledged that Officer Peake had recovered bags of a “white rock-like substance” and handed them over to him.  These were field-tested and heat sealed back at the police station (lots of questioning on process).

Cross (Defense):

  • 11/24 – Indicates that he did not participate in paperwork process for this incident.
  • Indicates that he told the other officers about observing the suspect
  • Indicates that he has no idea why this was not included in the other officer’s report
  • States that he only saw the defendant from “mid-chest up” for a “couple seconds”
  • Could not tell if the defendant had facial hair or was wearing glasses
  • Confirms that no special crime scene officer was called to take prints from the 30 bags of cocaine

Redirect (Prosecution):

  • Prosecution asks if fingerprinting is common in such a situation, officer indicates that out of “several thousand drug-related arrests” he cannot recall a single situation where fingerprints were taken (the implication being that the defense is trying to mislead us with Law & Order style expectations)

Witness Review: I have to admit that Officer Craig came off as a little bit of  dick, but just in that sort of way that you sometimes think when an officer makes a big deal out of you going 10MPH over the speed limit or something.  He just seemed to act like the entire thing was below him and that the defendant should just go straight to jail – maybe I was unfair.  I was also a bit skeptical of the fact that he could clearly recognize the defendant from 30-35ft away on a dark, rainy night when seeing him for only a couple seconds through a window with his tactical flashlight – but that a glimpse with enough detail to recognize a face didn’t provide enough detail to be able to tell if he had facial hair or was wearing glasses.  WTF?  This whole part of the story felt contrived or like he was confusing it with another incident and I basically ended up discounting his testimony.

Witness 3: Officer Tony Covington, MPD Vice, 7th District, 5 years, black, smallish, wearing standard MPD uniform

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 11/24 – Part of arrest team, arrived after defendant was stopped
  • Describes Unit #4 as vacant, “pretty much no furniture”
  • Found the drugs during a search of the kitchen, drugs were on top of a cabinet
  • Gave drugs to Officer McElhenny

Cross (Defense):

  • 11/24 – Does not recall if any windows were boarded up
  • Indicates that the police broadcast stated that a guy was in front of the building and ran inside after observing officers approaching

Witness Review:  Officer Covington was only really on the stand to confirm the chain of custody of the drugs found.  I thought he was stable enough that I didn’t really think he planted the drugs, nor did anyone attempt to imply this, so basically his testimony never came into play in consideration either way.

Witness 4: Officer John McElhenny, MPD Vice, 7th District, 7 years (3 years patrol before), white, average build, standard MPD uniform

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 11/24 – Responded to first call at 3016, left with other officers, then returned when called back after arrest was made
  • Never entered Unit #4
  • Received drugs from Officer Covington (lots of focus on chain of custody/etc.)

Witness Review: Again, only here to confirm chain of custody on the drugs.  No drama at all.

Witness 5: Sally Schwaub, Keller Associates Property Manager, white, obese middle aged

Examination (Prosecution):

  • Confirms that the only units occupied are #1 and #6, other four have been vacant since Oct 2008
  • Confirms that the residents of unit #1 and #6 are female
  • States that she has never seen the defendant before and he has no lease for a unit
  • Indicates that Unit #4 had both dead bolt and door knob locks
  • Describes layout as #1/#2 in basement, #3/#4 in middle floor, #5/#6 on top floor.  Units 1/3/5 are on the left side, 2/4/6 are on the right side

Cross (Defense):

  • Indicates that she has no way to know or recognize the male friends of any tenant as she does not frequently visit the building
  • Is unsure whether or not the tenant in #6 has a child but thinks maybe
  • States that Unit #4 was found to be broken into on two occasions (11/24 and 1/5)
  • States that there is weekly inspection/cleaning of the hallways and monthly inspection of all units and no indications of break-in were reported other than those dates

Witness Review: She seemed pretty believable and I’m really not sure why the prosecution did this, a bad decision in witness.  I think the prosecution was trying to prove that the defendant was unlawfully entering, but instead this witness confirmed that Unit #4 was only broken into after the police raided it on both times and that it was unrealistic to expect her to know whether or not the defendant was invited or a regular visitor of the lady in #6.

Witness 6:  Officer Willie Galtney, MPD Vice Undercover, 7th District, 6 yrs, black, average size but there is something intangibly dangerous about the way he carries himself, dressed in a simple black suit/black shirt, shiny designer glasses

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 1/5 – Indicates that he was an undercover officer approaching the area on 30th street due to there being a known drug dealer in the area – OBJECTION! Sustained, stricken – Judge Anderson indicates we are to disregard this comment about a “known drug dealer”
  • Approached an individual standing on 30th St.  WG: “Do you have that?” DEF: “What you need?” WG: “2 stone.”  DEF: “Follow me.” (now you know how to buy crack)
  • Describes individual as tall black male wearing a black coat, blue jeans, with a red shirt and a silver chain, wearing a black full-face mask
  • Followed individual 4-5 buildings then waited outside the door of 3016 as individual went inside
  • Watched through the security window as the individual went up the stairs and into the door of Unit #4, states that he could clearly see the lower half of the door through the security window
  • Watched the guy come out of Unit #4, gave him $20 in pre-recorded funds for two bags of crack (note: dime-bags this time, not dubs), watched as the guy then returned to Unit #4
  • Left the scene, called a “lookout” for the individual
  • Later received a call to do a “showup” to ID the individual, drove by and stayed in the car to conceal his identity
  • Suspect was placed on street directly under a street light by the arresting officers and WG makes a positive ID due to the black face mask, silver chain, red shirt, black coat, and blue jeans.  States that he had “no doubt.”
  • Returned to station to write report and turn in evidence
  • Never saw defendant without the face mask

Cross (Defense):

  • 1/5 – Confirms individual was wearing a heavy hooded black overcoat that was open without the hood up
  • Is shown a picture of 3016 and confirms it matches the building, however there is no street light in the photo.  Indicates that the street light may be slightly to the left of the photo but confirms the suspect was ID’d under a street light.
  • Confirms that he could see the door to Unit #4 through the security window of 3016’s front door.
  • Repeats that he is SURE
  • Clarifies that he could see the left side of the door and the frame where the hinges are
  • Repeats that he heard the door open and saw the individual walk into the doorway
  • Does not recall colors of the bags he purchased, is shown the report that states “clear bags” and indicates they were clear.  Is shown actual evidence of bags which are pink and indicates that these bags are “clear pink bags.”  When asked why the report does not state “pink” he indicates this is a “mistake or typo.” 
  • Clarifies that he returned to the station after each purchase and that there is no chance he got these drugs confused with drugs from another buy, rather he made a typo on the report by omitting the word “pink”
  • Defense lawyer belabors this point so much that the Judge finally asks him to move on
  • When asked if there was a recording of his description of the individual in the lookout, indicates that none such exists
  • When asked if he saw the suspect back at the station at the arrest, confirms that he did not.  Defense lawyer implies that he may have seen the suspect after he was arrested and then filled in details (red shirt, silver necklace) after doing so.  Officer repeats that he did not see suspect at station. Defense lawyer asks how we could know he didn’t “sneak a peek at the suspect.”  Officer responds with “Why would I risk being seen just to take a peek?” and the jury laughs.  Defense lawyer starts to ask again and Judge tells him to move on (“Your question has already been answered, Councilor.”)

Redirect (Prosecution):

  • 1/5 – Confirms that the light pole was probably to the side
  • Confirms that 7th District Vice squad always uses a special unrecorded channel

Witness Review:  I liked this guy and the very calm way he responded to the defense’s attempts to discredit him.  He obviously immediately realized that the difference between “clear” and “clear pink” was huge, but did not panic or bluster but clearly and immediately took the blame for making a mistake in the paperwork.  I did not appreciate that he responded to the defense’s indication that he may have filled in details later with sarcasm, but understood that he was getting hammered on that point in a pretty silly way.  I noted that he told the prosecution he could see the bottom half of the door but told the defense he could see the left side and that this was contradictory.

Witness 7: Officer Alvin Lytle, MPD Vice, 7th District, 4 years (3 years police prior), black, very big and buff seeming (6’2”+), wearing a fancy black suit with a purple shirt, big shiny watch and gold rings

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 11/24 – States that he saw the defendant standing out front by the street and that the defendant “took flight” at the sight of the MPD vehicles
  • A few questions later changes statement to “turned around in a hurried pace and ran inside”
  • Confirms identity of individual he spotted is the defendant
  • States that he ran after and watched the defendant through the security window in the door
  • Indicates that through the security window he saw the defendant “go up one flight of stairs, move to the right and disappear” (verbatim)
  • Indicates that he banged on the front door and a resident let the officers in, where he and Peake went downstairs and sent the other officers away
  • Indicates that he and Peake waited 5-8 minutes before hearing the door open above
  • He could not tell which door was opened but Unit #4 was directly above so it must’ve been this unit
  • Heard footsteps and cell phone conversation where individual stated “dumb ass jump out cops thought they could get me” (verbatim)
  • Confirmed that they then jumped out (sorry I can’t resist) and “stopped” the individual, then entered Unit #4 to search it
  • Describes Unit #4 as vacant as there is no furniture, no dishes, etc.
  • States that bags of marijuana and crack were right there “on the floor” in front of them
  • 1/5 – On patrol, received a lookout and responded at this location, responded and recognized individual from before
  • States that the individual was ID’d in front by the Undercover
  • States that US currency and a mask inside the individual’s hood were recovered

Cross (Defense):

  • 11/24 - Confirms that there is no street light directly in front of building
  • States that the window in the door is as wide as his end (holds out a huge hand that is maybe 8-9” long)
  • States that he does not recall if currency was found on the suspect
  • Clarifies that the individual was standing outside by the gate near the street and went inside at a “hurried pace”
  • States that he never saw the individual standing or leaning near the front door, he went directly inside
  • Confirms that he ran to the door and attempted to open it (locked), then looked through the security window and saw the defendant go up the stairs then turn to the right “and disappear” but couldn’t see him open any door.  Defense asks another question then suddenly Lytle holds up his hands and says “I’m sorry, wait, please return to your previous question.”  A bunch of back-and-forth ensues before the defense finally repeats question.  Lytle changes statement to say that he saw the defendant go up the stairs, open a door, and go directly into the doorway (apologizes for making a mistake earlier).
  • Confirms that his view of the doorway was not blocked at all and he could clearly see him open and enter the door through the security window
  • Indicates that a female resident then opened the outside door for them, that this resident may have come from any unit (including #4), and that this resident then disappears.
  • States that after arresting defendant (after waiting under the stairs) the door to Unit #4 was closed.  Does not clarify how entry to Unit #4 was obtained.
  • 1/5 – States that the defendant was not wearing a face mask when found.  When defense lawyer indicates that the Undercover said the mask was on when ID’d (bad phrasing of the question) Lytle indicates that he “believes” the face mask was put back on for identification.

Witness Review:  This guy was a freakin’ idiot.  The prosecution REALLY should have clarified some stuff in redirection but didn’t bother.  Basically almost everything this guy said conflicted with Officer Peake when you look at the details (everything from where the drugs were found to what you could see through the window to what the guy said on the phone to the state of the various doors). 

I thought this guy seemed really arrogant and I seemed to sense a disrespect coming off him every time he talked about the defendant.  The fact that his testimony changed overnight in some details didn’t help – on a TV show this guy would’ve been maligned and kicked off as a bad witness or something but I guess that doesn’t happen in real life.  After hearing this guy’s testimony and all the other inconsistencies I couldn’t believe how shoddy this case was put together.

Witness 8:  Officer James Little, MPD Vice, 7th District, 5 years, white, average/small, ginger, braid coming off his goatee, has a dangerous/confident edge to his bearing, wearing standard MPD uniform

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 1/5 – Indicates he was part of the arrest team for the buy/bust operation
  • Received a lookout with a description for a “black male, blue jeans, black coat with hood, wearing a mask”
  • Lookout advised that the undercover officer had watched the individual enter the door of 3016 and go through a door on the first landing to the right
  • Stated that he responded to lookout, observed nobody at 3016, looked through the security window and saw no one, pulled on the outside door which opened (unlocked), listened at the door to Unit #4 and heard scuffling, waited for other officers to arrive
  • Indicated that several windows were boarded up to the unit, implying it was vacant, officers kept the unit surrounded and watched
  • According to Sergeant, a Lieutenant approved door knockdown so they broke down the door to Unit #4
  • Immediately encountered a pit-bull inside the unit, however the pit-bull was friendly and approached the officers happily
  • Describes Unit #4 as barren, clearly vacant, only items are a food or water bowl for the dog and the dog itself
  • An officer in back indicates that he found a back door which he opened, Officer Little proceeds through the door to encounter a back staircase
  • Indicates that he took out flashlight and went down the stairs then up them.  At the top he encountered an individual matching the lookout description of black coat and blue jeans "standing or hiding amongst bags of discarded trash in the darkest area of the staircase.” (verbatim)
  • Cuffed individual and walked him through the apartment to hand him off for the showup (where the undercover would identify him), notes that he was not involved with the identification on the street
  • States that as he walked the defendant through the room the defendant said “What’s gonna happen to my dog?”
  • Clarifies that the defendant was not holding the trash bag and made no mention of visiting his girlfriend or any statements at all other than the dog comment

Cross (Defense):

  • 1/5 – States that the window in the front door is narrow, approximately 8-9”, with a certain angle looking through it you can see the bottom of the door to Unit #4
  • Does not recall if US currency was recovered from suspect upon arrest
  • Confirms that comment about the dog was not recorded, paperwork states that the individual made no statements, cannot explain why comment was left out of paperwork
  • Indicates that approximately 10-12 minutes elapsed between Undercover lookout call and arrival of cops on-scene, with one car going directly to the back and all exists covered at this time
  • States that there were approximately four garbage bags piled in the corner and that these bags could be carried by a single individual
  • Clarifies that defendant did not have hood up or mask on when found and that no drugs, leash, keys to unit #4 or any items connecting defendant to drugs or the dog were found on his person
  • States that the dog was moved into the room with the water bowl and the door was closed to keep it out of the officer’s way

Witness Review:  This officer was a stark contrast to the previous officer.  His testimony was crisp, clear, and delivered in a completely believable manner.  This event could have happened yesterday considering his confidence in responding and his general clarify of recall.  I also appreciated that he was open to alternatives, he did not discard the idea that the defendant may have been carrying trash bags out, etc.  He stated the facts as he saw them without speculating.  Great testimony.  I was bummed that he forgot to include that supposed comment about the dog on his report because he seemed very efficient.

Witness 9: Nicole Edwards, DEA Chemist, 8 years experience, black, mid 30’s/40’s, slightly overweight, female

Summary:  The prosecution goes through a bunch of questions about Nicole’s experience in order to establish her as an “Expert Witness.”  The judge then explains that because Nicole is an “expert witness” in the area of drug identification she is allowed to offer opinions which we should consider based on her experience (other witness are not allowed to speculate).

What follows is a big long review of every single drug item and confirmation that they are crack and marijuana and a precise review of the amounts received, amounts left, etc.  Basically a huge chain of custody and confirmation.  Out of this entire thing there were only two interesting points that stood out aside from “it’s crack and marijuana” which were:

1. The chemist screwed up the date on one piece of the paperwork and nobody caught it.  The defense tried to imply she was useless and inept because of this and again belabored this point way too much.  Total waste of his and our time and just seemed petty – yes, she made a mistake but it’s not like all of a sudden all this stuff is cotton candy.

2. The chemist confirmed that based on the chemical composition, the bags of drugs purchased by the undercover on 1/5 and those recovered in Unit #4 on 1/5 were from the same batch.

I’m twitchy just remembering how long this all took and how excessive each detail was.

Witness 10: Detective Rene Dessin, MPD Narcotics Special Investigation Team, 23 years in Narcotics division (25 years police), black, 40’s/50’s, married, very dignified, carries himself with very subtle confidence, there’s no danger at all about this guy as he’s walking or sitting, it could be your buddy’s cool dad…  but at random times during testimony you get this flash of intense steel and realize he is hardcore

Summary:  Detective Dessin is quickly established as an expert witness in the areas of “distribution and use of narcotics,” “packaging of narcotics,” “manner of distribution of narcotics,” “cost of narcotics,” and “police procedures related to narcotics.”  This guy is wicked, he’s been undercover forever, the “street” just drips off him.  Where the other vice cops were offended by the use of “jump out” this guy describes himself as “part of the jump out unit.”  He kept dropping street terms then apologizing and clarifying them.  He’s done over a thousand undercover buys and still sometimes goes out.  I would love to buy this guy a beer and hear his stories…  as you can tell I respected his testimony quite a bit.

He had no involvement in the case and was just here to clarify bits.  His testimony was quite long and involved and I have almost three pages of notes on it, but really overall there were a few key points discussed by both the prosecution and defense when we skip all the bits about him confirming all the proper procedures were followed.  Here’s a summary of those points:

1. 30 “zips” of cocaine is too many for personal use, it’s definitely for distribution.  He explained this in detail, but it basically boiled down to the fact that a user never buys more than a few bags at a time because they can’t know the quality (or reality) of the product they are getting and they don’t want to risk being out $600 to buy sugar.  Similarly, a street dealer is highly unlikely to sell that amount to one individual anyway because it would eat into their inventory and they might not have enough to deal to their regular customers.  Finally, if that amount was purchased for personal use by someone who had mid-level contacts, it would be packaged as an “eight ball” and not be packaged individually.  He did state that four bags of marijuana could be personal use, though more than four could have indicated intent to distribute.

2. He pointed out that the amount of cocaine recovered on 11/24 should have made 25 “dub” bags (twice as much crack as a dime bag), so the fact that it made 30 indicated a dealer looking to stretch his crack quite a bit.  He also said that the purity of 38% was quite low and that he would consider this to be very “low quality crack.” 

3. He reviewed that it’s common for dealers to stay close to their drugs but not right next to them and to stash their money to reduce the odds of getting caught by “stick up boys or jump outs” (clarifying this to indicate getting robbed by criminals or nailed by police officers).  He does state that it’s fairly rare for a dealer to be caught without the pre-recorded funds in a buy/bust operation, however this does happen from “time to time” when a dealer is suspicious after a sale. 

4. The defense brings up the whole “clear” vs “clear pink” on the buy/bust report again and after a lot of discussion the Detective basically says that there should’ve been an investigation and someone should (and probably will be after this) in trouble for screwing that up and letting it get all the way to the DEA with the description not matching the contents.  He sounded amazed that this could happen and almost didn’t believe it.  He then indicated that such a mistake should compromise the quality of the evidence for all of that undercover’s buys that day because it means he could’ve mixed up drugs between buys.  On the other hand, the fact that the drugs were of the same batch as those in the apartment indicated that it was “human error” but it still should’ve been caught.  This is confirmed under re-direct when he is asked to look at the purity levels and the two sets of two bags and speculate why there would be two sets like that in separate evidence bags and he goes “I would guess that this means there was a buy/bust operation where they bought two bags and found four bags” – smart cat!

You get the feeling from watching this that there’s a low anger simmering here in the Detective and that he’s going to smash some heads about procedure when he gets back…

5. One weird thing that comes up that the defense fails to catch is that the Detective indicates that undercover officers will typically ID buyers back at the station to minimize risk of being spotted on the street doing the ID.  Completely the opposite of what the undercover officer testified to earlier.

Witness 11:  Sergeant Anderson, MPD Vice, 7th District (no experience stated), white, big (a little chubby), married, carries himself well, confident

Examination (Prosecution):

  • 1/5 – Involved in the buy/bust operation, indicated that they knocked then forced open the door to Unit #4 and cleared the apartment
  • Indicated a pit-bull “came to greet them” on opening the door, then was sequestered in a side room where they found a bowl for water/food.  The pit-bull was “playful and well taken care of”
  • Indicated that when the defendant was walked through the room he made the statement “What are you going to do with the dog?”

Cross (Defense):

  • Indicated that he did not recall whether the statement was made in response to any questions or whether the defendant made any other statements
  • Confirmed that no drugs, leash, key or other item was found on the defendant which connected him to the drugs, apartment, or dog

Witness Review: This witness seemed to be called merely to confirm the statement about the dog that the defendant made.  I suppose this was necessary since it wasn’t in the paperwork – either way, the witness seemed very credible and composed on the stand.  I did note that the details of the overheard statement did not match that given by the other officer and it is interesting that he didn’t know if there was anything else going on.  I can’t imagine why he’d make this up, though it did seem like one of those “oh yeah I remember hearing him saying that too” situations.

Government rests its case!  Time for the defense to call witnesses…

Defense Witness 1: Mark Glick, CJA Defense Investigator, 20 years, white, average size, a little chubby, wearing an ill-fitting suit carrying a huge briefcase, really fits the on-TV “creepy private investigator” stereotype in the way he looks but not the way he responds to questions.

Examination (Defense):

  • Indicates that he is the person who took the defense photos of the location
  • Defense lawyer starts to go through photo after photo of the laborious process of “Did you take this photo?  Does it fairly and accurately depict the area?” etc. but the judge gets pissed and tells him to just call out all the numbers and do it all at once.  Defense states that “they aren’t labeled in order” to which the judge responds “of course they aren’t.”  She is definitely fed up with him!
  • Indicates that the security window in the door of 3016 is only 3-4” wide and that there is absolute NO WAY to see the door to Unit #4 from the window
  • Reviews various photos taken from outside and inside and states that he is ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE there is no way to see the door from the window or even until you are over halfway up the stairs, then once there you can only see the top part of the door, there is “no way” you could see the bottom of this door

Cross (Prosecution):

  • The prosecution says something about notes and asks to see his notes.  For some reason he digs these out and lets her.  She then starts to review them as she asks a stupid series of questions designed to imply that he faked the photos by taking deliberately bag angles, asking questions in a distracted tone as she multi-tasks.  It’s really annoying and I was not at all impressed.  “You agree that there are different angles you can see from?” etc.  She ends by implying that he isn’t as tall as Officer Lytle and thus had a different view from the window, even though the top of the window is less than five feet off the ground…  underwhelming to me.
  • Clarifies that the Investigator took photos on 12/8/2009 and 1/25/2010
  • Prosecutor implies that the boarded windows and change in door color indicate that things were changed at an unknown time and that the investigator can’t know if his photos accurately depict things during the crime (even though ALL the cops testified that the photos “fairly and accurately” depicted the house)

Redirect (Defense):

  • Investigator confirms that he looked at every possible angle and that there really aren’t many and that it is “not physically possible to see the door” of Unit #4 through it, he is “100% positive.”

Witness Review:  This guy came off as too professional and slightly bored to go out and deliberately try to stage photos in order to screw with people.  I completely believed him that there’s no way to see the door, both from his photos and the prosecution photos and the testimony of Officer Speake – unless the door was changed at some point then changed back that’s a bloody small window.  On the other hand I think the defense focused too much on whether or not you could see the door and didn’t use this investigator as well as they could have.  Oh well.

Defense rests!  Closing remarks follow…

Closing Remarks:

Since the Government is bringing the charges, they get to speak first, then the defense gets to speak, then the prosecution gets a final rebuttal.  This is basically a summary speech at this point to review the points at the last minute and try to shape our view – personally I don’t like it and think this shouldn’t be allowed, but I guess that’s the way it is.

Prosecution Remarks: 

She goes into her nonsense about “this being about choices, choices the defendant chose to make” for awhile, then tries to tell us that all the conflicting stories actually make sense if you try really hard to make them fit, saying things like “one officer saw the guy standing outside then run, then the next officer saw the guy turn around in the door and shut it” etc. even though this didn’t at all match what they actually said.  Then she talked about how the defense was lying and sent a creepy PI out to take misleading photos and wasted all of our time going on about details in order to trick us.  She then ended by talking about “choices” again and all that blah blah.

Defense Remarks:

This speech was even worse, making me want to walk out.  The defense lawyer basically focused on all the little details that were wrong (good), then proceeded to say that the officers involved MADE THE ENTIRE THING UP and were just trying to frame this guy.  It was idiotic.  Seriously.

Prosecution Rebuttal:

The prosecution then comes back and asks us to consider whether or not ten police officers would realistically make up a bunch of stuff in order to randomly frame a guy and plays the classic “wouldn’t they have made up a better story if this were the case?” anti-conspiracy claim.  Sigh.

The End: For Now

So, there you go.  This was the trial, the evidence, and the situation.  If you read all this, I applaud your curiousity.  The question then becomes…  how would you vote?  Do you believe this guy was guilty without reasonable doubt?

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the jury deliberation and how we came to a verdict!


Jeremy said…
Based on your notes, I would find it really hard to vote that the guy is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." Even if the defense lawyer was an idiot - clearly the police didn't make up the whole story - it seems like there's too much confusion in the ID of the suspect. Looking forward to seeing your follow-up....

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