06 January 2006

Jury Trial Fizzle

Sometimes the Trial of the Century just doesn't happen. Yesterday was one of those days. Client was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm. I had set up all my intra-trial traps and it was the trial date - and then, just before the potential jurors were called to the courtroom, the prosecutor dropped the case. How could things go so far and then fizzle right at the end? Well, let me tell you . . .

Let's start a few months ago at the preliminary hearing. Client shows up in a fluorescent blue Hawaiian shirt, which is the same shirt he was supposedly wearing on the date of the offense. The case is called and the prosecutor calls his sole (non-officer) witness; she comes out of the lockup in a nice orange jump suit and the entirety of her testimony is that she saw another guy bring a pistol to the trailer park and he handed it to Client, who looked at it and then handed it back. It comes out on cross that she was the one found with the pistol. She was the one who had it hidden in her car. She's charged as a felon in possession of a firearm and concealment in this county. In another county she's charged with stealing the firearm and breaking and entering to steal it. I try to convince the judge not to certify it and he looks skeptical but he sends it to the circuit court anyway. After I walk out of that I was accosted by another witness whom the prosecutor had subpoenaed (but not called) who spends the next 15 minutes fussing at me about how it wasn't my client whom he saw with the gun. It took me a while to calm him down and make him realize that I wasn't the guy who had subpoenaed him.

The next date we come to court is the docket call date. Client shows up at that date and decides he wants a jury. He is, by-the-bye, wearing the same fluorescent blue Hawaiian shirt. We get the court date set.

Miraculously, Client is one of those few who actually works with me to prep for the trial. He gets me names and addresses of people whom he wants subpoenaed. I spend a good amount of time talking to folks and finding all about the feuds and politics of the folks in the trailer park. Divorces, child custody battles, thefts, lies, a baby's daddy, &cetera. I defy anyone to to write a script with all that, throw in people accusing each other of a felony for any of 6 reasons, and submit it - even a soap opera would refuse it as too unrealistic.

Then comes the week before trial. I prep up the case, rereading all the pertinent statutes, checking the prior conviction, going over the jury instructions, and going out to buy a new suit. Yep, that's right, I buy a new suit before a jury trial. Or at least I do when my old suits look as ragged as the ones I had in my closet did. It's sad; the salesmen at Men's Wearhouse all get really happy when I walk in the door and they even know me well enough to remark that if I'm at the store I must have another jury trial. And I always walk out a much poorer man.

I've met with the prosecutor beforehand and he's been as reasonable as it's possible for a prosecutor to be. He tells me that if the only witness to be in court for him on the trial date is the one he had at the prelim he will move to have the charge dismissed. However, he has hopes that a second witness will be in court on the trial date and help him make his case.

Then Client misses the appointment we were supposed to have the Friday before court. A little nervous, I spend some time getting back in contact with him and finally track him down the day before trial - he's moved to the mountains of North Carolina. Anyway, we touch bases but I must admit I was wondering whether he would show up for court the next day. I needn't have feared . . .

The jury is set for 1 p.m. I finish up a fairly nasty showcause at about 9:15 and head down to the law library to do some last minute prep and about 9:30 a deputy directs Client, who has shown up 3 1/2 hours early, to me in the library. And, yet again, he's wearing the same fluorescent blue Hawaiian shirt. His parents drove him up to the courthouse and dropped him off while they went to the trailer park to try and visit their grandchildren. I sit and talk with Client for a while about the trial. Then Client's parents come back and tell me that the mystery prosecution witness is my client's brother's ex-wife, with whom they are involved in a long and nasty custody battle - and, she made a point of telling the parents that she was coming to court today.

So, 12:30 rolls around. It looks like I've got 2 third party witnesses, my client's girlfriend, and client's mother as my witnesses. Then, one of my witnesses shows up and has driven my client's ex-sister in law to court with her. She then corners me and tells me in no uncertain terms that "I don't have contacts and I couldn't see anything that day because I don't have contacts." The other third party witness shows up and is good to go. Of course, the girlfriend and Mom are ready. So, I'm ready to get the trial started.

Then the prosecutor's witness comes over and tells me that she needs to speak to the prosecutor. I direct her to the prosecutor's office and head upstairs to the courtroom. I see the prosecutor and go over to tell him I sent his witness to his office. We talk for a little bit and then walk around the corner to the courtroom. And there's his big witness standing there talking to my client and his witnesses, all friendly like.

The prosecutor takes his witness off to talk with her. They're gone for a little while. Then they're gone for a little while longer. Then they're gone for a long time. Finally, the prosecutor comes back and tells me that his witness doesn't remember seeing my client with the pistol and he's going to move for nolle prosequi.

So, we all go into the courtroom and the judge comes out. The prosecutor explains how his one witness is stating that she never saw my client with a pistol and his other witness isn't capable of carrying the case by herself. He then moves to dismiss the case and the judge asks me if I object. I hesitate for a millionth of a second with that thought of asking for a dismissal with prejudice but decide that since the prosecutor is being a stand up guy it probably wouldn't be appropriate to harass him by making a motion I know I won't win. So the judge grants the motion and then calls the jury pool in, explains it all to them and dismisses them.

Client is ecstatic and for some reason seems to now think that I walk on water; it's amazing how just being around when things go your client's way can make him extremely happy with you - even if you didn't really get a chance to do your bit. His family even asks me at least three times if I'll step into their domestic case, but I decline. The prosecutor is not all that upset but he makes the usual noises that all prosecutors make about prosecuting the witness who wouldn't testify in the manner he expected. In fact, after Client and everyone else has left, the prosecutor, police officer and I walk down the hall chuckling a little over all the silliness in the case.

And that's how a jury trial which looked like it was going to be a very nasty exploration of the lives and motivations of a bunch of folks at the trailer park fizzles. Oh well, there's always my jury scheduled for the 8th of February . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A quaint story indeed. As a former police officer, sometimes prosecutor, and now college instructor, I appreciated the real world applications of your story. The liberal references to the trailer park and the intertwining of the parties had me smiling the whole time. I found myself saying more than once, "I know these people." I particularly appreciate the fact that you, the prosecutor, and the cop all knew what the score really was in the case and there was no rancor about any of it.