Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The best possible verdict

My experience as a juror was very positive, despite the fact that it was a very unpleasant court case we had to deal with. Without naming any names, I want to go over the case a bit and discuss how we came to our verdict (guilty) and sentencing (10 years probation).
The case involved indecency with a minor. The victim was a 12-year-old girl who was 9 at the time of the abuse. The defendant was her uncle by marriage, age 33. The case involved fondling, not penetration, and there was no physical evidence of abuse to back up the girl’s testimony. But we found the girl to be entirely credible and consistent in everything she said from the initial police report, to her interview with a sexual abuse investigator, to her testimony at the trial.
Furthermore, the defendant, after initially denying the allegations, admitted to the family that he had “checked” the girl’s “private parts” after she complained of it itching. Why he would do that and not tell the mother or the aunt was something he could not explain adequately other than to say “I messed up.”
During the evidentiary phase of the trial, the defense seemed to be flailing about trying to drum up doubt anyway they could. But we weren’t buying it. After two and a half days of testimony, we found the defendant guilty on three counts.
But then came the sentencing phase, and suddenly it seemed like the prosecution side was now stretching as they tried to say that the defendant was a “monster” who needed to be locked away. But the defense brought forward their best witness - a probation officer with the sexual offenders division - who explained in great detail what is involved with the community supervision program for sex offenders who get probation. Suffice to say there is a great deal of assessment testing, counseling and monitoring involved, all of which has to be paid for by the defendant.
I did not feel that prison time was warranted in this case for several reasons. First, I did not see the defendant as being a continuing threat provided he receives the counseling and supervision he needs. Second, jail time would likely have only hurt his chances of rehabilitating himself by causing him to lose his job, possibly breaking up his marriage and leaving him a broken and very likely worse individual in the end. By probating his sentence, I felt that we gave him a chance to straighten his life and remain a productive citizen rather than becoming another ward of the state.
Had he been a worse offender - caused injury to the victim, been out stalking other victims and so forth - I think we would not have hesitated to send him to prison. But because he had not yet crossed that line, we felt he could still be reformed given the opportunity.
The one complicating factor for us was that the defendant was still in denial during the sentencing phase. But the probation officer told us that it is common in 99 percent of cases for the sex offender to deny the charges at first and that it sometimes takes several months of counseling before they an accept it.
I hope that the defendant takes advantage of the opportunity that we gave him. His niece is now living out of state and he most likely will not be in a situation to cause abuse again unless he seeks it out. We heard from the defendant’s mother, father, sister and wife all testifying to his good character and promising to support him with any restrictions put on him by the court.
So I think we made the best possible decision in this case. I was proud of the people who served on the jury with me and overall the experience has renewed and reinforced my belief, trust and support for the U.S. judcial system.

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