Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Trial is Over

Marathon, FL

After listening to three days of testimony, the trial is over.   I left after closing arguments.  I was interested in the process, not the outcome.   So what more did I learn in those three days?

  • I understand now how important it is here in The Keys for employees to speak fluent English and Spanish.  Especially people like firemen and paramedics.   A person who can't speak and understand well in an emergency is severely handicapped.
  • In important ways, the job of the defense is more difficult than that of the prosecution.  The defense needs to think of what was not said as much as what was heard, and of course that is always more difficult.  They also need to discover and point out inconsistencies in the testimony and the evidence.  I would find it hard to have the patience to sort all those documents and all those words in my head looking for omissions and inconsistencies.  I give this defense high marks for doing that.
  • The prosecution was amazingly well prepared and methodical.  I sure wouldn't want to oppose them.  It makes me wonder how many skilled hours went into this entire case; laywers, judge, police, fire, hospital, lab, plus staff for all of those.  I would not be surprised with a $1 to $1.5 million bill for Florida taxpayers.  That weighs heavily in giving high marks to the system.  Most of that money was spent to convict the defendant while being scrupulously fair.
  • Strategy.  During testimony I heard that the defendant's blood alcohol level was 0.391.  The hospital calls that a nearly lethal dose.  I can't imaging how a person in that condition can say anything accurately.   I would have argued that anything the defendant said after the accident (such as the fact that he told three people that he was driving) could be used against him or that he could understand his Miranda rights.   I was surprised that the defense didn't object.  But in closing arguments, the defense used other things he said to bolster their theory.  Aha, that's why they didn't object -- strategy.
In this case, the primary defense was that the state didn't prove adequately that the defendant was the person driving before the accident.  The evidence that the defendant was behind the wheel just seconds after the accident was overwhelming.   There was also conflicting evidence about seat belt use.   The defense put on two witnesses that said that the defendant was placed in the passenger seat and that the other man with him was driving.  I think they also did a very credible job of showing where the state's case was weakest and how most evidence was consistent with their theory, and why evidence that contradicted their theory was not credible.  Good job.

How would I have voted had I been on the jury?  I find the theory that the bodies of the defendant and the other man in the truck exchanged places while the truck was rolling over to be preposterous.  In probably 90% of all accidents, there are no witnesses to say who was driving before the accident.  But someone drove (except in a Google driverless car), and the presumption that it was the person behind the wheel immediately after the accident is very strong.  Extraordinary theories need extraordinary evidence.  I would have voted guilty.

So, what light does this shine on the criminal justice system?  Very favorable I would say.  The whole system laboriously and tediously goes through the steps to make sure that the evidence was not faked, that the process was fair, and that the defense was robust and competent.  Remember though that this was a homicide case and thus one taken very seriously by everyone.  Lesser offenses probably won't be treated with the same care. 

In this case, there was a first trial resulting in a conviction and sentence.  That was thrown out on appeal.  It was obvious to me that all parties involved were determined that this verdict will stand up against any appeals.  The parents of one of the victims were in court and they need that finality before they can move on with their own lives.  I hope they get it.

p.s. The law says that a blood alcohol level of 0.08 renders you incapacitated for purpose of driving.   But under the law, there is no alcohol level (right up to the point of death) where you are so impaired that what you say should not be held against you.   Is that fair?


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