…not guilty. So says a jury of her peers. Well, the jury actually thinks she’s probably guilty of something, but the state didn’t prove that beyond a reasonable doubt so she is “not guilty” as far as the court system goes.
Now that the trial is over, I can talk about it. Twelve of us were brought together to hear the story of a woman, now 42, who was allegedly involved in a drug deal four years ago. Not a little bit of dope – we’re talking a kilo of cocaine. She wasn’t the point person for the deal (which was made with an undercover officer), nor did she participate in any negotiations or money exchange. She was accused of bringing a plastic bag, inside of which lay a brick of coke, to a restaurant and giving it to her employer (she was a maid/nanny). The employer was the one who did the deal and was the target of the investigation.
The question was, did the defendant know what was in the bag? An even more simple question: was the defendant involved in the exchange at all? Here’s the deal. The undercover officer testified that the transaction was a “buy-walk,” wherein the deal was supposed to be one step along the way to developing a relationship with the seller such that she would eventually lead the cop to her connection (who would be a big drug dealer, according to theory). After this transaction, the undercover officer found that the boss lady was not, in fact, the connection to the big guys that they thought she would be, so she and the defendant were arrested two years ago for this one drug deal. And for almost two and a half years, both have been in jail waiting for trial.
The night that the deal occurred, the undercover officer was working with 12 to 16 other officers who were working surveillance. He was also wearing a wire. Yet there were no stakeout pictures, there was no video or audio played and there were no other officers to corroborate the undercover officer’s story. There was the kilo of coke and the officer’s word. That was it. And if you’re going to convict someone of being involved in that large an amount of narcotics, the sentence starts at 15 years and goes up from there. We didn’t feel like we could convict this woman based on the officer’s testimony alone.
In addition, the officer didn’t seem to have read his report before coming to court. He didn’t remember very much about the transaction, so we had to sit there in silence while the defense attorney directed the officer’s attention to various sections in the police report to refresh his memory so he could answer questions. So, he didn’t have good recall. Strike one. The 12 to 16 officers working with him the night of the drug deal didn’t have tangible proof or even offer eye-witness testimony. Strike two. We twelve jurors had reasonable doubt. Strike three.
Though many of us felt the defendant probably was guilty of poor judgment at least and criminal intent at worst, the cops didn’t do their jobs to allow us to reach that conclusion. And even though a couple of the jurors mentioned Arizona and illegal immigrants during our deliberation, the entire two or three hour discussion (they took our phones – I have no idea how long we talked) was remarkably civil and respectful. The three or four people who initially voted guilty changed to not guilty with grace and honor – and, most important, honesty – and I think we all felt empowered by the experience.
The twelve of us – three engineers (civil, electrical), a lawyer for domestic violence cases, two IT people, a grocery store employee, a truck driver, a homemaker, a City employee, a guy who builds metal buildings and a grant writer for PBS – were all able to put our biases aside and answer one question. Did the state prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt? The answer was no. In fact, when the two lawyers came to talk to us after the verdict, I asked the prosecuting attorney if he was surprised by the verdict. He said that he was not. So he knew what kind of case they had. And I can sleep at night knowing we made the right decision, based on the facts as they were presented.