21 November 2016

Foreman

At the start of the second week of my jury service, I called in at a cafe near The Castle Market for a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich before ambling down to The Crown Court, hoping that I would be selected to serve once again. 

And indeed that is what happened. Once again, I was ushered into the jury room with eleven other people, six of whom had been on my first jury the week before.

There was some discussion about who should be the foreman. Nobody was volunteering. Then one of the other jurors I had previously served with suggested me saying, "You're level-headed and you weighed thing up carefully last week. I think you'd make a good foreman." The others agreed and I was duly selected. To tell you the truth I was pretty proud about this - to be nominated by complete strangers, fellow Sheffielders who judged that I would be a good arbitrator and leader. It was a great moment.

We trooped into the court, the other eleven swearing to do their duty while holding "The Bible". The barristers in their black capes looked at me a little quizzically as I made my atheist pledge once more. Then the new defendants were led into court - a young man of nineteen and his eighteen year old girlfriend.

This is what they were accused of doing. A few months before, in the middle of the day, they had broken into a house at Walkley. The residents were out at work. Instead of burgling the house, Bonnie and Clyde had raided the drinks cabinet in the basement room with its fine views over The Rivelin Valley.

In fact, they drank so much that they both fell asleep lounging on the owners' comfy sofas. Just after five o'clock, the lady of the house and her grown-up daughter returned home to find Bonnie and Clyde fast asleep with empty spirits bottles strewn across the floor. The young couple were still fast asleep when the police arrived.

These facts were not disputed by the teenage lovers. They had been dealt with in a previous court hearing. So what was the purpose of the trial to which my jury had been allocated?

Well, it seems that when the couple were woken up and taken down to Hammerton Road Police Station, the police searched them and found something of great significance in the young man's coat pocket. It was a starting pistol, loaded with blanks. The possession of this pistol meant that the crime committed was not just a burglary, it was an aggravated burglary which is much more serious in British law.

As a jury we had to decide two simple things. On the balance of probability, did the young  man know that he had the starting pistol in his possession and did his female companion also know that he had it. 

There were several photos, cross examination of witnesses including the homeowner, a police statement with cross-examination, character witness statements on behalf of the teenagers and so on. The trial lasted almost two full days and then we had to decide.

In the jury room, I kept my cards very close to my chest. I felt it was my job to facilitate discussion in a neutral manner - especially as it was soon quite clear that there were two factions in the jury. I am not a huge lover of the police myself but there were two or three people in that jury who had probably seen far too many films or TV shows about corrupt police officers. These jurors seemed to start from the crazy position that the police are  just the enemy of the downtrodden people. Ridiculous.

In the end, under my careful chairmanship, we managed to see common sense after a full afternoon of deliberation in which the conspiracy theorists were defeated by incontrovertible evidence. I mean, when all is said and done, most of us know what we have in our pockets. It is very likely that that young couple had committed previous burglaries and that this was not the first time they had entered private property whilst in possession of that starting pistol.

American visitors may wish to note that in Great Britain it is not easy for robbers to get hold of proper guns that carry real bullets so frequently these criminals will use fake guns or, as in this case, a sports starting pistol. Thank God for our tough gun laws! I don't know a single person in my country who owns a real gun though I myself once owned a green plastic water pistol.

We went back into court and as the foreman of the jury I was asked to stand. "How do you find the defendants?". "Guilty", I announced. 

We listened to the sentencing. These youngsters had not been before a court in relation to any previous crimes. They had clean records. Consequently, the entire jury was startled when  it was announced that the young man would spend two years in a young offenders prison while his girlfriend would spend one year. These sentences were not suspended. 

As they were taken from the court, the young man's emotionally-charged father fired an angry blast at me from the public gallery for arriving at the guilty verdict. I mean, how could we do that to his darling little boy? The starting pistol was little more than a stage prop. The judge ordered him to be quiet and court officials led him away. He yelled, "I know where you live!" at me as he was taken out. Now where had I heard that before?

My jury service was over.

23 comments:

  1. I don't know what I've done wrong but I've never been selected for jury service. I think I might quite enjoy it after the insight of your last two posts.

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    1. What have you done wrong? Don't you remember when you stole those aniseed balls and that sherbet fountain from the corner shop when you were ten years old?

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    2. Dammit! I had a perfectly good alibi - I was in detention writing "I must not steal from the sweetie shop" at the time the offence was committed.

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    3. Ha-ha! Nice twist sir.

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  2. Well over half the people I know own guns. So do we, at my husband's urging, simply because if a criminal breaks in to your home here in the USA chances are VERY good that he's armed and ready to kill you. Our guns are safely stored away (but easily accessible if necessary) and kept loaded since we don't have children around. I'd much rather NOT have guns. Gregg feels the same way, but fears for our safety. I wish we lived in the UK. It must be nice to feel safe from gun violence.

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    1. I understand your situation Jennifer and I certainly don't blame you and Gregg for having guns. You should try target practice using photocopies of Donald Trump's head.

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  3. You've lived an exciting life so far YP. What next to whet our appetites?

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    1. Whet your appetites? How about some Spanish tapas? ...or the time I wrestled a twelve foot alligator on the banks of The Zambesi or the time I took over the controls of a jumbo jet, saving the lives of three hundred and twelve passengers or the time I refused to give Tony Blair a lift to London after his car broke down on the M1 or...

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    2. Come on then - don't keep us in suspense !

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  4. Oh dear YP - stories like this make me pleased that during my years when I could have been chosen I was married to my first husband who was a civil servant in the Prison Service - so that let us off the hook. I am glad to say that I am now too old. I would so hate to pass judgement upon another individual.

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    1. To be judged by one's peers - I think that is one of the corner stones of a democratic society. I had no qualms about playing my part.

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  5. It was interesting that your jury service was very similar to my experience about 30 years ago. I sat in on three cases over the two weeks. I was terrified beforehand that I would make the wrong verdict, but was surprised how clear-cut the cases were and the judge, when summing up, almost leads you to the decision you should make, so you cannot really go wrong. Like your first case, the first man we found guilty (who had assaulted a policemen)had past history, as did the second man (who with his very pregnant girlfriend had stolen a TV while his girlfriend distracted the assistant). The third case was a gypsy who had allegedly mugged a girl for her handbag down a dark alley. The girl had not seen seen her attacker,as he had approached from behind and then ran off, but the gypsy was arrested the same day for very tenuous reasons. Something did not add up and we gave an innocent verdict and I saw the the policeman laughing, as if their ruse had been rumbled.

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    1. Perhaps the policeman was laughing with simple exasperation. The truth can be so hard to pin down.

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  6. Your two jury experiences were very unpleasant. Now how would this guy know where you live? Jury members are not identified.

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    1. It's just a nasty tactic that some lowlife people use when they want to get under someone's skin.

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  7. Good choice of jury foreman. Someone who can use logic and stick to the facts; and educate people in the jury process. Many people sit on a jury with the result already set in their mind, based often on their own prejudices.

    Alphie

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    1. It was difficult trying to win some of those jurors over whilst maintaining respect for them but I had dealt with hundreds of awkward teenagers before so that helped.

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  8. I don't know how I would have handled the conspiracy theorists; I get so impatient with people like that. In my opinion, you were the right choice for foreman, even though of course I don't know who the other jurors were.

    It saddens me to think that very probably, that teenage couple will emerge from their sentences in a year or two with no better ideas as to what to do with their lives than what they were doing before.

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    1. When those sentences were announced, I just thought of those two young people spending months mixing with other criminals and learning other bad things then coming out more hardened than before.

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  9. Well done thou good and faithful servant.

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