When the case finally opened we learned that the defendant was being charged with intimidation on two counts as she had allegedly threatened a police officer both while being escorted to his police vehicle, and also once inside the vehicle while being transported to the station.
The judge made it clear on multiple occasions that those of us serving were to maintain a presumption of innocence on the defendant’s behalf, and that only if the State proved certain essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt were we to make the decision, during deliberation, to convict the defendant, after all evidence had been examined. I was glad he made such a point to repeat this over and over. If I were being charged with any sort of criminal accusation I would want the same courtesy extended my way.
The Prosecuting Attorney (The State)
The attorney who represented the state was a 46 year old man-boy draped in an oversized Brooks Brothers suit with thick, long hair, better suited for a Pantene commercial than the courtroom. I say man-boy because he looked a trial lawyer who was fresh out of his bar exams but claimed to have been born in 1969. Nevertheless, it was easy to see why he had the job. He was a silver-tongued craftsman of words who made even the weakest of arguments seem plausible. His spin was second to none and his vigor was unquestionable.
His responsibility throughout the case was to prove:
- The defendant (who I won’t name)
- Did communicate a threat to the officer (who I also won’t name)
- The threat was communicated to the officer because of an act taken by him within the scope of his profession.
- The officer was a law enforcement officer.
To prove #1 all he had to do was show that the defendant was present and establish that she was the person in question. To prove #4 all he had to do was ask the law enforcement officer his rank, employer, and establish that he was the arresting officer on the night of the incident. Those were easy enough, so the focus of the prosecution was really to prove numbers 2 and 3.
According to our instructions, “If the State failed to prove any one of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you must find the defendant not guilty of Intimidation, a Level 6 Felony.”
The Public Defender
Let’s be honest. It’s common knowledge that if you’re going to be an attorney, the money is not in public defense. Public defenders are the guys (and gals) that represent those who can’t afford representation. And this guy looked the part.
Actually, the best description I could give is that he looked like Harold Ramis (RIP). That crossed my mind several times throughout the trial. He looked AND sounded like him, which at times made it feel like I was watching a movie.
The defendant was an older, African-American woman who was probably in her early 50s. At 6”4 inches tall it was easy to speculate how she could physically be perceived as intimidating. However, she had a very kind demeanor about her which helped to offset any pre-conceived notions that our natural instincts may have wanted to lend.
The Crime Scene
The prosecutor opened evidence with pictures of the crime scene on the night in question. The incident happened on Christmas Eve around 10pm. He showed the front door of an apartment building with droplets of what appeared to be blood covering the porch. He then showed a picture of the entry way to the defendant’s apartment inside where droplets of blood also covered the floor. More of the apartment saw blood on the walls, as well as her bedroom window. Her home lacked had in the way of decorating, with items thrown all over the floor in a very disheveled manner, and one poster on the wall which maintained a scripture from the Holy Bible.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Mark, 8:36
There was also a picture of the woman’s hand and a half inch cut across her pinky finger, which seemed to be the source of the bleeding.
Besides the photographs, the State opened evidence with a witness. He was the arresting officer and the defendant’s accuser, a Caucasian, male in his early 30s. After swearing in he began to describe the events of that night. But he was somewhat vague. All he (and the prosecutor) would say is that he approached the woman’s apartment, saw blood leading in from the doorstep to the entry way, and went in to check the scene.
Afterwards he placed her in handcuffs and began to walk her out to his car. In a drunken stupor, he alleged that she spun around; hands cuffed behind her back and shouted, “I will fuck you up.” She also allegedly stated, “I know people you don’t know.” At that point the officer informed her that he would be filing a charge of Intimidation for her threat. He then stated that, while they were driving to the police station she made another threat while seated in the back of his patrol car.
We were then shown a tape from the dashboard camera in the officer’s vehicle to support his claim of a second threat. This was a mess. White noise like the purr of his engine seemed to be prevalent over anything else that we could hear. Each time he turned the sound faded in and out. Also, when an announcement would come over the police radio everything else seemed to fade. The defendant’s voice could be heard mumbling something about missing Christmas and wanting to open presents with her family. The threat that was alleged was almost entirely inaudible. Each of us on the jury seemed to hear different things leaving the tape almost inadmissible as helpful evidence. If anything it proved to me that the dash cams in police cruisers suck, and whether they’re a tool used to protect the officer, or the civilian, or both, they did not help any party in this case.
After the tape the prosecution rested their case and the defense introduced the defendant to the stand. This was an interesting move because the burden of proof rested entirely on the State. By that I mean, because the defendant had the presumption of innocence they weren’t responsible for presenting any evidence or witnesses. They could have just sat back and told the prosecution, “If we’re guilty, then prove it.”
The defendant had already plead “not guilty,” after all.
But I’m happy they chose to let her speak because she painted a more full picture of what had happened during the course of her day. According to her testimony, the events unfolded as such:
- Her boyfriend showed up with a carton of cigarettes and a bottle of vodka presenting it as an early Christmas gift. The two spent the next few hours drinking and smoking.
- Her ex-boyfriend from an on again, off again relationship with a history of abuse showed up and saw that she had another man in the apartment. He began to bang on the windows and walls outside, and attempted to break down the door.
- The new boyfriend called the cops while he held the door closed. The police showed up and the ex-boyfriend left before they could question him.
- Later she left to get more cigarettes and her new boyfriend remained in her apartment. The ex-boyfriend came back and called 911 citing an emergency at her apartment (trolling). Her new boyfriend, ignorant to the 2nd police call decided to leave. She returned from the store to find an ambulance, firemen, and police cars. She assumed it was for her upstairs neighbor who was a cancer patient who often had an ambulance show up to her apartment. When she discovered that the police were there for her she dismissed them claiming that she did not know why they were called.
- She left again only to return to find her apartment had been torn apart. Her window had been pushed out. Her TV was shattered. Items had been thrown all over her apartment (as shown in the pictures). She assumed her ex-boyfriend had come back while she was away, pulled out her window, climbed in, trashed her apartment, and left.
- When she attempted to put her window back in she cut her pinky and began to bleed all over the apartment. Still drunk she was having a hard time getting around the house. She used the walls to guide herself to the kitchen where she called the cops to file a police report.
- When she saw the police arrive she walked out of the apartment, still dripping blood all over, and let the officers in.
- At that time the officer (and her accuser) walked in asking, “Where’s the knife?” When she asked him what he was talking about he allegedly shouted at her, “If you don’t tell me where the knife is at I’m taking you in for intimidation.”
- She asked to get toilet paper for her finger from the bathroom and he would not allow her. He made her grab a rag that was seated on the table in front of her (which seemed fair). He then walked back to her bedroom with another officer and talked on the phone to his superior.
- According to the defendant, it was after the call that he walked back into the living room and informed her that she was under arrest. He handcuffed her, read her Miranda rights, and escorted her out to the police car.
- She stated that at no point did she threaten the officer, but said she was frustrated that she had called him for help and that he was suddenly arresting her on Christmas Eve.
Apparently her ex-boyfriend was at the hospital with the accusing officer’s superior claiming that he had been in fight with the defendant and that she cut him with a knife. That’s why the superior officer supposedly asked him to make the arrest. However, because no evidence suggested that the altercation actually took place they could only charge her with intimidation.
She suspected that the cut was actually from ripping up her apartment and breaking her TV.
So what did we have for evidence? We had the officer’s testimony saying, “she threatened me.” We had the defendant’s testimony stating, “At no point did I threaten him.” We had photographs of a crime scene which couldn’t prove the threat that was allegedly communicated, and we had a tape from the officer’s dash cam which indecipherable.
The prosecutor then stated in confidence that he had proven the threat and asked us to make the conviction. He said, “You earlier swore in stating that if I could prove these essential elements you would make the conviction. I’m now asking you to do just that.”
The defense said a few words and thanked us for our time.
It was easy to come up with a unanimous decision. The only way that the prosecution could have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she had indeed made the threat would have been:
- She pleaded guilty.
- There were other witnesses to the threat.
- They actually got the threat on tape.
She may have made the threat, and in all actuality she probably did. But without any of those things to prove it all we had were two testimonies, both under oath, both giving different accounts of the incident. And so we declared, “Not guilty.”
Personal Speculation in the Aftermath
Was she the most clean cut, wholesome, seemingly trustworthy person we’d ever encountered? Absolutely not. However, I speculate that the cops probably got tired of being called out to her house on Christmas Eve, and since the ex-boyfriend was making a claim of assault, even though it lacked proof, they used it as an excuse to bring her in. At the very least it meant they wouldn’t spend the rest of their holiday going back and forth. And they could justify the arrest on paper citing probable cause.
And when I say she probably made the threat, what I’m saying is this:
If you called the cops for help (on Christmas Eve of all days), when you had been drinking in your own home (which isn’t against the law), and they proceeded to arrest you (compromising your family plans the next morning), wouldn’t you say something?
I’m not saying a threat is ever justifiable, but under those circumstances I think any typical drunk, wrongfully accused, and angry person would probably do something similar.
Not only that, but the officer admittedly had two firearms, a Taser, and pocket knife, and other officers within shouting distance. Meanwhile, she had her hands cuffed behind her back and was so drunk that she could barely walk. How intimidated could he have really been?