One day last week while I sat in court I witnessed a perfect example of why you
should be careful with what you say on elevators. The elevators in the
Harris County Criminal Justice Center are usually packed beyond capacity.
You are usually pressed against someone you don't know and you don't
have enough room to turn around and see who is behind you. This very situation
happened to an attorney in trial and a juror. The chatter in the elevator
could have effected the outcome of a very serious case.
I had absolutely nothing to do with the case or the chatter. I was sitting in
184th District Court waiting for a Child Abuse Prosecutor on an Indecency With a Child case.
When I sit around and wait I usually check my email on my blackberry or
read articles online, but I always observe what is going on around me.
That is one of the best things about what I do for a living. It is like
watching a television drama everyday, but you see it live.
On this morning the court had a jury deliberating a Non-Death Capital Murder.
The defense attorney approached Judge Barr regarding an incident that
took place on his way up to court on the elevator. The attorney had been
asked a question by another attorney regarding the case and a juror was
present on the elevator. Both the Assistant District Attorney, Judge and
Defense Attorney agreed that the juror should be admonished regarding
what she heard.
The juror was brought into court and asked if she had heard anything. She
said she had heard the defense attorney being asked by another attorney,
"Was the State able to get all of their witnesses?" The juror
explained that she was unable to see the other attorney because she could
not turn around. The Defense Attorney replied, "There are jurors
on the elevator." A very good response that stopped the questioning.
The juror said that she had not thought about the conversation until the
judge had asked and further that she had not discussed the incident with
the other jurors. Judge Barr advised the juror not to consider the conversation
in her deliberations and not to discuss it with the other jurors.
No one had any ill intent. The Defense Attorney did a great job of stopping
the conversations. But the situation should stop and make you think. The
case involved the possibility of life in prison without parole. I do not
know any of the facts of the case. But we all know what is at stake.
The prosecution obviously believed the defendant was guilty and had no
doubt worked hard in attempting to prove his guilt. The prosecutor likely
spent countless hours working up the case and meeting with witnesses and
the victims family.
The defense had worked equally hard in trying to protect his client from
a life sentence and had also spent hours with witnesses and the defendants family.
Everyone wants what they consider to be justice and it can all be taken
away by one elevator ride. What if the jury was deadlocked and this conversation
broke the deadlock? The juror may think, I know he is guilty but the State
didn't prove it, now I know why and I am voting guilty. Or the jury
may think in favor of the defense. We can never know. But what we do know
is that we should be careful with what we say on the elevator.
This particular case was a victory for the defense. The jury ended up convicting
the defendant of the lesser included offense of Felony Murder and sentencing
him to 24 years in prison.