I had never received a jury summons in any of the places I have lived — Ohio, Texas, Mississippi. I have lived in Fayette County, Ga., for almost two years and received a jury summons. I appreciated the opportunity of the possibility of being picked to serve. I was picked to serve on a jury for a DUI trial.
I felt a deep sense of obligation to do my very best for the defendant. I defined my best as keeping an open mind towards both the defendant, his lawyer, to the prosecutor, and to every witness that appeared. I defined my best as making sure I understood what the law dictated was a DUI.
I deeply believe every person arrested is innocent until proven otherwise. I have tried to use gender neutral descriptions in this writing: “he” “his” could mean either male or female. I tried to limit use of “defendant” to avoid any possible connotation of guilt.
Day One. Opening statements. The defendant was charged with making an improper/unauthorized lane change and driving under the influence. I and fellow jurors watched the police officer’s dashcam video showing the officer approaching an intersection. The defendant was stopped in the opposite left turn lane. The video ends after the defendant was taken away to be booked into Fayette County Jail. I will list my observations later in this letter.
I learned that in Georgia it is not against the law to drink and drive. It is illegal to drink and drive and be LESS SAFE. The judge gave an example of LESS SAFE. If a sober person takes a tenth of a second to decide to apply the brake and it takes someone who has been drinking two tenths of a second to decide to brake, then it can be determined the person who has been drinking is LESS SAFE. That person is guilty of driving under the influence.
I learned that is against Georgia law to switch lanes without signaling if there is oncoming traffic or traffic behind you. It is against Georgia law to be in a designated left turn lane without your left turn signal being on if there is oncoming traffic or traffic behind you. (Wow, I did not know that!)
I learned that if a person refuses to take a blood alcohol test or any other bodily fluid test that the state of Georgia requires that the refusal can be used as circumstantial evidence of guilt.
Prosecutor called first witness, the police officer who stopped the defendant. There was lot of back and forth between witness, defense attorney, and prosecutor.
Day Two — Cross examination of police officer and additional police officers. The defense attorney carefully reviewed their testimonies and asked questions. It went back and forth. Good relevant points made by prosecutor, witnesses, defendant, and defense attorney. The defendant testified. I was favorably impressed that he testified on his own behalf. I carefully considered his explanation and his answers to the questions put to him.
My fellow jurors and I left the courtroom to deliberate and decide a verdict. We asked to review the dashcam video once more.
Day 3 — Deliberations for most of day.
Here is what I saw and heard in dash cam video that I used to make my decision regarding guilt or innocence in this case.
Time Stamp, approximately 2 a.m. (I can’t remember exact time stamp). The police car is driving towards an intersection. A stopped car with lights on is in the opposite left hand turn lane. No turn signal on.
As the police car begins to make a U-turn the stopped car’s lights flash up as if the car was starting to accelerate or driver had let up on the brake a little and car moved a little. I hear the officer exclaim, “What is this person doing?” The officer completes U-Turn, crosses three lanes and stops on far right side of highway, stating purpose to observe driver.
The stopped car does not turn left even though the car is in the designated left hand turn lane.
Instead you hear the officer exclaim again. He states the car has pulled up behind the officer’s car. The officer wonders out loud if this is one of their plainclothes officers messing around. The officer put his car in reverse and reverses a few feet. He states the other car also backs up. The officer drives off crossing one lane then crossed another and then stopped straddling a lane. The officer states the car mimics his movements and then also stops straddling the same lane. The officer calls for backup.
The car drives off passing the police officer and becomes visible again in dash cam video. The car’s left turn signal comes on. The police officer turns on lights and siren and follows the car. The police officer is now behind car with lights and siren. The car stops at the next intersection.
The dashcam video shows the police car’s spotlight coming on pointed directly at car. A person is clearly seen in the car. The police officer approaches the car. The video shows the person reaching over to the glove box and pulling out a gun. The officer exclaims and immediately pulls his gun and stands still with gun pointed at person in car.
The officer watches, then states person is racking/ratcheting. Then officer appears to relax a little, stating person cleared ammunition and put gun on dashboard. The officer holsters his gun and walks up to the driver side window.
The driver puts his window down. The officer asks him if he is trying to get killed. The driver leans out the window, smiles, and says several times, “I’m not drunk.”
The driver complied with officer’s instructions to get out of car and sit on curb. Driver dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, no coat. Weather temp 28 degrees. Driver stated he was cold. Police officer asked if driver had a coat in car. Driver said yes. Police officer searched car; no coat.
Another police officer offered his own coat to driver. Driver put coat on but fumbled with the zipper and could not zip. Held zipper out to officer and officer zipped up coat.
The driver complied with most of the officer’s instructions but interrupted often and was very talkative. Driver stated he had come from a bar. Driver stated several times he had only had two beers. Driver took on site breath test that showed positive for alcohol.
The officer read the required notice of implied consent for a blood alcohol test several times; the driver needed to answer yes he would take test or no he would not take test. He wouldn’t answer, interrupted, asked for due process and a lawyer. After several attempts to get an answer out of the driver, the officer stated to another officer that he was taking driver’s refusal to give a yes or no regarding blood alcohol testing as a refusal to take test.
The police officers discuss the situation and the need to transport driver to Fayette County Jail.
This concludes what I saw and heard from the dashcam video that influenced my decisions in this case.
This person refused to take blood alcohol determination test.
The jury verdict was unanimous: guilty of improper lane change/unauthorized lane change.
Two of six jurors voted guilty of driving under the influence and being less safe.
Four of six jurors voted not guilty of driving under the influence stating he was being safe. Hung jury.
How would you have voted?
I won’t leave the reader in limbo. I could not get past the admission of drinking by the defendant and the video showing him pulling a gun out of the glove box while the police officer is walking up to his car. He was less safe at that moment.
I am afraid for the defendant that if there is a next time the next officer will shoot without hesitation.
I hope I have the courage to send this to as many newspapers and news outlets as possible. I want to encourage future jurors to do as much as possible to keep future defendants safe and living a long happy life.
If this means finding them guilty of a misdemeanor DUI, find them guilty. Help them to learn a lesson. Send a message that drinking and driving and being less safe in Georgia is against the law. Period. No extenuating circumstances.
And if these newspapers choose to print my juror experience, I ask that you keep me anonymous. I do not want my name and address published. I am only including my contact info in case the newspaper/news outlet has a policy of NOT publishing articles without writer contact info.
Name withheld by request.