Felipe Henriquez – white hair, not tall – testified in Spanish that he left the scene because was scared. Last year, on a clear night in LA, his pickup truck turned left and crushed a young white dude’s Ducati. The motorcyclist wasn’t badly hurt, but was angry, and ran over to the pickup swearing, and maybe even saying something like, “Fucking Hispanic!”
When the paramedics arrived, Sean (white dude) left the pickup, which then drove away. Henriquez didn’t contact the police or anyone else. The only reason he got caught was a witness’s iPhone picture of the license plate.
Superior Court Judge Renee Korn dismissed us this afternoon after we each answered “yes” to whether we thought the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. Two of the five of us that eventually voted guilty were adamant that there was no legal justification for the sympathy votes he was getting. They had a point, and for me, I had to say guilty because the People did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he willfully failed to provide his information to anyone, at the scene or ever.
The foreman, an Irish immigrant, argued that the system failed the defendant, and that did seem to be the case. In the second-to-last vote, I pleaded agnostic, because there was brief confusion over whether the People had to prove he intended to gain an advantage by leaving, which they did not. Knowing that it wasn’t the final vote, I also wanted to encourage non-attachment to opinions. I saw people clinging to what they had said already, on both sides, although less so today, the second day of debate. One guy, who works in insurance, switched from guilty to not, but admitted after that he believed Henriquez broke the law.
In a deliberation room, your government asks for your reasoning as an official part of justice being served. Some feel that it’s their duty to rebel against what they see as an unjust law or aren’t willing to ignore what has been deemed irrelevant. Some care much more about whether they’ll still have to go to work that day if we decide this way or that. Some say as little as possible. In the end it was 7-5, not guilty. For all the time squandered, I walk away satisfied that I did what I could for rational dialogue with respect to the law. And as a group, we didn’t have to convict the old man who made a bad driving decision, was intimidated, and then made a bad legal decision.
Now another group of 35 will enter that courtroom, or already have, and 12 will have the honor of arguing whether they can convict an old man who says he was scared. I feel bad for the two others, who will have to wait out the whole process as alternate jurors, and never be asked for their opinions.