Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My day in court for a DUI trial

How many margaritas did I have in Cancun? Many.
Yes folks, I, professional drinker W. Blake Gray, was in court yesterday for a DUI trial.

Fortunately it wasn't mine.

I was serving on jury duty, but once again I didn't get picked. I didn't get sent home quite as quickly as my first ever appearance, when I was a reporter in a small central Florida town. The judge, Ernest "Buddy" Aulls, who knew me from when I put him on the front page of papers around the country*, spotted me in the jury pool and said "Blake, go home."

* Judge Aulls was offended by repeated visits to court by a guy, named Love, who kept beating up the woman he lived with, who would call the cops and then take him back. They weren't married, and the guy was on probation, so Aulls ordered him to either marry her or move out. I sent the story to AP and readers everywhere saw the headline "Judge to Love: Get Married Or Get Out."

Although I didn't make it into the jury box yesterday, I was interested in questions the attorneys asked about drinking -- and some of the jurors' answers.

Of 24 potential jurors, six said they don't drink at all. This is less than the national estimate of 1/3 of American adults who never drink, but it's San Francisco, and 25% seemed high.

Their reasons?


One stopped for health reasons. Three -- all Asians -- "don't like the taste." One said she didn't see any reason to drink. And one seemed offended at the question: "My family doesn't drink," he said emphatically. The defense attorney used one of his 4 peremptory challenges on him, but let three other non-drinkers reach the final panel (two jurors and an alternate).

When asked if they had ever had a drink and gotten in the car, not one of the 24 raised their hand. Upon further questioning one guy hedged and said he might have once had a drink with dinner and then driven. Were the others lying? I've had a drink or two and driven many, many times, confident that I wasn't impaired legally or morally. But I am a professional drinker. If San Francisco residents really are that good about never, ever driving after even a single drink, I'm going to feel a lot safer driving here on weekend nights. I don't believe them, though.

Only two of the 24 claimed to have known someone who had a problem with alcohol. One woman, an IRS investigator, said her father was an abusive drunk. The defense attorney used a peremptory challenge on her. The other said he had a cousin who struggled with alcohol, but didn't think that would affect his judgment. Ironically, the prosecutor later excused him.

The defense attorney asked if anyone in the courtroom -- including the 50 or so of us sitting in the back, just in case the first 24 didn't pass muster -- thought the DUI laws should be zero tolerance; that no amount of alcohol before driving should be legal. I saw one tentative hand in the back of the room; I think this is a San Francisco thing. I'll bet that in other parts of the country, more people would feel support zero tolerance.

I didn't stay for the trial, but I think the suspect might have refused a breathalyzer because of some of the defense attorney's questions. Two people raised their hands when asked if they thought that meant he was probably guilty. The defense attorney later excused both of them.

I really wish I had made it to the jury panel; I couldn't wait to answer the same questions. Yeah, I drink. I drink every day! Yeah, I have taken a drink before driving, plenty of times. No, I don't think the DUI laws should be zero tolerance. Could I impartially judge this guy? Heck yeah; I spend much of my week passing impartial judgment on wines, before getting in a car and driving at high speeds in blinding rainstorms (OK, only the first part of that is true.)

I'm pretty sure the prosecutor would have thanked and excused me. And then I could have gone to have a cocktail, as I usually do -- on foot.

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3 comments:

abc said...

Don't be so certain they would have excused you. I served as the foreperson of a jury on a DUI trial. After a week of listening to the case and 3 days of deliberation, we ended up hung. For the record, I still think he was guilty.

W. Blake Gray said...

ABC: Prosecutors have used a peremptory challenge on me several times; it's the main reason I've never served. I'm not particularly liberal on crime and punishment issues, so I think they just fear the media. Or maybe I just look overly sympathetic?

Gift Basket said...

I always enjoy my taste at some safe place and never drive intoxicated. just chill without any bill. keep away from such a situation.