I used to love working out during my lunch hour. I felt like a disciplined, focused, ass-kicking professional. I would walk into the gym, in my court clothes, and everyone would recognize me. After showering, I would put my tie on in the locker room, as proud of my neckwear as I was of my bench press. And then back to work, feeling refreshed, feeling like I was “ahead” for the rest of the day. The gym was right by the courthouse, smack dab in the middle of my jurisdiction. Which is to say, it’s not in a nice area. But lunchtime was the only time that I really felt like I was getting out there in the community. The courthouse itself is a fortress (most are) and the interaction that you have in the courthouse is mostly with the defendants and their families. They are never happy to see you. Your win is their loss. At the gym, I could just fool myself into thinking that I was seeing victims, and family members, people who wanted their streets to be a little cleaner, people who were happy when I did a good job.
I was not surprised when I found out that a notorious member of a local gang had been arrested in the gym parking lot. He was selling crack. When the officers approached, they recognized him, pulled him out of the car, and discovered marijuana inside. They didn’t find crack, but when they put the defendant in their squad car, he tried to hide the crack in his own crack, if you catch my drift.
I had never done a felony drug case before. I talked it over with my wife, and with others, and their reactions surprised me. None of them seemed very upset about the crime. Most of them predicted that the jury would think that this case was waste of their time. I tried to settle the case on the basis of their doubts, but the defendant wanted his trial, and I gave it to him.
The defense lawyer continually played the race card during the trial. The arresting officers were white and the defendant was black. She accused them of framing him. Why would they do it? “Because they could,” she said. Because who cares about someone like poor old defendant. This seemed silly to me and I stuck to the facts.
I felt optimistic at the end, and when I heard the jury had a quick verdict, I was sure of success. I even had another lawyer stand in for me to take the verdict. The ritual in this situation was for him to text “Guilty!” and everyone to celebrate. But no texts came, none at all, and I started to worry. Finally, after about an hour, I was told that the jury had returned a verdict of not guilty. I was shocked. A coworker interviewed the jury afterwards. The jury foreperson said, “I think the prosecutor underestimated us.” They wanted DNA testing on the bag of drugs recovered from the defendant’s butt crack. They wanted fingerprinting. They wanted a crime lab working in shifts to analyze everything.
I can’t go back to my gym now. The defendant had plenty of time in custody as a pre-trial detainee. All he did was work out. The defendant testified that he had been arrested after working out, and based on his appearance during the trial, he never stopped. Maybe that’s all he did while he was away. The thought of being in a locker room with him is not something I’m especially comfortable with, now that I know about some other things that his gang has done. In fact, every time I have a case with someone from that gang I think of him, running into him at the gym. I know that nothing would happen, the statistics don’t lie, but it gives me pause. It’s a small dilemma for me (and I’m sure I’ll go back eventually) but it’s an interesting reminder of what it must be like to live in that community full-time. Of what it must be like to see people like my gang defendant on a daily basis. Maybe that’s the lesson I should take to the gym when I return.