Friday, September 2, 2011

Bait Car

I was on a jury a few months ago on an interesting case. I think it demonstrates a disturbing trend: the intersection between our justice system and the corporate world.

At first the case seemed open and shut. The defendant stole a high tech bait car that was set up with cameras and a “kill switch” that allowed the police to shut down the car (turn off the engine, lock it) at any time. However, as the case unfolded there were some disturbing facts. The car was parked on a busy street and left open with the key in it.

I live in San Francisco and I don’t know anyone who leaves their keys in their car, ever, no matter where they live even on quiet streets, let alone on a well traveled street. The owner of the car was not the SFPD but “KKI Productions”. At first when I heard this I assumed it was a car company or maybe one of those companies that rent cars to people in the city like City CarShare. However, as the case unfolded and I saw the several high tech hand held cameras that documented the crime it was obvious what was going on -- this was a reality TV show that was inciting crimes so they could film them.

Its funny because the last thing I wanted to do was serve on a jury this holiday week and when the DA screened jurors by asking “do you have a problem with pro-active police work” the first thing that occurred to me was “now is your chance, just say yes” but there was also a voice that said I should do the right thing, civic duty, blah, blah, blah.... At the time I never imagined that this case would be as massively “pro-active” as it turned out to be.

Unfortunately, the defendant in this case decided to be his own lawyer. When I first heard that I had visions of various Law and Order episodes where the articulate jail-house lawyer manages to give a great defense and even gives Jack McCoy a run for his money a few times. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The guy’s defense was rambling incoherent and if anything increased my belief that he was guilty. The judge made it clear in his instructions that we couldn’t consider entrapment as a defense and based on his instructions and the evidence we had no choice but to find him guilty. When we did the forewoman of the jury made it clear that some of us had major issues with the entrapment issues.

To his credit the DA attorney met with us afterwards and discussed some of the issues. He said that he realized a San Francisco jury might have issues with this kind of case. He also dispelled the picture I had of the defendant as some innocent homeless guy who wasn’t really a criminal. The guy had several previous felony convictions. The DA attorney also made a pretty convincing case saying they had very solid statistics that when they did these kind of operations car thefts go down dramatically because the word gets out about possible stings.

I was impressed with his attempts to convince us but I’m still left with a bad feeling about the ever growing intersection between the for profit section and the justice system. First it was for profit prisons now its Bait Cars who knows what’s next.

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